Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Collective Invention – mutant fish-man suffers in South Korean satire

A humdrum attempt at social commentary, this story of man who mutates into a half-fish in an experiment gone wrong is the latest in a string of Korean films to play on corporate-media collusion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 4:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 11:44am

3/5 stars

An ordinary citizen is turned into a mutant fish-man during a faulty genetic experiment in first-time director Kwon Oh-kwang’s mildly intriguing, if also rather predictable, satire on the South Korean society’s self-serving tendencies. An offbeat addition to Korean cinema’s ongoing obsession with corporate-media collusion (see Inside Men for just another recent example), Collective Invention – apparently named after the 1934 René Magritte painting of that name – tries to distinguish itself with a Kafkaesque set-up.

Kwon reserves his sympathy for the mutant Gu, played by Lee Kwang-soo in a fish-head mask that drains him of his charisma. Rookie reporter Sang-won (Lee Chun-hee), who pretends to be an innocuous documentarist, finds the fish-man through an internet rumour. He finds it just as hard to trust him as he does Gu’s opportunistic one-night girlfriend (Park Bo-young), his money-minded father (Jang Kwang), or his seemingly righteous lawyer (Kim Hee-won).

Once Gu becomes a cultural phenomenon, he’s embraced and, almost just as swiftly, devoured alive by the media, whose carnivorous desire for headlines in turn makes it easy for the drug company responsible for his plight to exploit Gu in further inhuman clinical trials. Collective Invention is a grim social parable that is vague about allocating blame. Its fairy-tale ending, at once gloomy and full of hope, at least lifts the film above its humdrum attempt at social commentary.

Collective Invention opens on April 28

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook