I don’t have a huge amount of experience with Korean cinema, I’ve probably only seen a handful of films but 2020’s “Parasite” was a good example of how unique and interesting the style is so I’m excited to see what’s out there. The Korean films I’ve seen have all been psychological roller-coasters told with a uniquely grim sense of humour, a dark and gritty cynical perspective on society, the family unit and have all delivered a stellar twist in the final act. Interestingly though, none of the films I’ve seen have truly delivered in properly wrapping up the story, often abandoning the subtlety and slick operation of the rest of the film and either opting for a more conventional and less interesting conclusion or, in the case of Jang Hang-jun’s 2017 mystery thriller “Forgotten”, clunkily inserting so many twists and turns that the ingenuity of the central premise is ultimately overshadowed.
As I said, “Forgotten” really is an original and intriguing story; 21 year old Jin-seok (Kang Ha-neul) and his happy family have just moved into their new home when his brother Yoo-seok (Kim Mu-yeol) is abducted and returns a couple of weeks later. Although Jin-seok is overjoyed to see his brother again, he starts to notice him acting strangely and questions whether it is in fact his brother who has returned to the family. I can’t really tell more than that without spoiling the twist (one of many), but rest assured that it’ll come out of absolute nowhere and you may need a stiff drink before hitting play again.
The building of suspense in this film is phenomenal, using fairly traditional motifs (the fear of the forbidden locked door, the dark of the night and creaking floorboards) and the slick direction creates a definite sense of unease as we the audience begin to notice the strange happenings alongside Jin-seok. There’s just the right balance of portraying Jin-seok as paranoid while at the same time depicting the family as strange and creepy enough for there to be a conflict as to whether Jin-seok is indeed delusional or whether his fears are warranted. The gradual shift in tone from the idyllic and romantacised family dynamic to something more sinister is subtle and almost unnoticeable, all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of a full on thriller and hadn’t realised.
The issue for me with this film is that it didn’t know when to stop. There is one almighty twist which hits you like a sledgehammer and then the film takes a little while to explain why everything we had accepted as reality wasn’t so. Had the film ended there then it would have left me satisfied and still reeling from the ingenuity of the central premise. Instead, the filmmaker doubles down and piles on so many contrived and soap opera-esque plot devices that by the end I was more confused and exasperated than impressed.
“Forgotten” is definitely worth watching; this is a style of thriller which is a fun and interesting diversion from what I’ve become accustomed to in the genre, but gee whiz its a shame about that ending. Had Jang Hang-jun been able to wrap this up without trying to tie up every single loose strand of a plot point and even perhaps left us wondering a little, this would have been pretty close to sensational.
By Jock Lehman