Bring Me Home is, I think, the third missing child movie I’ve seen this year, which, given the attenuated nature of my moviegoing pastime in the COVID era (I tend to watch TV series at home), practically makes it a subgenre. Compared to something more cerebral like the Spanish movie, Madre (opening here next month), this Korean thriller is pretty straightforward, and because it’s Korea it’s also more viscerally stimulating. First of all, there’s the social elements to contend with, which are always more potent in Korean movies, whether mainstream or indie. Then there’s the violence and emotional extremism, which is also a given in any Korean movie that even touches on criminal behavior. In other words, it’s quite a ride to begin with, and that isn’t even taking into account its questionably exploitative handling of children.
Jeong-yeon (Lee Young-ae) and her husband have been searching desperately for their son who went missing six years earlier. Though both have to a certain extent fallen back into routines of domesticity and work in order to avoid thinking too much of their lost boy, in their calmer moments they separately check the internet and bulletin boards for anything that might indicate he’s still alive. Inevitably, the accumulation of inquiries, regardless of how fruitless they seem, results in the husband receiving an anonymous message from someone who may have seen their son. While racing to confirm the intelligence in the message, he crashes his car and dies.
Insult is added to fatal injury when Jeong-yeon determines that the original messages were a hoax. But the accident makes the news, and the story of the missing boy is resuscitated by the media, leading to two developments that the first-time writer/director, Kim Seung-woo, handles with rare finesse, considering how difficult it could be to pull off without revealing too much. He introduces the employees of a police station in a remote fishing village who notice a resemblance between the missing boy pictured on the news and a local kid, but say nothing to anybody about it. At the same time, Jeong-yeon is hit up by a cruel opportunist who tries to exploit her pain for money. Not only does the resourceful but at this point extremely desperate woman foil the opportunist’s scheme, but learns that his information is reliable, since he is in the business of tracking down stolen children and exacting recompense for assistance in their return.
Suffice to say, that Jeong-yeon would rather tackle the problem alone, and she travels by herself to the fishing village. By this point, the viewer has come to understand that stealing children is not an isolated problem, that many traditional vocations, such as fishing and agricultural, are suffering a lack of manpower owing to South Korea’s falling birthrate, the lowest in the world right now. With this premise in mind, Jeong-yeon’s rapid descent into violent vengefulness becomes both understandable but no less repugnant. In essence, all the inhabitants of this particular village become complicit in the crimes described, and thus are disqualified for any sympathy we may have built up for their sorry lot in life.
This dramatic element is exaggerated by scenes in which children are made to do unspeakable things, thus letting Jeong-yeon off the hook for the unspeakable things she does as well. As always, the technical aspects are flawless and, since this is a Warner Bros. co-production, often breathtaking. And yet, the movie holds you at arm’s length. I think I would have preferred watching a documentary about the issue of child-stealing, if, in fact, it is a social problem as widespread as it’s depicted here.
In Korean. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).
Bring Me Home home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2019 Warner Bros. Ent.