Missing (Sil jong) (2009)
(18) Running time: 98 minutes
Director: Sung-Hong Kim
Starring: Ja-Hyeon Chu, Min-Hee Ha, Gi-Ho heo
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
On the back of countless other torture porn horror flicks comes Korea’s newest addition to the genre, Missing. While the torture porn genre is getting old and tiresome, with very few films managing to shock or upset these days, Missing gets its kicks from being based on a true story, and so what we do see on screen is made all the more disturbing because of this. However, with recent torture porn ‘classics’ like 7 Days and The Horseman proving a gut wrenching emotional punch and strong characters can completely change the way the genre is presented, I guess I was hoping for the same here.
Sadly Missing does not go that extra mile, and while I fully appreciate that this is based on a true story and must attempt to stick to facts, there was very little here to upset me. Granted there are one or two scenes which will make you feel hugely uncomfortable, but I could not help but feel let down by a real lack of menace here, and it felt like the makers just weren’t trying hard enough. The film follows all the usual clichés, and follows many of the golden rules of horror that worked years ago, but there is nothing fresh here, nothing inventive, and for a Korean film, that is simply not good enough. Korea, and Asian cinema are known for pushing boundaries, pushing what is acceptable, and they sure as Hell don’t like to play it safe, but Missing does feel like the director was not willing to take things too far. Maybe it was out of respect for those involved in the real case, and if so then fair play, but if you sold your film as a horror and intended to get that sort of audience, then shouldn’t you give them what they want?
Missing is a very basic tale of a creepy old man who is regarded by the locals as a harmless chap who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He spends his days caring for his Mum and making a unique chicken soup, a dish that attracts outsiders to his home in the country. However, if those outsiders happen to be beautiful women then he will spring into action, as he does here, and he will kill their partners and take them hostage as his sex slave. Meet Pan-Gon, a rather unhinged looking man who gets what he wants, and his new victim is the gorgeous actress Hyun-Ah, and her boyfriend is sadly about to meet his maker. In thrilling fashion, Pan-Gon strangles the boyfriend/ film director with a piece of rope, which breaks, and he ends up with an axe in the head. So far so good, this is impressive stuff, and when the gorgeous Hyun-Ah is caged, told to strip and hosed down, it appears we are headed into dark territory. Her eventual rape is quite chilling, with a cold and simple piano tune playing while the event takes place: it works, and the film does appear to be turning nasty. However, a side story involving Hyun-Ah’s equally stunning sister and a group of local, idiotic police becomes so ridiculously stupid that all tension is taken away.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still a sense of unease and menace, but the police, unwilling to help in any way, become so ludicrously stupid that it becomes very hard to take the film seriously. They have absolutely no interest in finding the missing girl, and even argue with the sister when she suspects Pan-Gon and prefer to tell her what a nice man he is rather than actually investigate him. The stupid plot ideas may have actually happened in the real case, but it removes us so far from the feeling of sadistic violence that you cannot help but become angry at the police, or just shake your head in disbelief. It is a real shame because there is something here which could have really worked, and could probably have landed itself up there with the more sadistic, inventive films of this genre. Missing, though, just becomes so clichéd and idiotic you almost want the bad guy to win, and that is not a good thing, especially when based on real events. Both sisters and police do things that often defy belief, and the stupidity just becomes too much to handle.
There are still a couple of sadistic moments, but it all feels far too restrained, and much of the violence happens either off screen or after the fact. There are too many things going on here which water down any impact the brutal stuff may have, and we end up with a wafer thin plot, restrained and withheld violence, menace which is built up and brought crashing down by a cliché or two, and central characters who keep doing things which make you scream at the TV “why??!!!” A good idea, a nice touch, but Missing is lacking conviction and edge, something which would not normally happen in Asian cinema.