Brutality, sadism, and torture; does Missing offer us anything beyond? Mark Lee finds out.
Extreme violence is rife inside the modern horror library, and often this isn’t an issue per se, so long as the extremity is an integral tool for driving other, more human analysis, or to provoke an emotional response that is relevant to previous or later events in the piece. And yes, though it may be confronting an uncomfortable truth, often such extremes may prove appealing to a darker, more morbid facet of our nature, some collection of baser instincts that lay semi-dormant in our modern form, but can still be satisfied by such vicarious pleasure as the medium of film facilitates. Who doesn’t feel a sense of relief and guilty satisfaction as the ruthless stalker has the tools of his appalling trade turned upon himself?
Yet for all of that, I can’t help but feel utterly depressed and, to an extent, betrayed, by filmmakers who produce movies depicting little other than wall-to-wall torture. Short-changed, cheated, and let down. Allow the defendant of this case, Missing, to step forward and address the charges; what are the motives of director Sung-Hong Kim? Is he guilty of this crime? And are there any mitigating circumstances which we need to take into consideration?
One realises, when the clock of this production hasn’t even reached the ten minute marker, that we are in for a heavy ride. Kim wastes not one second of his 99 minute production in getting down to the murky business of torture, murder, and incarceration, and as we realise that the cruelty he depicts is less a means to an end, than the end in itself, we sigh heavily and entrench ourselves mentally for the marathon that follows. It’s a violent movie; that is without question, yet it’s not the most violent movie you will see by any means. There isn’t much in the way of extended scenes of explicit and graphic physical torture; the brutality of the movie emanates from the repulsive sexual torture which serial killer, farmer, and former chicken soup producer Pan-gon commits against his captured subjects. These scenes of sexual violence against women are deeply unpleasant, and there is insufficient depth elsewhere in the movie to offset the misery of these repugnant scenes.
For all of the unremitting nature of the torture and violence, Missing does deliver some quality from its constituent parts, even though they don’t combine to make a pleasing whole. The acting pedigree is impressive, featuring some well known South Korean names, including the very pretty Jeon Se-hong, playing, effectively, the first lead role as the flighty and flippant actress Hyeon-ah, driving into the countryside with a film director. Before long, of course, she is captured by the depraved farmer Pan-gon (Moon Seong-geun). Her elder and more sensible sister, Hyeon-jeong, is played by the similarly attractive Choo Ja-Hyeon, and as a strong female lead, her performance is perhaps the most satisfying in this bleak picture. Some of the auxiliary characters perform well too, although the head of the local police force is frustratingly unrealistic as he struggles with some unconvincing lines; ‘suspect someone suspicious!’, he cries, as Hyeon-jeong suspects the old and supposedly harmless farmer.
Production qualities are high too, with some thoughtful filming, and excellent lighting; whilst much of the action is shot in the murky, dank basement of Pan-gon’s sprawling farm, we never struggle to see, and the captured shots feel convincing and authentic. Additionally, though bereft of genuine tension throughout the majority of the film (replace ‘tension’ with ‘a sensation of grim futility’), Kim does manage to generate a modicum of tension in the last quarter, as events drive towards an inevitable conclusion.
Technically, it’s a polished accomplishment, and the grisly horror has been deftly and often imaginatively shot. Yet without any additional value beyond the cruel and often deeply unpleasant physical and mental torture, and with a characterisation of all men as either sadists, hapless idiots, or pathetic letches, there’s nothing to prevent Missing from feeling like a depressingly vacuous modern torture vehicle.
This Cine Asia release of Missing is a generally high quality transfer, doing justice to the production values of this dark yet often colourful film. The colours are rich and strong, especially whilst reproducing the lush greens of the South Korean countryside and the various colours in the local village centre. The blacks are very solid and this helps to ensure the murky basement scenes are particularly convincing, with the definition between the blacks and the lit sections proving clear and precise.
The aspect ratio here is 1.78:1, and the disc is encoded for region 2.
I did notice some pixilation at around 37 minutes, although I don’t know if this is limited to my copy.
Subtitles are on by default, and are accurate and unobtrusive. There are some unusual translations for some of the slang used by Hyeon-ah, such as referring to the locals as ‘boonies’.
Audio is presented in two options; Korean 2.0 stereo, or Korean 5.1 surround sound. The soundtrack is clear and strong, with distinct separation of sounds at the two ends of the spectrum. The movement of the sound is particularly convincing; take the moment where Hyeon-ah is caught between the murderous Pan-gon, and his angry dog; as she desperately spins between the two, the sounds move impressively around the speakers.
There are a couple of small issues. The consistency of the levels seems to fluctuate at louder moments; when substantial noises are emitted, the other sounds take a moment to recover to their natural levels. Additionally, there are some isolated synchronisation issues, where the speech falls slightly out of sync with the action. Other than that, audio is a well delivered part of the overall package.
Extras are limited to an Original Teaser, and Original Trailer, of which the latter runs like an extended version of the former. There is also a collection of Also Available titles on the Cine Asia label. These seem a little untargeted, as they mainly constitute martial arts dramas rather than horror titles, yet there are some appealing titles in there on the dependable Cine Asia label.
This is a well presented package of Missing, an uncharacteristically and unremittingly brutal yet well made South Korean torture shocker. It doesn’t contain anything in the way of extras, but with the subject matter of this movie, that may just be a relief. Missing is bleak and cruel, and, above the plausible and tenacious efforts of elder sister Hyeon-jeong, is a story without soul, and without the flash of hope that may have delivered a little in the way of mitigating light to offset the depressing torture, sadism, and depravity.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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