by Osamudiamen Joseph
Burning is a 2018 south Korean film co-written and directed by Lee Chang-Dong. The story begins with a young man, Jong-soo, as he runs into Hae-mi, a friend from his childhood. She tells him about her plans to leave for Africa and asks him to watch her cat while she’s away. He obliges. Hae-mi returns soon enough and introduces Jong-soo to Ben, a man she met on her journey. The three of them meet up a couple of times and everything seems alright on the surface until Hae-mi turns up missing. Jong-soo, desperately trying to locate his friend, combs through the city to no avail. He goes to meet Ben and even her family but they haven’t seen her either. Finally, he visits Hae-mi’s former place of work and asks her boss. The woman hasn’t seen her either but her response is an expression of one of the ways you can read the film.
“It’s difficult for women,” she says. “They complain if you wear makeup and complain if you don’t. They complain if you wear revealing clothes and complain if you dress casually. Have you heard of the saying, ‘There’s no country for women’?”
There’s no country for women. This statement flitted about in my mind for about a week or two after I saw Burning (2018). The reason for this wasn’t because it was a particularly witty statement. It didn’t even fit the category of sayings people would consider profound. It was just sad and true. During the period when the above statement was running laps and throwing parties in my head, I watched Catch.er (2017). After about an hour, I left the theatre (shut down my laptop) with a weird feeling in my gut along with words on my lips that summed up my thesis of the movie, words which I had become so familiar with that I was already finding new ways to say them: there really is no country for women, is there?
Catch.er is the story of Abby Bello (Beverly Naya), an ambitious career woman who is found murdered on her wedding anniversary. Her husband, Tony Bello (played by a terribly miscast Alex Ekubo) becomes the prime suspect in the police investigation into her death. Her co-worker (Blosssom Chukwujekwu) is also called in for questioning. The movie begins in medias res at the police station and continues along two timelines—flashbacks to the different places Abby Bello was seen on the day she was killed and the present. Omowunmi Dada plays Eva Osaro, Mr. Bello’s mistress, who is brought in as a witness. She claims the man already told her about how he was tired of his wife and planned to kill her after their wedding so he could have direct access to her family’s money. This motive doesn’t hold much water by any means but the detective in charge is determined to pursue every lead.
There are some things about Catch.er that work. First, the non-linear narrative really serves to ramp up the thrilling effect of the movie. The movie plays like a chess game. At the beginning, we, the audience, are aware of the crime that has been committed: a woman has been murdered and the suspects are some of the men in her life who had motive. We get the sense that the detective played by O. C Ukeje is a hard-boiled no-nonsense fellow with a nose for crime and eagle eyes that see through the lies of criminals. We immediately sympathize with the deceased and look forward to the killer getting caught in their own lies during the interrogation.
Secondly, the constant flashbacks remind one in some sense of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). The film shows the events from the perspectives of all the suspects. Any details they leave out of their accounts are hidden from us. After a while, some things don’t add up and it adds to the feeling of unease the movie creates. Some other wins the movie can boast of are the casting choices and performances by Beverly Naya and O.C Ukeje— we really root for them.
Apart from the above elements though, Catch.er doesn’t really have much else going for it. The colour grading is a weird sickly green, the kind that was used in The Matrix (1999) to depict the depraved idea of the Matrix program (used to keep human minds passive while their bodies are farmed for energy). That green filter is also used in Catch.er but here it seems like an afterthought. It robs the movie from fully embracing the hard angles and long shadows common in noir movies.
The score too fails to punctuate or elevate the scenes in any meaningful way— it mostly drags them down. Alex Ekubo delivers an acting performance so ham-fisted, I half expected him to gaze into the camera mid-scene and smile. The cinematography too isn’t doing anything unique (which is not always a bad thing); it is merely functional and along with the messy editing, creates a movie that feels less and less together the longer you watch it. The runtime of 1 hour and 12 minutes doesn’t help either and makes the movie seem less cinematic and more like an extended episode of a low-budget crime thriller TV show that was a staple in the early 90’s.
The reason I came away from Catch.er mumbling some version of, “there’s no country for women” is because of who Abby’s killer turns out to be. Newsflash: it’s her brother. Angry because “that bastard (referring to her husband) took my sister away from me, and you think my judgement is clouded?” Even in Abby’s death, she is still being fought over by the men in her life. It turns out her brother had always nursed a sick attraction to his sister. When she finds out, she grabs her phone to call their dad. This is when her bother, Segun, grabs her from behind and strangles her. Women are not safe anywhere— not even ambitious working-class women like Abby Bello. It’s also really telling that the object Segun grabs to deal the final blow is a plaque awarded to Abby presumably for her outstanding service at her place of work.
Her co-worker Brume Idolor (Blossom Chukwujekwu) is angry that Abby has decided to report him to their boss on account of his shady deeds and shows up at her house to confront her. She refuses to back down and he loses his temper and strangles her. He doesn’t kill her but the point has already been driven home: women aren’t safe anywhere.
On the day she was murdered, Abby comes home to find her husband in bed with his mistress. He apologizes to her over and over but she doesn’t budge. And then he hits her after which he instantly begins to apologize again. Women aren’t safe anywhere.
In another scene, one of the police officers working on the case takes Mr. Bello’s mistress in a hotel. He says he wants to help her but during the course of their conversation, makes it clear just what he wants: sex. She tells him that he has to pay for the session to which he replies, “sister, dat one na crime and as you dey see me so, me no dey commit crime.” Women aren’t even safe with the police.
Quite frankly, I didn’t expect Catch.er to be that depressing but the filmmakers are only holding up a mirror to our society after all. Like that character from Burning (2018) says, “it is difficult for women…there is no country for women.” After watching a double feature of Burning and Catch.er like I did (or by simply turning on the news), you begin to wish there was.
Wikipedia refers to Burning as a “psychological thriller mystery drama film,” which is a fancy way of saying, “this movie is a nightmare— but not in the way you think.” In my efforts to describe Burning, a phrase keeps coming to mind: controlled chaos. You get the sense that behind the nightmarish atmosphere of the film is a master storyteller thoroughly enjoying themselves. However, if Burning is controlled chaos, Catch.er is just chaos, and not the extremely interesting kind that you might see in surrealist movies like Mulholland Dr. (2001) or any movie Christopher Nolan has ever directed ever.
Still, there’s a lot to enjoy in Catch.er. After a while, you get used to the color grading and Alex Ekubo’s acting becomes bearable. Catch.er wants to be the kind of thriller that drags the audience to the edge of their seats and keeps them there and it would have accomplished this too, if only a little more attention had been paid to a few aspects such as the ones mentioned above.
Osamudiamen Joseph is not a complicated man. He loves cinema– watching it and writing about it. And whenever he is not chained to a desk, hot on the heels of a deadline, he loves to listen to neo-soul music and dance to his heart’s content.
You can find him on Instagram @osamudiamenjoehehe
The trailer for CATCH:ER
The trailer for BURNING: