Missing (실종, Kim Sung-hong: 2009)

Hyun-ah travels with a film director into the countryside to discuss a potential film role. Taking a break at a farm for some fresh chicken soup, the strange owner of the farm suddenly attacks the director and knocks Hyun-ah unconscious – when she awakes to find herself held hostage she realises with horror that no-one knows exactly where she has gone..

Based on (or at least ‘inspired by’) a true story, at first glance Missing appears to be another entry in the recent trend of torture films. Anyone familiar with director Kim Sung-hong’s previous film Say Yes (2001) might also expect something fairly gratuitous and bloody. It’s a surprise then to find that Missing takes more of an atmospheric approach to its kidnap tale. There’s a sense of restraint – particularly for the first half of the film – that makes it incredibly effective, and by ‘effective’ I do mean ‘disturbing’. The cinematography by Jeong Han-chul has a voyeuristic edge to it – the short skirts of the females on screen are lingered over and the camera largely hangs over proceedings without much movement. Without giving away any plot details, Missing also opts largely for a matter-of-fact approach to physical violence and proves that the treat of on-screen torture can be more intense than blood and gore. But that’s not to say there is no on-screen bloodiness at all, because there is..

Shot and edited in a straightforward manner that gives it a level of realism, Missing feels almost old-fashioned in its lack of flashiness. The first act of violence occurs so quickly and without warning that it takes a second to realise what has just happened. This downplayed approach to events, carried through to its violent imagery, serves to significantly increase the sense of threat throughout. Missing doesn’t choose to capitalise on explicit visuals and with very few cues from the soundtrack – very few sudden bursts of music representing impending danger – it exudes of confidence that adds to its effectiveness that, like on on-screen character, it has the viewer in its grip. During one or two of it’s more frightening scenes the score remains noticeably subdued, removing the sense of familiarity typical of these types of films, which all too often signpost the next turn of events.

Missing is gripping stuff from the outset with its simplicity it manages to pulls you into its hostage narrative very quickly. Key to this is slightly unhinged and unflinching performance from veteran Moon Sung-keun as Pan-gon. It’s really down to Moon Sung-keun to carry the show with a performance that side-steps some of the usual ‘psycho’ theatrics and he displays a powerful screen presence when given the space. His creepy intensity renders the rest of the cast – including Choo Ja-hyun and Jeon Se-hong – as fairly dull (especially as most of the supporting roles are underwritten) but overall this works in favour of the film.

With a powerful first half it’s not until Missing hits the midway point that it really starts to show its hand as typical genre fare – albeit very well made and performed. There’s a typical ‘big moment’ midway, the police are bumbling and largely uninterested and there’s both a ‘loony’ neighbour and a concerned relation. We’ve seen all of this on-screen many times before and although Missing doesn’t do anything original with any of them (and the second half loses a little of the momentum because of this) it’s still careful not to really fumble them. If you’re familiar with these types of films then unfortunately nothing massively surprising occurs in the second half, but given that its well-worn material it works pretty well. The blood also flows more towards the end of the film – which is almost inevitable – but it’s most powerful moments are still those delivered impassively. The only point at which Missing makes a curious misstep is in its final scene – a daftly tacked-on moment which suggests the filmmakers may be hoping for a sequel, but which is otherwise just cheap, damp squib.

Missing joins a whole stack of similarly themed films and while it doesn’t deliver anything original the restrained filmmaking and solid performances mark it as above average fare, managing to be, at times, genuinely disturbing. Opting for atmosphere and performance over explicitness, with Missing Kim Sung-hong largely proves the old adage true – that sometimes less is more.

실종 (Missing)
Directed by Kim Sung-hong
Produced by Cho Seok-mook
Written by Kim Yeong-ok
Starring Moon Sung-keun, Choo Ja-hyun, Jeon Se-hong, O Seungso, Nam Mun-cheol