Min-ho is not a happy man - he wants to kill himself so badly that he goes to strange and extreme lengths to try and end his life only to be thwarted by the strangely cheerful hospital staff. All this changes however when a man who has recently been involved in an accident ends up in the bed next to Min-ho to convalesce. Min-ho suddenly has a reason to live - he must get better and kill this man! Min-ho believes this man is responsible for some terrible events in the past that have led to his present predicament and will stop at nothing to finally take his revenge. However, in a slightly humourous turn of events, all of Min-ho’s attempts to kill his roommate, Sang-up, stupendously backfire and in fact seem to aid his recovery as Sang-up’s condition appears to miraculously improve. Finally, Sang-up’s memory begins to return but his recollection of events is the exact opposite of Min-ho’s and now he too has only one reason to live - to kill Min-ho and take revenge for the terrible events he holds Min-ho responsible for!
Nominally a thriller, this film takes us on many twists and turns as we try to find out what exactly happened and who did what to whom. That’s without mentioning the extra plot device of a research doctor we barely see and a supposed "wonder drug" that hasn’t been technically approved for use in Korea and which is only being administered to these two men for reasons no-one else seems to understand. These drugs may apparently cause mass hysteria, delusions, false memories and hallucinations among other strange side effects that are probably the reason the drug isn’t licensed. We don’t even know how much of what the two men is saying is 'real', at least as far as their memories go or whether it’s all just a shared delusion brought about by illegal medication being administered by some kind of mad scientist.
That is, in many ways, the point; that we define ourselves through our memories which can be shown to faulty and to have an extreme subjective bias. Without memory there is no identity, but if memory can’t be relied upon then identity is just a floating self-construction based on subjective perspectives on events. Perhaps the only constant is human nature which, unfortunately, includes the desire for vengeance and the urge to violence. If the two men could just calm down a minute and talk they might be able to work together to figure out exactly why it is they’re both so hell-bent on killing the other, but generally speaking that isn’t the way things naturally play out.
If I’ve made Desire to Kill sound all terribly high-minded and serious, don’t be alarmed - there’s also a strong streak of black comedy that runs right through the film. There’s something inherently comical about the almost childlike contraptions and tricks the two men come up with in their constant quest to finish each other off. If that wasn’t enough to raise a smile, they of course want to avoid alerting the hospital authorities to their plans and so have to fall quickly asleep or act otherwise innocent to avoid raising suspicion. The world of the hospital itself is even slightly absurd - the two men are cared for by a sweet and cheerful young nurse who remains totally oblivious to the open warfare going on in front of her and all of the also eerily chipper doctors seem in thrall to the mysterious chief doctor simply because said doctor attended Johns Hopkins university, so everything they say must be at the utmost cutting edge.
Though the ending might be a little disappointing in its obtuseness and seemingly abrupt cut-off, it isn’t enough to spoil what’s gone before. Owen Cho and Sang-hwa Kim have certainly made an impressive debut in a saturated genre. Part black comedy, part thriller, Desire to Kill is most definitely an usual genre-bending film but it balances itself well through being excellently shot and plotted. Yes, it's dark, but an immensely enjoyable foray into the absurdity of human nature.