Unveiled as the annual non-competing “surprise film” at this year’s Cannes fest, this pic by fest jury member Shin Sang Okk is a forceful and courageous condemnation of political corruption inside the top reaches of the South Korean government. Film will have minimal commercial impact outside Asia, but it should play the fest route, which might result in TV sales and video release.
Pic purports to tell the background story of the disappearance of a prominent exiled politico who vanished while visiting Paris and was never seen again.
The director (whose name was spelled on the end credits as Sang Okk Sheen in the print reviewed) knows all about political kidnapping from personal experience: After he fell afoul of the government, he and his actress wife vanished, apparently kidnapped, only to resurface and continue making films in various countries.
“Vanished,” Shin/Sheen’s first South Korean film since 1976, is a fierce attack on the conservative government of former President Park Chung Hee, called President Han in the film. The pic opens with a crate arriving in Seoul under diplomatic immunity and opened at the president’s residence.
Inside is Park Jin Yook, former head of the country’s National Security Agency, who had been kidnapped. Park is given 48 hours to agree not to publish his memoirs, in which he plans to attack Han’s government.
During two days of imprisonment, Park recalls the military coup that toppled an elected government 18 years earlier, and his complicity as head of security.
What follows is an intriguing panorama of South Korean politics, with the names of the principals changed, but with strong implications of massive abuse of human rights, including torture and murder, organized from the very top.
Vivid scenes of student riots, police and military attacks on the rioters and the suicide of a woman who ignites herself and falls from a tall building graphically depict the public reaction to government intolerance.
But the events will be confusing to anyone but Koreans or students of contemporary Asian politics. The film lacks the strong dramatic line that made a political thriller like “Z” so effective.
Shin’s robust, but at times primitive, style is reminiscent of the work of Samuel Fuller: He’s obviously passionate about his subject but sometimes deals with that subject in a manner bordering on melodrama. A handful of sex scenes, seemingly included as a sop to the Korean box office, are on the tawdry side.
But this is an unquestionably daring film that makes a full frontal attack on the government of the country where it was made without a hint of concession.
Pic also clearly implies U.S. involvement: CIA reps are shown as willing to go along with human rights violations as long as the government promises that no nuclear weapons will be developed in South Korea.
Film was shot partly in Korea, with some interiors lensed in L.A. and all post-production in the U.S. Technical credits are pretty good.
None of the actors is likely to win any prizes here, and the film itself would not be of major importance were it not for the helmer’s gutsy handling of his potent theme.