It can be hard to hate someone once you understand them.

Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.

Andy Warhol

Title
Missing: Sarajin Yeoja (2016)
Also known as
Sarajin Yeoja  
Genre
Crime,   Mystery,   Thriller,   Tragedy
Written by
Hong Eun-mi
Directed by
Lee Eon-hee
Country of Origin
South Korea
Running time
100 minutes

oh! … brief

A woman and her ex-husband are engaged in a bitter custody battle. As a single mother, Ji-Sun struggles to juggle her busy job in a PR firm, looking after her child, and managing the financial aspects of a long ongoing custody suit. She employs the services of a Chinese nanny called Han-mae to help her out.

When Ji-Sun returns from work one evening, her nanny and her daughter are mysteriously missing. She desperately searches for her child and eventually goes to the police. While the investigation is carried out, the custodial battle continues.

As Ji-Sun searches for her child, she discovers some disturbing facts about her nanny and Han-mae’s sad story is slowly revealed.

oh! … talks film

This film was remarkable for not the story, various versions of which have been done for many years, but instead, for the issues the story highlights.

Let me be clearer.

Hong Eun-mi wrote a great screenplay, no doubt about it.  But, it is all the issues surrounding the actual story or plot that make this film so remarkable.

The film examines the reality of single mother’s in today’s modern world – juggling full-time employment while managing to run a home and care for a child or many children while dealing with a somewhat obnoxious ex-husband or boyfriend. Single mothers become reliant on a support network if they’re lucky enough to have one – friends, family, maybe even employed workers like a live-in nanny or a childminder.

This film explores one mother’s nightmare as things begin to unravel with her child’s disappearance. And it’s an intense thriller, with gripping scenes and fast-paced action. But for me, I saw more than just a tragic tale unfolding, I saw how the writer, Hong Eun-mi, used the film as a platform for social commentary and to highlight the plight of for single, working mothers.

The film also explores the many ways women are consistently exploited, mistreated, repudiated and misled.

In fact, since its earliest days, drama and film has been preoccupied with the roles of women in society and women have been cast into certain roles within the home and the workforce, measured by the rules and expectations predetermined by society.

Using interactions between the character Ji-Sun and her boss, Hong Eun-mi paints the battle many single women face – intolerant managers who ignore legitimate reasons for lateness (illness of a child being one of them) and are unsympathetic to real-life issues (stress of custody battle, stress of raising a child alone) or unforgiving for choices they make (divorce, choosing to be employed). Not only is Ji-Sun mistreated by her philandering ex-husband, but she receives the same disdain and disrespect from her boss. This is a common outcome for women across the globe.

Using Han-mae’s tragic life-story which is darker, brutal and significantly lower in standard, Hong Eun-mi reveals the depth that traumatic sexism and physical abuse can have on a young woman. She also accentuates the sleazy underworld of the sex trade and its workers, often women who have been forced into submission and have no other prospects to rise to. It is interesting how Hong Eun-mi used the social inequality between immigrants in a Korean setting, but the reality is immigrant women in any country, yes, even Western countries, face the same kinds of sexism and abuse. While she focuses more on pointing out the tragic backstory as a precursor to Han-mae’s actions, she doesn’t detract from the fact that Han-mae inadvertently is complicit to her own suffering.

No! I’m not a feminist! Nor a supporter, per se of, the feminist movement, which can work against the feminist ideals. But, this film, for whatever reasons, intentional or unintentional, exhibits real-life issues for women with bone-chilling accuracy!

This film is an intense thriller, fast-paced and with active cinematography.  This is underscored by the agitated musical score and the increasing agitation of the character Ji-Sun who is rushed, frantically hunting for her child and whose desperation and mental breakdown is visible. But, at the same time, the film follows the stylistic aspirations of art films – using symbolism in dreams, or the extended underwater scene to explore the psychological aspects of the story, and, to allow the audience to move beyond the devastating reality of the investigation, if briefly. It is in these cleverly designed breaks, that we can have empathy for and identify with Ji-Sun’s character.

In her writing for the screenplay, Hong Eun-mi was careful not to write in too much judgment of the two women, instead the writing highlights the blatant sexist behaviours of an intolerant society, and while this is Korean, again, I must reiterate that these same sexist behaviours and intolerance exist in global society and not only countries that have a patriarchal leaning.

Lee Eon-hee’s skilled directing for this production gathered all the key elements together (screenplay, cinematography, wardrobe, musical score and acting) to deliver a gripping tale that provokes deeper thought and contemplation than was initially intended.

Kim Sung-an’s skilled cinematography captured the distinct difference in the spaces in which the two leads, Ji-Sun and Han-mae existed – the safer world where Ji-Sun lives and works and the underbelly of black-market sex and organ trade environments. Lighting, aesthetics and the natural environment were captured in the camera lenses and made sharper through masterful editing. The cinematography isn’t something you pay attention to the first time you watch this film, there are so much action and story going on. But, my appreciation for the level of cinematography grew on the second and third times I watched this film.

It was easy for the costume director to emphasise the distinct roles between the two characters using wardrobe choices. A more cultured, professional look for Ji-Sun and the people living in her world, compared to the rather smutty and dishevelled appearance of people in Han-mae’s world.

I haven’t been able to find the musical score for this production online anywhere yet, but I’m working on it. The musical score that accompanied the production by Kang Min-kook complemented the mood and tone of the story and is very haunting.

With the strong screenplay as the foundation, the two pillars that hold the film firmly in place are the amazing actresses Uhm Ji-Won (Ji-Sun) and Gong Hyo-jin (Han-mae).

Uhm Ji-won flawlessly portrayed the several faces of the character Ji-Sun – the stressed but somewhat composed PR executive, the devastated and frantic mother, the wary, slightly reckless mother-investigator, and the pale, dishevelled ghost she becomes as she believes her child is lost forever. It’s no easy feat to portray every mother’s nightmare – the loss of their child to kidnapping or hostage situation. Uhm Ji-Won mastered Ji-Sun’s descent into mental instability with an artful dexterity which delivered authenticity and plausibility. Her facial expressions, the clenched facial muscles, the desperate eyes, it was all skilful and raw.

Gong Hyo-jin portrayed the character Han-mae’s bizarre and apathetic behaviour shrewdly. The expressionless face she displayed was creepy and her flat tone when speaking was weird, if not borderline scary. I cannot imagine any other Korean actress performing better as this character – it’s as if this character was specifically written for Gong Hyo-jin. I think that Gong Hyo-jin’s astute interpretation of her character, allowed her to give the audience brief pauses to Han-mae’s consistent apathy and allowed us to glimpse some of her own desperation and brokenness from all the abuse, manipulation, exploitation, financial inequality and sexism she has suffered. Gong Hyo-jin’s masterful performance stopped just short of delivering a monster and allowed some humanity into Han-mae’s character. It is one of the best performances I’ve seen from her yet!

oh! … sidekicks

There were far too many good supporting characters to mention in detail for an already lengthy review, so I’ll just list the characters and who played them.

Kim Hee-won played Detective Park, Jeon Suk-chan played Detective Nam, and Lee Sung-wook played Detective Seo and they formed the police support for the investigation.

Park Hae-joon played Park Hyeon-ik, Seo Ha-nae played Jang Da-eun, Kim Ga-ryool played Han Jae-in/ Jane, Jang Won-young played Han Suk-ho, Kim Jin-goo played Suk-ho’s mother, Kil Hae-yeon played Ji-sun’s mother-in-law and Kim Sun-young played the Bar owner.

oh! … that’s a wrap

The two women caught in the unexpected and potentially permanent consequences after their individual choices are figures tragically reflected in every country and society.  While neither can be faulted for the happenings which caused their paths to cross, neither could escape the unjust social standing of women. It’s our responsibility, as women, to not live blindly or accept what is dictated to our sex by society’s unspoken code for women. It is also our responsibility to bring to the light the horrendous situation that women like the character Han-mae are forced to live – these women are rarely visible, merely an afterthought.

From kidnappings to the black-market sale of organs, Missing Sarajin Yeoja weaves a story of perplexing criminal activity and gut-wrenching trauma. If you’re not paying close attention, you will certainly lose small details with the constant plot twists.

My parting comment is that this film is one of the finest I have seen as the interpretation by both the director and lead actresses gave a common story theme, greater depth and provoked me to give thought and criticism to the rules and social codes for women no matter across the globe.

You’ll enjoy this film if you’re looking for something thought-provoking, have an interest in issues surrounding black-market sex and organ trades or are looking for something that explores the status of women in society. All these would be applicable to this film.

If you’re looking for a thrilling film with thrilling and psychological aspects, this one is excellent!

oh! … soundtrack

To come when soundtrack becomes available online.

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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