Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Vanishing Time—A Boy Who Returned: Kids Grow Up Fast in Korean
is like an inverse Rip Van Winkle for K-Pop kids. For fifteen years, Sung-min
grew older while everyone else stood still. Tragedy will be inevitable when he
finally rejoins the world around him—especially since this is a Korean film.
Think of it as Stand By Me crossed
with Il Mare. That probably sounds
terrible, but the elements come together surprisingly nicely in
director-screenwriter Uhm Tae-hwa’s Vanishing
Time: A Boy Who Returned (trailer here), now playing in New York.
Su-rin (she prefers Park Su-rin) has had a hard go of it lately. Mere months
after remarrying, her mother was killed in a car wreck. Still, processing her
grief, she has moved to a remote provincial island with the step-father she
hardly knows. Despite her trouble making friends, she attracts the attention of
Sung-min, a spirited classmate who lives in the local orphanage. Their friendship
steadily evolves into puppy love, until destiny intervenes.
fateful day, Su-rin accompanies Sung-min and two of his bratty friends on an
ill-advised excursion into the woods. There they find a glowing egg-shaped
object, which stops time for Sung-min and his two pals when they break it.
Having returned to the cave to retrieve a dropped hair pin, Su-rin is exempt
from the egg’s effects. Initially, the time-stoppage is fun for the kids, but
it gets awkward when they realize some items do not work outside of normal time—like
asthma inhalers. After aging fifteen years, normal time restarts for Sung-min,
but as a strange sad-eyed adult claiming to be one of the three missing
children, he becomes the chief suspect in their disappearance. The still twelve-year-old
Su-rin also faces ostracism and possibly worse danger for helping him.
really is the sort of eat-your-heart-out, done-over-by-unjust-karma movie the
Korean film industry truly excels at. You also have to give Uhm ample credit
for side-stepping the potential creepiness of their sudden age differential. Basically,
they go from handholding crushes to big brother-little sister, more or less.
There are no red flag scenes, but there are generous helpings of angst and
teen Shin Eun-soo (reportedly now a K-Pop star in training) is just terrific as
Su-rin. Her range and subtle expressiveness are absolutely remarkable. Lee
Hyo-je is also unusually charismatic as young Sung-min, making his eventual
disappearance from Su-rin’s life so dashed heart-breaking. Those kids make a
ridiculously cute couple, but Shin still develops some poignant chemistry with
model-turned-romantic-lead Kang Dong-won (doing some of his best work).
However, what really makes the film are veteran character actors Kim Hee-won
and Kwon Hae-hyo as the flawed but very human step-father and lead police
is well-served by its verdant but foreboding
island locations, which probably have a vibe much like the Hudson Valley in
Washington Irving’s day. It is all very bittersweet, yet ultimately quite
satisfying. Recommended with a good deal of affection, Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned is now playing in New York, at
the AMC Empire.
Labels: Korean Cinema