Korean Film Review – Helpless (화차)

Directed by Byeon Yeong-ju

Rating: 15

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Running time: 117 minutes

Picture the scene: You have just met your soulmate are madly in love. You’ve been together for two years and are set to be married. En route to your father’s house, your fiancée suddenly goes missing and all traces of her seem to have disappeared. How much did you really know about her? This is the question that is asked in Byeon Yeong-ju’s thriller “Helpless,” which is adapted from the novel by Miyabe Miyuki and stars Kim Min-hee, Lee Seon-gyeon and Jo Seong-ha.

Jang Mun-ho (Lee Seon-gyeon) and his fiancée Kang Seon-young (Kim Min-hee) have just gotten engaged. Excited about their news, they are driving to Andong to see Mun-ho’s parents. They are clearly in love and are looking forward to their new life together. They stop at a service station for coffee, but when Mun-ho returns to the car, he finds the engine still running and his fiancée missing. There is no sign of her except for her hairpin in the bathroom.
Clearly shaken, Mun-ho reports her missing to the police. He goes to Seon-young’s apartment, but it has been stripped bare and all her belongings are gone. Something is clearly wrong. This is when he hires Kim Jong-geun, his cousin and a disgraced former cop, to search for her. What he finds is disturbing, as he discovers that his Seon-young is not actually who she claimed to be and the real Kang Seon-young was reported missing three years earlier. It transpires that everything Mun-ho knew about his fiancée is false: her job, her references, her family and her life. As Mun-ho and Jong-geun continue to search for his missing fiancée, all the pieces of this intriguing puzzle start to fall into place as the mystery unravels.

Unlike other Korean thrillers I’ve seen recently, the plot of “Helpless” continues to unfold as the film progresses, as opposed to an early reveal followed by copious amounts of needless action to keep the viewer entertained. The plot is slow-burning, and the viewer is put in the same position as the lead characters, in the sense that we know what they know as they learn it. When they find a new clue, it’s the same for us, meaning that we are equally engaged in the mystery and eager to see a conclusion.

I was pleasantly surprised with the direction from Byeon Yeong-ju, as she used some rather unconventional establishing shots and some interesting camera angles, almost Hitchock-ian, which also added to the film’s sense of unease. If you’re a fan of the thriller genre, I would highly recommend you get “Helpless” on DVD. But just make sure you set aside some time, as the film deserves your full attention.

 

 

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