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January 2011

Missing

cast: Mun Seong-kun, Jeon Se-hong, and Chu Ja-hyeon

director: Kim Sung-hong

99 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Shobox / Cine Asia
DVD Region 2
[released 31 January]

RATING: 6/10
review by Max Cairnduff

Missing

I'm a big fan of Korean cinema. Partly that's because of how often it surprises me. A vampire film based on a Zola novel... Of course, why not? (Thirst, if you're curious). Missing isn't that kind of film. It's an efficient genre outing which could just as well have been made in the US, Japan, the UK, or wherever really. It is well cast, well acted, well directed, and well paced, by and large. It just doesn't do anything that other films don't which makes it ok for a night's entertainment if it's your sort of thing and not worth bothering with if it's not.

Pan-Kon (Mun Seong-kun) is a reclusive middle aged man who lives alone with his elderly and bedridden mother on a little-used mountain road (danger Will Robinson!). His mother used to run a chicken soup shop, and the advert is still on the road so from time to time travellers still make the detour to come and visit and get some chicken soup.

Pretty young Hyeong-ah (Jeon Se-hong) is out on holiday with her boyfriend of the moment. They stop for soup. Before you can say is that a wire garrotte in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me Hyeong-ah is single and has new accommodation in a cage in Pan-Kon's cellar.

Much of the film follows Hyeong-ah's imprisonment, rape and torture. Pan-Kon alternates between treating her literally like a dog and engaging in a bizarre and frightening attempt at romance. Mun Seong-kun is genuinely good here, flipping from a highly disturbing off-key imitation of normality to savage fury and then back again in an instant. A lot of where the film succeeds is down to his performance.

Jeon Se-hong isn't able to contribute quite so much. She's beautiful which she has to be for the role really, but while she may well be able to act here she isn't asked to do much beyond scream in horror, scream in pain and beg for mercy.

Hyeong-ah's absence is soon noticed. Her sister Hyeong-jeong (Chu Ja-hyeon) decides to visit the area where she last heard from her sister and find out what happened. When the local police refuse to help, she starts digging herself and soon realises that whatever has happened to her sister Pan-Kon is probably behind it. The stage is set for a contest between Pan-Kon and Hyeong-ah from which only one is likely to emerge.

Full disclosure time... I hate films in which women are tortured for entertainment and I hated this film (sometimes you make a mistake when you pick a film for review; it's a small price to pay for getting to see films like Mother though). That's an issue I have with the subject matter, but it doesn't mean Missing is a bad movie. It's not Missing's fault that I don't like its genre. The truth is, Missing does a lot right.

It's tense, often very hard to watch, the torture scenes are revolting (which is kind of the point after all), the killer disturbing, the victim attractive and terrified, and her sister determined. The gore is pretty well done and while I've seen movies with a lot more of it (Korean comedies can have more gore than the average western horror movie at times) there are throats cut and axes in heads and some exceptionally well fed chickens. All the ingredients of a good film are present and correct.

What Missing is missing though is the unexpected. If you've seen more than one or two of these movies then you'll guess what happens in each scene by and large before it actually does. It's all well done, but it's not new. It's a solid genre effort and if you're a fan of these movies this is worth picking up, but it's not going to set any new standards for the field.

Missing claims to be based on a true story... The Amityville Horror made the same claim (and so have many other films). I wouldn't put too much weight on that. This is an exploitation flick featuring as a minor character a delivery girl who bikes around sometimes in hot pants and sometimes in a miniskirt. It's not intended to be taken that seriously. With a bit more originality of concept I'd have given it an eight-out-of ten rating, as it is a more forgiving man might give it a seven, but I'm not that man.

The Missing DVD comes with its original trailers and some adverts for other films.



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