The Raincoat Killer: Chasing a Predator in Korea has become Netflix’s newest addition to its range of true-crime docuseries, which have almost become a genre in themselves. The three-part series, directed by Rob Sixsmith and John Choi, tells the story of Korea’s most notorious serial killer, Yoo Young-Chul. His murders sparked terror across Seoul in the early 2000s as he targeted both wealthy citizens and young prostitutes across the city, bludgeoning his prey to death with a hammer.
The series documents the case through a mix of interviews, archive footage, and re-enactments. The interviews are the backbone of the series and the majority of interviewees are members of the police who were tasked with hunting Yoo down and who watched as the case unfolded. The horror of the murders is captured by using these accounts of individuals who are still emotionally scarred and traumatised by their involvement. The profiler for the case even went as far as to say, “I believed I would never be the same person again”, after witnessing the grotesque crime scenes and attempting to get inside the mind of Yoo.
The interviewees provide fascinating first-hand insight, but the frivolous use of camerawork distracts from the rawness of their accounts and seems hell-bent on capturing their faces at every different angle possible and achieving the closest close-up in Netflix history. These effects are an obvious attempt at providing a sense of drama but simply distract from the power of their words. The series is very over-dramatized as a whole, particularly with its use of showy and exaggerated re-enactments which overshadow the tragic reality of the case and testimonies of both the victims’ families and the detectives.
One praise-worthy element, however, is the series’ deeper exploration of the historical and social context surrounding the murders. The first episode, New Breed of Killer, explores the post-war financial crisis which hit Korea and created the beginnings of a capitalist society where “the rich got richer and the poor got poorer”. The profiler uses this social context to explain Yoo’s alienation from society and his motives to take revenge on the rich. In his own words, “to kill society”.
Ironically, for a series revolving around the infamous killer, we come out the other end with a disappointing lack of knowledge about Yoo himself. We are dropped brief snippets of information about his family and life but are largely left to make our own assumptions.
The series directs its focus towards police failings and corruption, with Yoo simply the ominous threat who we never really get to know. The police describe his cold nature and hatred of women but we are never given background information or even a photo of him without a mask on, basic details which would help viewers to be more invested in the story and create a sense of realness which the series lacks. The episodes are punctuated with quotes from Yoo in the form of an omniscient narrative voice and these provide the most chilling moments of the series. The mindset of Yoo is clearly complex and disturbing and could have been explored much further.
At times the docuseries seems quite shallow, never quite satisfying the viewer’s interest. One of the key interviewees, Kim Hee Sook, is a forensic officer who was a key figure in the solving of the case. However, we are hardly given any details of the forensic process or technicalities behind the investigation and are only offered basic information such as images of shoe prints and brief descriptions of sample taking. The best crime documentaries are ones which leave the viewer marvelling at the genius of these experts and with a sense that they have gained knowledge. In this sense, the docuseries leaves the viewer somewhat unsatisfied and underwhelmed. The stomach-churning story is there, the series just doesn’t do it justice.
Feature Image Credit: Netflix