Lee Chang-hee's neo-noir looks luscious and is expertly crafted.
A remake of the 2012 Spanish film The Body, Fantasia 2018 brought us the North American premiere of The Vanished from director Lee Chang-hee. Unlike a few of my ScreenAnarchy colleagues, I am not an expert in Asian films, but damn, I'd guess that The Vanished is a standout in South Korean cinema, even with all of those excellent revenge thriller that the region produces. (Sadly, I haven't seen the Spanish film by Oriol Paulo, so I cannot compare the two, and plan to hunt that one down.)
As the plot goes, when we first meet Park Jin-han (Kim Kang-woo), he's putting in eye drops and enters a room full of sad, black-clad people, pretending to cry. Someone's passed away, and in this case, it's rich heiress and CEO Yoon Seol-hee (Kim Hee-ae) --- his wife. We then find out that Park Jin-han has a younger lover, Hye-jin (Han Ji-an), and it doesn't take much guessing --- before we're told and shown --- that he's had more than a little something to do with his wife's death.
Down at the morgue, Yoon's body goes mysteriously missing. Was it stolen, or did she get up and walk away? A frightened security guard and broken surveillence camera only raise more eyebrows. With shades of Diabolique settling in, Park is called down to the morgue to answer a few questions. Drunken cop Woo Joon-sik (Kim Sang-kyung) doesn't trust Park and we don't know why, but unprofessional antics aside, he's a pretty smart investigator.
We soon discover that through flashbacks, Yoon was a bit of a bully to her professor-trophy husband Park, and while he resents the treatment, he's helpless in the face of all that money and power. Upon meeting Hye-jin, Park falls in love with her because she's the caring, adoring opposite of his wife. It's not long before Hye-jin becomes pregnant, and the ante upped, that's when Park really starts to consider what he's going to do about Yoon.
The pharmaceutical company she runs comes in handy --- the development of a new liquid drug induces paralysis and death, while also being untracable. Woo knows something's fishy with Park, and fights against his superior for more time while he interrogates and harrasses the man. Meanwhile at home, Hye-jin gets call after call from Yoon --- or someone with the deceased's cell phone. Park becomes convinced that he did not kill Yoon after all, but that she set him up to kill her with a few drops that experimental drug in her wine.
This neo-noir keeps unraveling, however, and just as you think you know where the film is headed (unless you've already seen The Body), more layers peel away, revealing secrets, pacts, and a dastardly cover up one rainy night. Not one of the 102 minutes of the film is wasted; The Vanished is a taut thriller packed with revenge and cinematic excellence.
My biggest regret about watching The Vanished is that I wasn't able to see the Fantasia screening (it must have been amazing with that audience, and on my birthday, no less) with Lee Chang-hee and director of photography Lee Joung-youl in attendance, but rather remotely. The cinematography is luscious, expertly crafted, and harkens back to elaborate, Old Hollywood productions with nods to Hitchcock. See this one if you can, and check out the trailer below.