feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Though I don’t reside in Japan or Korea, let alone work in an office, I am quite aware of the value of a corporate position, with many parents aspiring their children to pursue such a career as it could provide them with a sense of security and stability if thrived in that environment. The hoops that employees have to go through in order to move up a step in the ladder, let alone keep that position, is tremendous and abundant. The hierarchy system is wrapped in values of obedience, respect, and sometimes superficial expectations, pressed upon the figures from the higher platforms; pressure that is delegated downwards that feeds off the aspirations of it’s subordinates.
Office may not be an authentic reflection of such conditions, but rather a hyperbolic interpretation that showcases the environment at it’s most grim, vicious and taxing. Centred upon an employer (Seong-woo Bae) who commits murder to his family after a day of work, watching the ripples affect his workplace. Dramatically led by the hopeful intern, Mi-rye Lee (Ah-sung Go), as she excessively works in the hopes to impress her seniors so that she may become a full-time worker. As expected, secrets, gossip, and pressures are littered in the divided cubicles, ensuring that the murder investigation would not cause upheaval or tarnish on the company’s reputation.
Director Won-chan Hong has certainly taken the emotions, turmoil, and savagery that fill the office air and reflect them deep in the narrative’s vessels. Through the performances of his cast, the shared interactions, the glancing looks, we gain a sense of who these characters are. Identifying the weight that their shoulders are barely carrying and the potential collapse that could arrive at any minute. These are concepts that are primarily placed and explored upon Mi-rye, who feels a looming threat of her position being swiped at every corner. Though the investigation itself is a primary plot point, it’s use is more so synonymous with the horror genre, in that the murder and the man’s actions have left a haunting foreshadowing in the workplace, somewhat affecting and amplifying the emotional waters of his peers, primarily on Mi-rye, who has been noted once or twice of her similarities with him.
The film’s success is found more so in the moments of explosive expression, where the genre conventions arrive and wrap the audience in the sense of eeriness and danger. Office is a film that demonstrates ideas at it’s extremes, and the way Hong has manifested them in gruesome violence is some of the most entertaining moments that I have seen for some time in Korean cinema. Hong injects enough story and exploration to ensure that the film delivers on an impacting climax, however, many of it’s dramatic passages, all in the favour of thematic development and character growth, can sometimes feel intrusive to the film’s overall pace, of which swings far too often and a damper on the film’s overall momentum. It desires so much to really dig into Mi-rye to create that identifiable arc for her, and to do so is validated and certainly brings more benefits than faults, but much like a criticism that one of Mi-rye’s co-worker shares with her, Hong tries way too hard with it and it’s execution lacks seamlessness and grace that a greater film would have demonstrated.
The film may not dive into the ideas that it presents as thoughtfully and honest as one would hope towards this serious and prominent issue, but it does provide exceedingly well in the entertainment department. Hong explores enough to provide justification for the film’s narrative arc, however, it would have fared better had it been more smoothly executed.