a former firefighter, Jeon-mo was briefly famous for saving a group of
children. Even though he now runs a florist shop, he still likes to think of
himself as one of the good guys. However, when his daughter is abducted, her captor’s
ominous demands will push him to his breaking point and fundamental shake his
comfortable self-image. Instead of ransom, Jeon-mo is instructed to kidnap
another child to exchange for her in Yoo Won-sang’s Guardian (trailer
which screens this Tuesday as part of the free Korean Movie Night series at New
York’s Asia Society.
and his wife are generally happy managing their shop and running a singing telegram
business on the side. He dotes on his bratty young son and frets over his older
sister as she approaches middle school years. Initially, a strange caller
claims to have snatched their son, but it turns out the cruel game-player
actually has their daughter. After stringing Jeon-mo along on a ransom drop
that never happens, the kidnapper final reveals his real demand. Jeon-mo is to
take a very specific little boy who will be at an appointed place at a certain
time and wait to swap him for his daughter.
no choice by the kidnapper, Jeon-mo is forced to take the frightened boy to his
home for the night. He was already feeling profoundly guilty, but matters get
even more complicated when his son recognizes the boy as one of his classmates.
However, Yoo has an even more sinister twist in store for viewers.
thrillers tend be rather murky affairs, but Guardian
takes its long dark night of the soul to new levels of blackness.
Characters in the film do some truly awful things, but it is difficult to pass
judgement, given their circumstances. Perhaps most disturbing is what happens
when they try to do the right thing. Still, Yoo does not leave the audience
completely bereft of consolation, but he hardly ties the film up a neat
is pretty unsettling to watch Jeon-mo fall from a position of domestic tranquility
and rectitude to utter desperation and self-loathing, but Kim Su-hyeon makes
every step believable and painfully compelling. Likewise, Lee Joon-hyeok is
quietly forceful as another player caught up in the game. However, they genuinely
terrified-looking performances from Yoo Hae-jeong and No Kang-min as the young
respective victims are what will really disturb viewers.
is a tough film with a decidedly dim view of human
nature, but it reflects an uncompromising aesthetic vision from Yoo in his impressive
feature directorial debut. He grabs the viewers by the labels and drags the
through the film at breakneck speed. Still, his decision to hint at but never
fully explain the kidnapper’s motive is a mistake. After what he puts us
through, he owes us some answers. Nevertheless, those who can digest a thriller
marinated in bile will be impressed with his chops. Recommended for emotionally
strong fans of Korean cinema, Guardian screens
(for free) at the New York Asia Society this Tuesday (3/31), co-presented by
the Korean Cultural Service.
Labels: Asia Society, Kidnapping films, Korean Cinema