Bring Me Home

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/05/20 06:44:42

"Just because it's been a while doesn't mean things aren't still tense."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Kim Seung-Woo's "Bring Me Home" is such a measured thriller that it at first seems like that's the wrong way to categorize it in genre terms, but that's what impresses about it: As much as one gets the sense of how the characters are stuck in limbo from how it doesn't move particularly fast, it's always moving forward, right up until the something happens in the last act and one realizes that things have gotten pretty tense. That is some nifty, steady screw-turning, the likes of which you don't often see.

The folks in limbo are Jung-Yeon (Lee Young-Ae) and her husband Myeong-Guk (Park Hae-Joon); she's an emergency room nurse in a Seoul hospital, while he used to be a teacher, though he has spent the previous six years searching for their missing son Yoon-Su, who would now be twelve. Though not giving up, Myeong-Guk is about to return to work when he receives a tip that turns out to have been an even crueler prank than intended. It makes the news, though, which is when Constable Kim (Seo Hyun-Woo), a cop on Naebu Island, notes that Min-Su down at the fishing spot matches the description. His partner, Sergeant Hong (Yoo Jae-Myung), says there's nothing to it, but word nonetheless reaches Jung-Yeon, who is not yet ready to give up on finding her son.

It seems almost inconceivable that this is star Lee Yeong-Ae's first feature since Sympathy for Lady Vengeance almost 15 years earlier; she's done some voice work, short films, and a recent television series in between, but unless she's been active on the Korean stage, that's one heck of a lay-off (of course, she's also given birth to twins, which my family tells me keeps a person busy). She doesn't seem to be particularly rusty, either; though she spends the whole movie playing Jung-Yeon as hollowed out but still, somehow, dragging herself through her next day, the variations on it are intriguing, from the way it lends her a combination of focus and numbness at work to how her sleuthing once she reaches the island is a series of relentless baby steps. She spends the climactic last section on a quiet, remarkable roller coaster, emboldened by hope and unleashed when that hope seems to be dashed, but always kind of restrained in how she does it by the fact that this is her first time - this sort of detective work has always been Myeong-Guk's thing and he's probably never gotten into quite this sort of situation - and she's naturally frightened that she'll fail and make everything worse.

Director Kim doesn't have Jung-Yeon say this, or even necessarily show it; for a film so rooted in things that happened six years earlier or in the time since, it is remarkably free of flashbacks. Instead, he'll drop just enough information in there to give the viewer a general idea and let the cast fill it out. There's a whole separate movie to be made about the past six years of Jung-Yeon and Myeong-Guk's marriage, for instance, and how they seem to remain committed to each other even as they often fail to take care of themselves, which is implied in just a few scenes. When one character does explain his past, it's details; the audience has filled the important bits in already. Kim also does a nice bit of sleight-of-hand in the middle, getting the information about Min-Su from Constable Kim to Jung-Yeon in such a way that she won't automatically have allies when she gets to Naebu Island while telling a little story of just how compromisable people can be.

That's a theme that will become a huge part of the film's second half, because for all that the film could just become an ode to the determined heroism of people like Jung-Yeon, Myeong-Guk, and the other parents and once-lost children they meet, the darkness they must fight is often hauntingly undefined. Sure, some of the villains are outright monsters, like Choi Hyung's greasy "Flounder", the first person shown abusing Min-Su, but part of what makes Yoo Jae-Myung's Sgt. Hong interesting is that it's not necessarily clear how corrupt he is, and while other characters are awful, they're easily written off as dirtbag grifters. The why of it is murky, both because it doesn't matter to Jung-Yeon and because malevolence and selfishness isn't so rare as to need explanation; it's omnipresent and Jung-Yeon must pierce through it like indifference.

Which she does, eventually; the last act is a nifty showdown that pits Jung-Yeon against a sizable group and makes it tense despite never putting her in a situation where she's got to do more than she's believably capable of. There's a bit of wear at the end, where Kim seems to have written himself a situation that's either going to be a mess to get out of or will just drag the movie out after its natural end, but he winds up building something more than an extended epilogue or cheap irony, stirring up that mess of motivations and making one reconsider the actions of characters one tends not to treat as truly active participants in this sort of story.

It's a nifty little thriller, and if it's a bit slow to get started, it at least spends that time well, getting the audience ready for when it starts tightening its grip. On top of that, I really hope that Lee Young-Ae is fack for good; she's been away far too long.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.