March 19, 2009
Moon-cheol Nam as Pan-gon
Choo Ja-hyun as Hyun-jung
Jeon Se-hong as Hyun-ah
When a film director takes a young starlet, Hyun-ah (Jeon Se-hong), to the countryside to discuss a new role, they stop at a farm that is renowned for its home-made chicken soup. The owner of the farm, Pan-gon (Moon-cheol) is a bit of a recluse but seems nice enough – but he has a dark secret. He seems offended by the starlet’s beauty, becomes further insulted by the fact that she doesn’t give him the time of day, so does what any closet psycho would do; violently kills the director and imprisons Hyun-ah in a steel cage in the basement.
After a few days Hyun-ah’s sister gets concerned about Hyun-ah’s disappearance and contacts the police. A search of the farm comes up empty but the sister will not be deterred – and she finds a trail of evidence that leads back to the farm. Can she unravel the clues in time to save her sister? Can she avoid becoming entangled in danger herself? And… why are those chickens so plump and succulent looking anyway?
Back in 1960 Psycho took the world by storm, changing the face of horror forever. Before Psycho it was pretty easy to tell who the monster was – bolts coming out of the neck or swimming around in a fish suit�would give it away every time. Norman Bates was different; He could have been anyone on the street and people would have no idea that he had his dead mother in a rocking chair back home. The horror sub-genre “Psychotic” was born, and I talk quite a bit about that in my book Horror Movie Freak .
Missing is not even close to a Psycho clone, but it does play to the same concept regarding the villain as a “normal” person who does business around the village while arousing no suspicion whatsoever. The promo material for Missing, which was very popular in South Korea, suggests that Pan-gon is a recluse and social outcast, but that’s not really the case. In fact, he doesn’t even seem particularly strange. He delivers eggs to restaurants, interacts with the police, drinks bottled tea (I think that’s what it was) with the locals and rides around on his moped like any other normal member of the community. Then, when he goes home, things are a bit different.
If the villain’s characteristics are reminiscent of Psycho, then the “homelife” of the mild-mannered Pan-gon moves more in the direction of Hostel. Several of the scenes have gore and torture that are a bit uncomfortable to watch, actually, and when the pliers came out all bets were off. These scenes are not constant, but rather intermixed with film elements that seem more Thriller-like than anything. Missing is part whodunit, part suspenseful thriller and part exploitation – all wrapped in a package that is pure horror.
The performances in Missing are exceptional, for the most part, particularly among the three main characters. The farmer Pan-gon is pretty tough to define because on one hand it seems terribly inconsistent that he could be hosing down a trapped naked girl with ice-cold water before forcing her to eat birthday cake, while minutes later he’s enjoying a rousing session of home karaoke. Moon Sung-kuen makes it believable somehow, and that’s what is really scary – this psycho could literally be anyone you see in your day to day life, regardless of how “normal” they may appear.
Choo Ja-hyun as the (first) victim achieves a level of panic and despair that is perfect, without falling into a clichéd “scream and cry” performance that would have lessened the impact of this film. The deputy sheriff was a bit of a goof-ball, but his highly animated facial expressions and gestures may be culturally typical as far as I know – so it’s hard to comment on the effectiveness of that performance.
The promotional materials for Missing claim that the film is based on true events “that shook a nation”, and includes the message that “154,000 people go Missing in Korea every year. Of them 25% are found dead, 1% survives, and the rest remain missing.” The implication is that the kind of scenario depicted in this film is a somewhat typical occurrence. I certainly hope that is not the case.
Typical or not, Missing is a frightening and disturbing film that both borrows from themes that have been done before and offers it’s own twist on the evil that lurks under our very noses. And that’s not chicken feed.