Director – Hong Eui-jung – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 99m
Things go from bad to worse for a mute forced to look after an 11-year-old girl for her kidnapper when the latter disappears in this ostensible crime drama – screened as a teaser screening for the London Korean Film Festival
From its opening this appears a crime film, but somewhere along the line, while remaining a crime film about two men involved in executing a kidnap who are increasingly out of their depth, it turns into…well, it’s hard to say. A drama? A comedy? One of those films like The House Of Us (Yoon Ge-eun, 2019) where the children seem far more important than the adults?
Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung) and Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in from Burning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018; Default, Choi Kook-Hee, 2018) drive their lorry into town to sell their eggs to anyone who’ll buy. Then the pair dress for their other job. In cagoules. To project their clothing from the blood. They work as a clean-up crew for gangsters – putting protective sheeting on the floor, cleaning up the mess afterwards. Not, however, the actual dirty work of killing, of which they keep well clear.
A typical day. A man is strung up by his waist, pleading with them, the first of the narrative’s numerous surprises. They can do nothing for him, just prep the scene for those who hired them. Actually, today isn’t typical: the boss is visiting. And he has an extra job for them. An address and someone to pick up and look after for a few days.
Protestations that they don’t do that sort of work and wouldn’t know what to do fall on deaf ears. So they go to pick up the person, who turns out to be 11-year-old girl Cho-hee (Moon Seung-ah). She knows exactly what’s going on, asking questions about her dad and the ransom money. Chang-bok instructs Tae-in to look after her at his countryside shack where he lives with his seven-year-old sister Moon-ju (Lee Ke-eun). Tae-in sends him a text from his candybar phone to say, he can’t lock Cho-hee in there because of his sister. He’s mute, so he has no other way of communicating verbally with anyone.
They turn up for another clean up job. In the next of the narrative’s surprises, they find their boss strung up. He’s had his finger in one too many pies. Unfortunately, he hasn’t given them instructions on the girl apart from, wait for future instructions.
As the surprises come thick and fast, the not terribly capable Tae-in is forced to fend for himself and look after the girl on his own. And when Cho-hee seizes her chance to escape, she runs into a man on a bicycle whose claim of being a policeman arouses the girl’s suspicions. Elsewhere, a policewoman runs into the wrong suspect at the wrong time and ends up being buried alive for her pains.
Yet what started off as a crime movie starts to look like something else. Tae-in and Moon-ju’s ramshackle home is an interior with clothing strewn untidily everywhere – on the floor, piled up the walls… When the two girls are left alone, in possibly the film’s most memorable scene, the older one teaches the younger how to fold clothes so that when Tae-in returns he’s confronted not with the untidy mess he left but a beautifully and breathtakingly neat and ordered home.
The two girls get quite a bit of non-adult screen time which pays off handsomely as both child actresses possess considerable onscreen presence. Try as they might, though, they can’t upstage Yoo Ah-in’s hopeless incompetent struggling to do the right thing. First time writer-director Hong’s is an unusual and unique vision which ultimately delivers far more than numerous plot twists, although it does deliver a lot of those too – and with some considerable aplomb. Well worth seeing should you get the chance.
Voice Of Silence played as a teaser screening for LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival.
A further LKFF teaser screening takes place tonight:
Samjin Company English Class, Thursday, July 8th, 6pm start, at Everyman Screen on The Green, Islington.
LKFF 2020 TRAILER: