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Missing

"Missing" stands out for its simplicity and lack of exaggeration, like a glass of pure water.

Amid all the super-gore and heavy atmospherics of contempo horror pics, “Missing” stands out for its simplicity and lack of exaggeration, like a glass of pure water — and no less bracing. Straightforward yarn of a taciturn farmer who kidnaps, rapes and murders young women, with no sense of remorse, is closer to South Korean dramas such as Bong Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder” and “Mother” in its depiction of the dark areas of the Korean psyche beneath normal country life; a fine perf by noted actor Mun Seong-geun also elevates this above pure genre fare. Free-thinking fests should take a look.

Helmer Kim Seong-hong has a solid commercial record, starting as writer of the popular “Two Cops” series and then for thrillers like “The Trap” and “Say Yes.” But “Missing” — based on a real-life case that took place in summer 2007 — is in a different league altogether. Shot for only $1.3 million, the film did moderate biz locally in its March release.

Spoiled Seoul-ite Kang Hyeon-ah (former beauty queen Jeon Se-hong) and her film director b.f., Hong (Son Geon-woo), stay at a small country retreat run by poultry farmer Jang Pan-gon (Mun), who lives with his sick mom and has a rep in town for being a quiet, devoted guy. Without much ado, Pan-gon strangles Hong, splits his skull with a shovel, then drugs and cages Hyeon-ah in a cellar.

Pan-gon first keeps her in the dark for days, then hoses her down and buys her a silver negligee before himself dressing up, crooning a song and raping her.

Ten days later, Hyeon-ah’s elder sister, the very together Hyeon-jeong (Chu Ja-hyeon), arrives looking for her sibling. A local goodtime girl (Hwang Eun-jeong) reports seeing her at Pan-gon’s place, but a visit there with the police turns up nothing. Later, however, Pan-gon lures Hyeon-jeong back to his farm on a phony excuse.

With slight nods to “The Collector” and “Psycho,” but using the simplest means, the film conjures and sustains tension over the question of whether Pan-gon will get away with his crimes and whether Hyeon-jeong will live to tell the tale. Most of the movie is set in broad daylight, in the heat of summer, but a sense of threat is ever present beneath the pic’s matter-of-fact approach.

Mun turns a potentially cliched role into a tour de force of minimal acting. As the elder sister who just won’t give up, Chu makes a determined femme lead sans genre heroics.

Missing

South Korea

  • Production: A Cinergy release of a Haldong Sajin, Team Works production. (International sales: Showbox/Mediaplex, Seoul.) Produced by Jo Seon-muk. Executive producer, Lee Yeong-seon. Directed by Kim Seong-hong. Screenplay, Kim Yeong-ok.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Jeong Han-cheol; editor, Gyeong Min-ho; music, Angelo Lee; art director, Jo Yun-ah; costume designer, Jeong Su-yeon; sound (Dolby Digital), Han Myeong-hwan; special effects, Yun Yeo-jin; action director, Kim Cheol-jun. Reviewed at PiFan (World Fantastic Cinema), Bucheon, South Korea, July 22, 2009. Running time: 98 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Mun Seong-geun, Chu Ja-hyeon, Jeon Se-hong, Oh Seong-su, Nam Mun-cheol, Hwang Eun-jeong, Son Geon-woo, Lee Bong-gu, Son Yeong-sun.
  • Music By: