The Vanished


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Vanished
"The charismatic Kim Sang-Kyung tends to dominate scenes even when playing a downbeat character, but Kim Kang-woo is impressive in the quieter role of the troubled Park." | Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

Two decades ago virtually no-one beyond Korea's borders watched its cinematic output. Now its film industry is one of the most consistently impressive in the world, punching well above its weight and appealing to audiences in many different countries. As well as developing strong home-grown products, it has started exploring styles and ideas from elsewhere. The Vanished is based on Spanish thriller The Body and is a taut thriller in the finest tradition of film noir. Its cool Korean palette gives it a distinctive character but nothing is taken away.

Park Jin-han (Kim Kang-woo) and wife Yoon Sul-hee (Kim Hee-ae) have been having trouble. What began as a mutually pleasing relationship in which the younger man enjoyed being spoiled and financially supported as he began his career has now given way to a situation in which he resents playing second fiddle to his successful wife and she, in turns, fears that he's starting to stray. She's right to be worried - he has become obsessed by one of his students and the interest seems mutual. But when Yoon is killed, Park's world turns upside-down. He's not surprised to find himself the prime suspect. What he can't figure out is how her body disappeared from the morgue, and what that means for him now.

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Did he kill her? Was his young mistress involved? These are the questions faced by the local police department, who seem as confused by events as anyone else. Is Yoon alive out there somewhere, orchestrating events? Only one man might be able to solve the mystery - the drunken, disorganised detective Woo (Kim Sang-Kyung), who is clearly sharper than he lets on. Sticking close to Park, increasingly unsettling him, he might remind Western viewers of Columbo - but this being a Korean film, it's destined to take a much darker turn.

The charismatic Kim Sang-Kyung tends to dominate scenes even when playing a downbeat character, but Kim Kang-woo is impressive in the quieter role of the troubled Park. Both present us with consistent characters even whilst keeping something back so that the mystery unfolds gradually; it's the sort of film you may want to watch a second time to see key scenes from a different perspective. Director Lee Chang-hee deals with elements of memory, sometimes uncertain, that allow him to adjust his visual style as the narrative shifts. The fashionable neutral interiors of Park and Yoon's home, concealing a great deal, give way to blue-green shadows as we progress outward into urban spaces and finally into rural ones, whilst secrets and lies are gradually stripped away.

The Vanished screened at Fantasia 2018. Themes around male insecurity and violence towards women underscore the story, and there's a strong revenge plot in there too. Nothing is quite what it appears to be. This is a solid, well-calibrated thriller which noir fans will love.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2018
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The Vanished packshot
A murder investigation becomes even more complicated when the corpse disappears from the morgue.

Director: Lee Chang-hee

Writer: Lee Chang-hee

Starring: Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Hee-ae, Han Ji-an, Lee Ji-hoon

Year: 2018

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: South Korea


Fantasia 2018

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