Film: Missing **
Release Date: 31st January 2011
Running time: 99 mins
Director: Kim Sung-Hong
Starring: Chu Ja-hyeon, Ha Min-hee, Heo Gi-ho, Hwang Eun-jeong, Jeon Se-hong
Studio: Cine Asia
Country: South Korea
A staggering statistic reveals that 154,000 people go missing in Korea every year, and of those, only about 1600 live to tell the tale. How they came to this figure is a mystery in itself, but it’s no surprise director Kim Sung-Hong (Say Yes, The Hole) decided to use it as a premise for his latest film, imaginatively titled Missing.
A traveling couple decides to stop off at a farm to taste the legendary chicken soup on sale there, only to be attacked by recluse Pan-gon, who ruthlessly murders the man and imprisons the girl in the basement.
It isn’t long before his dark secrets are revealed, along with the arrival of a worried woman concerned over her sister’s disappearance. A trail of evidence may point toward the farm, but with a local police force unwilling to help, the only way of saving her sister is to confront social outcast Pan-gon alone…
Missing opens with a mawkish sequence in which the male film director, scouting for possible locations and traveling with actress Hyun-ah, gets more than just chicken soup down his neck. But for all the unpleasant scenarios that follow during the first act, this sits out of place and could easily put viewers off with its seen-it-all-before lack of originality. It’s therefore safe to stick with Kim Sung-Hong’s slow-paced horror, but only up to a point.
The level of discomfort is certainly set most efficiently during the opening exchanges, in which Hyun-ah is chained like a dog, disturbingly stuffed with birthday cake (notably with three candles), hosed clean and given a box of matches she inevitably wastes through fear of the unknown. Slow-paced and extremely credible, Missing is effectively horrible and promises much more than it will ultimately deliver.
It’s a shame, because there are still some good moments that follow: Pan-gon taking on more than he, but certainly not his sex slave Hyun-ah, can chew; his hilarious reasoning for returning a pretty dress intended for one of the deceased, wishing to exchange it for another size and another victim because, by his own admittance, “she’s lost some weight”, and a well-orchestrated scene that will make you think twice before purchasing a corn-fed chicken.
Sadly, these rare moments of enjoyment are fleeting to say the least – instead, Sung-hong prefers the method of peppering a film with ridiculous one-liners, characters talking to themselves and frustratingly inept oddballs: “Did he (Pan-gon) really do something?” questions one of the police officers when he’s by himself; Hyun-ah is more guilty than most though, constantly talking to her sister who is nowhere to be seen – a perfect, and extremely lazy excuse to then cut to her sibling’s desperate search each and every time.
The laughable dialogue doesn’t let up. “Where is she? My sister – is she alive?” begins another annoying conversation, this time between the distraught sister and Pan-gon. “Isn’t it a bit cramped for two?” he replies to a protagonist clearly reading a different book let alone the right page. She responds with a confused “So?” before Pan-gon gets just as frustrated as the audience and finally spells it out to her. The best is saved until last though when another couple arrives at the farm, hoping to sample some of that famous chicken soup. Pan-gon explains to them that since his mother died nobody has been around to cook it, and the lady responds with, “I’m so sorry – she was well three years ago.”
Other than the drivel being spat out, a police force that are so useless drains any enthusiasm the viewer may have left, summed up by another cracking line delivered to the worried sister when she questions their lack of motivation, “Suspect someone suspicious” they tell her, defending the misunderstood villager. A bold twist halfway through proceedings pays off, if only to distract briefly, but all too often characters are introduced for no purpose whatsoever – they aren’t even chickenfeed, while an ending that is supposed to be clever reminds you of what came before, and how annoyingly pointless the entire experience was. It may look grim, and the effects compliment the action with gory satisfaction, but you’ll need more than a strong stomach to negotiate a tiresome script funny for all the wrong reasons.
Out of the 1600 people that go missing but live to tell the tale, you would’ve hoped that someone had a better story than this. Opening well, with some unsettling moments, Missing soon loses any credibility with terrible dialogue, a lack of originality, and characters that move the story forward by talking to themselves - dire.