The Vanished (2018)
Director (and writer): Lee Chang-hee
Cast: Kim Sang- Kyung, Kim Kang-Woo, Kim Hee-ae, Han Ji-An, Lee Ji-Hoon
The body of Yoon Seol Hee disappears at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation. Detective Woo Joong Shik seeks clues on her disappearance, while her husband Park Jin Han claims she is alive. – IMDB
South Korean films have been gracing its presence at the Fantasia Film Festival for the last few years with a lot of success in many genres. Drama, action, thriller, horror: you name it and they have had its impact by showing off great storytelling skills, stylistic cinematography and outstanding characters and performances while sharing their culture and society. This debut feature film directed by 35 year old Lee Chang-hee is a great addition to the successes. The Vanished is based on the Spanish film The Body. While the foundation of the idea of the missing corpse and the characterization is similar to the original, Lee makes sure that the way his story ends has his own influences and unique twist. Thrillers are no small feat and a lot of directors fail to put together a truly effective twist. Lee has chosen a challenging genre to tackle and in many ways, he delivers it quite effectively. It’s important to note that while this is set in a morgue, The Vanished is not meant to be horrific, in fact there is a real consciousness of making sure that it stays more on the atmospheric thriller aspects and the unfolding of the story.
The Vanished takes a great step in framing the movie over the course of a night with timestamps to see the various points as reference. It is meant to be a simple film as we see the story reveal itself through the colorful characters on screen who strike up some signature humorous moments with their dialogue and reaction. It helps to break up the tension. At the same time, the timeline also smoothly flows into the flashback moments to give more depth on the story as other pieces get revealed. What drives the story is the disappearance of the corpse which brings the further notion of catalepsy or the possibility of the dead coming alive again. In this case, it highlights the two main characters here: the husband Dr.Park (Kang-woo Kim) and the detective Jung-sik (Sang-kyung Kim). Their stories are very similar in their losses but as Jung-sik uncovers the mystery with the biggest suspect, the contrast in their characterization makes sense especially when it is no surprise that in this relationship of unbalanced control, he has a mistress. Like most thrillers, the secrets lead to more secrets and twists and turns. The final act, while may seem far-fetched, actually had all the clues embedded throughout the film and is in the details of piecing them together.
Filled with an experienced South Korean cast that deliver exceptional roles in this thriller, The Vanished’s biggest accomplishment is its cinematography. The basics of contrasts are used here, just like for its characters and their emotions. In terms of color palette, the night scenes have a lot of crisp scenes with focused lighting and a blue hues that accentuate the darker scenes. It plays well with flickering lights and well-timed blackout moments to create the suspenseful atmosphere. In the flashback moments, its contrasts it with more natural and warm colors like using sunlight. One of the best shots is the choice of color when one of the character falls into the water and the contrast of blue and red in the details of the water elevate the scene visually, and not just emotionally. Aside than the color palette, it also benefits from the scenes being framed stylistically like when looking at the window or when to focus on centering the object or using overhead bird’s eye views to show more detail.
Visually stylistic and great characters make The Vanished an immersive experience. While the thriller is meant to be simple, there was a charm to how the final act was executed to bring in its own twists and stayed true to South Korean films and its tendency to focus on the deeper emotions of its characters on hand. Lee Chang-hee had a vision and he stayed true to it which delivers an effective little thriller.
This review was also posted on That Moment In.