USING EMOTION TO CREATE SATISFYING CONCLUSIONS: Avoiding the letdown of mystery endings with 'Hwa-Cha'.
I loved watching 'Broadchurch' just as much as everyone else.
It is a great series that was filled with tension and emotion, and really showed the ripple effects a terrible event can have on a whole community. But what it did not do, in my opinion, was deliver a satisfying conclusion to the 'whodunnit' mystery it presented.
Nor, in my opinion, did the following similar genre dramas:
For me, the aspect that all these dramas had in common was amazing buildup, amazing set up of the mystery, deep tension-filled character studies about the true effect of death and murder on small communities.
Also, they all had a really stupid conclusion.
Each show finished with trying to shock the viewers by making sure that the person we least suspected of the crime was the culprit, throwing aside what made sense within the story or what was realistic, in favour of shock value.
I guess some people might argue that revealing an unexpected culprit equals a successful show, but for me, in doing so, these endings felt unsatisfying and empty. Especially considering how amazing and addictive and wonderful the rest of each show was.
But this is the thing....how do you make a mystery conclusion feel weighty and satisfying? How do you avoid the inevitable 'Oh...ok, so that guy did it...whatever' vibe? How do you make your audience care beyond the initial shock factor of them not seeing that ending coming?
Cos the shock value ending only works for about five minutes.
After that the audience starts to pick it apart, and if you've chosen your culprit for shock value and not because it was the right thing for your plot, or if you have any plot holes at all, then you can be sure your audience is going to find them. And if they find a loose thread, they are most definitely going to pull it.
And that's when everything begins to come apart.
For me, and I know a lot of people probably wouldn't agree, this was when dramas like Broadchurch began to fall apart. They were perfect until the culprit was revealed and then.... well, it just didn't seem realistic that it was that guy. It just seemed forced, as if the writers of the show chose him simply because they knew he'd be the very last person we would suspect.
So..... back to the 2012 Korean movie 'Helpless' or '화차'.
This mystery really floored me, because the conclusion was satisfying. But it wasn't satisfying because I didn't see it coming. Nor was it because the culprit was the last person I expected.
So what was it?
I think it was emotion.
My idea is this:
Adding emotional weight (through personal stakes) to a 'whodunnit' style mystery, can deliver a much more satisfying conclusion.
For instance, throughout the entire film of 'Helpless', the husband character, Munho, is falling apart. The woman he loves is not who he thought she was. We are introduced to the mystery that forms the plot, and the truly tragic past of his fiance (her name is Seonyeong), through Munho's eyes.
And because we witness events from his perspective, we feel his emotion and unhappiness and shock at how things turn out.
It means that by the time the film is ending, we are not let down by the obvious fact Seonyeong was the culprit all along, nor that she is a murderer (because we see this coming within the film for a while anyway), instead we are horrified and moved by the outcome simply because Munho is horrified.
We feel his emotional reaction to the crime, and we feel his hope that the woman he loves is still somewhere within this murderer that he cannot recognise.
So I guess, what I'm trying to say, is that this film has an emotional conclusion. It feels heavy and awful and terrible, both for Munho and the audience, and it distracts the audience from caring whether the mystery itself is satisfying or the conclusion a let down. In fact, by working hard to make its audience feel something, it's almost distracting the audience away from picking the pieces apart, keeping us occupied with something other than the 'whodunnit' side of the story.
So by the time the ending rolls around, the film changes it's tack, telling it's audience that they shouldn't care 'whodunnit', instead they should care about the consequences and the outcome and the emotional fall out of the crime itself.
Something to think about I guess.
Especially because I am very interested in writing mystery these days :)