A Korean film about teens who uncover a murder conspiracy while attached to every device imaginable = welcome to Socialphobia.
Let’s bitch it out…
Sociaphobia takes a fairly conventional murder mystery plot and infuses it with media-savvy young adults to give it a contemporary twist. The film opens, as all films exploring the effects of technology must, with a flurry of text messages and comments pulled from message boards. The frenzy is a response to the hottest news story in the country: a deserter from the Korean military has committed suicide. From there the comments shift as a negative commenter Min (Ha Yun-Kyoung) tweets an inflammatory observation that the man will burn in hell. She’s a flamer – someone who stokes the fires of controversy to get others worked up – and it works. A group of young men, including our two protagonists, Ji-weong (Yo-han Byeon) and Yong-min (Lee Ju-Seung) – both studying for their police officer exams – take the bait and decide to go PKing, a kind of vigilante justice confrontation in which the accused is forced to publicly apologize at the behest of the mob.
There’s an interesting gender imbalance at play early on, though it is one that the film seems reticent to acknowledge. Min is repeatedly called a bitch and her comment, while controversial, seems to be less of an instigator than her sex. The boys gather in an Internet shop to hurl a flurry of threats at her and then begin the journey to her house (the location of which has been hacked and posted online), all the while recording their exploits via webcam. They even pose for a group photo in front of Min’s apartment building! When they attempt to confront her, however, they discover her body instead. But is it a suicide or a murder? Approximately twenty minutes in and we’ve gone into murder investigation mode.
Ultimately the main problem with the film is that it fails to explore who these characters are. We learn a little about Ji-weong and Yong-min, and even less about Min, despite a series of flashbacks that suggest the girl was just as horrible in real life as she was online. It’s all surface level stuff, though. A twist late in the film relies heavily on our investment in the characters and it doesn’t work because it actually reinforces the fact that we don’t really know anything about him.
As it might be expected from the title, the film relies heavily on everyone’s use of technology. The boys are glued to their cell phones, their tablets and computers 24/7. When they need tips, they set up a community forum and gather 500 followers in one day. They’re completely plugged in, but as the film continues, this is continually highlighted as a problem because it affects their judgment.
It’s clear that director Seok-jae Hong is interested in exploring technology’s role in all of these negative behaviours (PKing, flaming, online harassment, the ability to ruin someone’s reputation with a single tweet or comment). The film’s message seems to be that we should blame the people using the technology for the bad behaviours, not the technology itself. Unfortunately it’s not a new commentary and it’s not handled with anything approaching subtlety.
Bottom Line: Socialphobia struggles to balance its social commentary about our reliance on technology within its narrative about a potential murder because it fails to make us invest in its characters. As long as audiences can handle the heavy handed message with their slice of murder investigation, the film is reasonably enjoyable
Socialphobia currently does not have any further expansion plans.