The impairment of a leading protagonist in a film can often allow an actor or actress to stretch themselves into new territory and offer startling performances (and, more cynically, guarantee some silverware). Daniel Day-Lewis’ turn as an artist with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot (1989) is perhaps the most significant, but other actors including Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, 2001), Denzel Washington (The Bone Collector, 1999) John Hurt (The Elephant Man, 1980) and Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, 2010) amongst many, many others have all conveyed the difficulties that impaired people face. With Blind (블라인드), Kim Ha-neul (김하늘) takes on the role of a visually impaired woman and in doing so has won the 2011 ‘Best Actress’ award at both The Daejong Awards and The Blue Dragon Awards. Quite how is something of a mystery, as Kim Ha-neul’s performance, as well the film itself, rarely rises above mediocre.
Blind tells the story of promising police cadet Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul) who, through an accident partly of her own making, loses her sight. Life becomes a struggle for Soo-ah as the fast-paced world around her is seemingly intolerant of her impairment. Whilst attempting to find her way home one evening, Soo-ah becomes a witness in an abduction case and must use her training and heightened senses to help find the killer. Complicating matters further is the second witness, Kwon Gi-seob (Yoo Seung-ho (유승호), who gives a contradictory testimony of events. Joined by Detective Jo (Jo Hee-bong (조희봉), Soo-ah and Gi-seob must solve the mystery together, before the killer finds them first.
Films representing impairment tend to focus on the adversity that is endured and finally, over the course of the narrative, overcome. With Blind, director Ahn Sang-hoon (안상훈) makes minimal effort to convey the hardships Soo-ah faces, representing rather obvious and fleeting problems such as crossing the road, which seem redundant as she walks with her guide dog. Ironically the colour is drained in the exterior sequences through utilising filters, in an attempt to emphasise the cold and harsh outside world. Such devices do little to create empathy however, due to not only the lack of innovation but also Soo-ah’s stubborn nature that places herself in precarious situations. That said, other sequences such as a subway chase where Soo-ah must use floor tiles to find an exit as quickly as possible, are filmed and edited in a thrilling fashion and offer a refreshing take on the genre. One of the fundamental issues of Blind is that Ahn Sang-hoon and screenwriter Choi Min-seok fail to make any of the protagonists compelling enough to forge empathy with, and thus when the 2-dimensional characters are in peril the lack of engagement equates to flat, rather than thrilling, scenes.
The actors generally give competent performances despite this. Kim Ha-neul is certainly prominent in this regard as a visually impaired woman, with occasional sequences that are convincing as she struggles with daily activities. Yoo Seung-ho is adequate as rebellious teen Gi-seob, as is Jo Hee-bong as foolhardy Detective Jo, yet they are never given the opportunity to display more than their supporting statuses will allow. Unfortunately the worst offender is Yang Yeong-jo as gynecologist-turned-serial-killer Myeong-jin. Again, this is not entirely his fault as the role itself is so woefully underdeveloped that Yeong-jo is merely present to appear menacing and snarl and cackle occasionally.
Blind certainly had the potential to be an interesting and creative take on the thriller genre, but unfortunately due to the lack of character development and innovation it is a rather bland and mediocre offering. The actors involved all provide competent performances despite the limitations imposed on them, while Kim Ha-neul is somewhat convincing as a visually impaired witness. Blind does contain a select few sequences that provide enjoyable thrills, and while certainly no masterpiece, it offers enough entertainment to be an interesting viewing experience.