With lush green mountains, pretty schoolgirls dressed in uniforms, a beautiful boarding school and an impeccably styled Uhm Ji-won, “The Silenced” offers many visual delights.
The plot, however, is a messy hodgepodge, the result of overreaching on the part of screenwriter and director Lee Hae-young.
“I wanted to create a mystery film set in a girls’ boarding school in the 1930s, full of girlish emotions,” Lee said at a press preview at Lotte Cinema Konkuk University on June 9. “But I wanted to portray the girls in a new, unusual way. I thought of doing a horror movie, but decided to create a movie that evolves through different genres.”
Park Bo-young stars in “The Silenced” (Lotte Entertainment)
The film’s plot twists come in the form of abrupt changes that cause more confusion than excitement and become increasingly unrealistic as the movie progresses.
The opening sequence shows a sickly girl named Ju-ran (Park Bo-young) being enrolled by her stepmother into a strict boarding school run by an elegant but terrifying headmistress (Uhm Ji-won).
While studying and receiving treatments there, Ju-ran begins to see the girls who were rumored to have disappeared from the school overnight, and experiences strange symptoms herself. She and best friend Yeon-deok (Park So-dam) team up to track down the truth behind the strange events at school, only to uncover a terrible secret.
What begins as a quiet, eerie film, with all kinds of horrific twists made imaginable by its Japanese colonial period setting becomes distractingly dramatic and almost comically overdone once the mystery is solved.
Despite the disappointing plot, leading ladies Park Bo-young, Uhm Ji-won and Park So-dam leave a lasting impression, continuing this year’s remarkably steady stream of strong female leads in Korean cinema. Park Bo-young spends the first half of the movie performing a reiteration of the wide-eyed, trembling-lipped female protagonist she played in the 2012 film “A Werewolf Boy,” but in the second half she turns intense and enraged. She shows that, despite her baby-faced looks, she is much more convincing when given a character with a fiercer side.
Uhm Ji-won (left) and Park Bo-young in “The Silenced” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Ju-ran’s range of emotion in the movie is very deep and wide, and she is very different at the beginning and end of the film,” Park Bo-young said. “This was a film that made me test my limits.”
For her part, Uhm Ji-won is able to pull off being sinister without being villainous. On the surface, her character seems to be welcoming to Ju-ran, but the audience has trouble shaking the feeling that there is something untrustworthy about her.
The most surprising performance was probably from Park So-dam, who made a fantastic feature-length debut in “The Silenced.” Mature, collected, and determined, Park So-dam’s portrayal of Yeon-deok provides a steady anchor grounding the film between the extremes of Park Bo-young’s timid Ju-ran and Uhm Ji-won’s steely headmistress.
“The Silenced” ultimately fails in its overambitious attempt to combine box office-friendly action and thrills with picturesque emotion, but it remains engaging thanks to its excellent cast. The film opens in local theaters on June 18.
By Won Ho-jung (email@example.com