Quickie 47 – February 29 (2006)

or “The Phantom (of the) Tollbooth”

Happy Leap Day, dickheads! Yes, it’s that magical day when Black History Month gets an extra 24 hours as part of reparations! Fucking white people… so glad my ancestors didn’t think owning people was a good thing! Anyway, whatever its origins (don’t correct me, I won’t care), Leap Day is here once more. Several years ago, during a search for oddball movies to highlight, I came across an IMDB listing for two movies centered around Leap Year. The first? A 2010 rom-com starring Amy Adams and some guy who isn’t allowed to rebuff her marriage proposal because she’s plotting to make it on Leap Day. Scintillating. The other? This one. Duh.

In honor of Black History Month, February 29 is a South Korean feature… Before we get started, I just wanted to mention that this review has nothing to do with Parasite winning 4 golden statuettes of naked bald men recently. This just happened to be the next available Leap Day to do this write-up and, given that tomorrow’s not guaranteed (let alone 2024), ya gotta snatch (huh huh) opportunities when they present themselves. And here… we… GO!

“Serial killers don’t need reasons. They just kill.” – Officer Park

29 centers around Ji-yeon, whose experiences as a tollbooth jockey have left her interred in a nuthouse. If you’ve ever worked customer service, you can relate. Visiting her in the loony bin is a science journalist who’s interested in doing an editorial on the so-called supernatural events that put her there. Assisted by an inside guy who gets him an unauthorized face-to-face with Ji, these are the results of that interview. *‘Law and Order’ sting*

Okay, this story has a lot of moving parts. Like, a dozen Swiss watches worth of moving parts. Instead of spending seven paragraphs detailing the events, I’m going to try my best to sum it up in two. Ji-yeon’s work wife, Jong-sook, puts our protagonista on edge with stories of a murderous she-specter covered in scars that kills J&J’s brothers and sisters in (swing)arms every four years on Leap Day. The urban legend is that the knife-wielding poltergeist was originally a passenger on a prison transport bus that burst into flames (never buy buses running on refurbished Gremlin engines) and whose body was never recovered. Despite the supposed spook’s penchant for slaying service workers on February 29th, this year the killings start on the 27th, when a mysterious black car arrives at Ji’s during a blackout and its driver hands her a blood-smeared ticket before disappearing into the night. Where did said blood come from? There’s a good chance it came from another tollbooth worker elsewhere on Ji’s route who was violently butchered earlier that evening!

Now, that all comes as pretty basic ghost story shit, right? Right. Hell, the killer even fits the Asian ghost stereotype of a pale-skinned woman with long black hair. Here’s where all those aforementioned “moving parts” come in. For starters, before the phantasmal follies even get a mention, a friend of Ji-yeon makes the first of several calls throughout the runtime to her about an apparent doppelganger that not only looks like her (keep the racist jokes to yourself) but wears the exact same outfits on the same days. Sure enough, Ji ends up stalked by a woman playing twinsies dress-up and is even attacked by her several times, which kinda kills the point of the evil black car at work if the antagaghost is able to just follow her everywhere at anytime anyway. Secondly, Ji is convinced that bright lights will keep the ghoul away. Not only is this assumption of a halogen allergy NEVER established, but during the scenes when she’s physically attacked by the spiteful spirit, illumination is plentiful! For thirds, of the two cops investigating the murders, Officer Park injures his right arm in escalating fashion (eventually ending up in a full cast and sling) and NO ONE ADDRESSES IT.

Now, for those like myself who break out in a proverbial rash over plot holes big enough to dump bodies in, I’m happy to say that 29 actually does the unthinkable and FILLS IN THE HOLES! What a gods damned novelty! But, even though the final 15 minutes manage to improve my opinion for the flick, it still only elevates it to a “DEFCON: Mediocre” level movie. There’s nothing especially special about it outside of the finale, and even that barely warrants praise because it just does its job. The acting is TV movie quality, the cinematography doesn’t do anything eye-catching, attempts at artsy direction and jump scares are funny rather than thrilling, and the soundtrack sounds like a 5th grade school band noodling out sheet music Danny Elfman left behind on a cocktail napkin. It’s a gimmick movie that lives or dies on the novelty of its premise, and sometimes it doesn’t even get that right. The killer is supposed to kill on the titular date, but also kills on the days before? What?! Bummer.

Moral of the Story: South Korea should really consider investing in security cameras for its tollbooths.

Final Judgment:

Two-and-a-Half Large Marges out-of-Five

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