[Herald Review] Chasing phantoms of one’s guilt

By Yoon Min-sik

“The Vanished” a nail-biting psychological thriller with an awesome twist

  • Published : Mar 4, 2018 - 15:36
  • Updated : Mar 4, 2018 - 15:36

A plot twist is a double-edged sword in filming. When used right, it could blow the audience’s mind. But in clumsy hands, it could blow up in your face.

“The Vanished” by rookie director Lee Chang-hee is a rare film that toys with viewers’ perception and manages to leave them satisfyingly shaken in the end.

The thriller is a remake of the 2012 crime thriller “The Body,” directed by Oriol Paulo. The body of the recently deceased business mogul Yoon Sul-hee -- played by Kim Hee-ae -- goes missing, and the widower Park Jin-han -- played by Kim Kang-woo -- is called in by the police for questioning.

It soon becomes apparent that Park hides a dark secret related to his wife’s death. Detective Woo Jung-sik -- portrayed by Kim Sang-kyung -- attempts to dig up what Park has buried.

The casting of the three Kims looks to be a near-perfect choice, as they each fit their roles. 

A scene from “The Vanished” (Cineguru)

Kim Hee-ae portrays a powerful woman who is terrifying, not only because of her wealth and influence but also because she gets into your head. The obsession with her husband, the constant desire to undermine him and convince him that he is only there because she allows it, looms over Park like an enormous shadow.

Yoon’s presence is felt even when she is not there. She is a benevolent tyrant and loving captor who makes sure that the trophy husband feels only adequate when with her.

Bound by the controlling spouse is Park, who desperately seeks solace through an extramarital affair and other dramatic measures. The helpless nature of the character is depicted via Kim Kang-woo’s youth -- the actor is 11 years younger than Kim Hee-ae -- along with his timid and nervous behavior.

Kim beautifully plays a man pushed to the psychological edge, which is pivotal for the plot.

“I deliberately made myself sleep-deprived, so I would look more gaunt. It’s weird, but I actually felt loneliness while I was shooting the film. I played my character like he was shut out from everyone else, because nobody was on his side,” said Kim, after the premiere of “The Vanished” on Wednesday.

A scene from “The Vanished” (Cineguru)

Pushing him further is detective Woo, who hides keen eyes and a nose for trouble under his loosey-goosey attitude. Kim is one of those actors that can appear sharp and naive at the same time. Viewers -- like Park -- will find themselves slowly realizing that this is not a man to be messed with.

Director Lee said Woo’s apparent loose behavior depicts a multidimensional character. Like the movie, there is more to Woo than meets the eye.

The movie mostly follows the story through Park’s eyes, which allows the director to manipulate the audiences’ perception on what is really going on.

The film’s setting plays a role in building up the suspense. Set in a morgue at the National Forensic Service, the narrow corridors and sense of confinement prevalent in the building contribute to the feeling that there is nowhere to run -- a sentiment shared by Park and the audience.

Kim Hee-ae (center) speaks while sitting next to Kim Sang-kyung (left) and Kim Gang-woo at a press conference held after the premiere of “The Vanished” in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

But the fear does not derive from the dark corners or from the threat upon one’s life. The events in the film feed on Park’s guilt and grow to be a monster that attempts to swallow him whole.

The flick’s plot twist may be one of the finest in recent Korean cinema. The pace suddenly changes in the third act, and director Lee challenges everything that you have learned about the plot so far in the process.

It is a very smart film that knows to take one step further than the audience, then goes around them, and smacks them in the head. If you are looking to be pleasantly confounded by a good twist and suspenseful buildup, it is worth checking out.

“The Vanished” opens in local theaters on March 7.

By Yoon Min-sik