Story By: James Webb
Courtesy of kmovielove.com
Described modestly as “the first chase thriller of 2018” in the trailers, The Vanished (사라진 밤 Sarajin Bam), or Vanishing Night as it is also known, certainly lives up to that description, balancing several taut mysteries at the same time.
Kim Kang-woo plays former chemistry professor Jin Han, who’s wife has recently died. It is revealed quite early on that not only was Jin Han cheating on his wife, Lee Seul-Hyeon (Kim Hee-ea), but he also poisoned her with an undetectable chemical from his lab. The titular mystery revolves around the disappearance of Lee Seul-Hyeon’s body from the morgue and the investigation surrounding that, but a majority of the tension comes from a cat-and-mouse style battle of wits between Jin Han and Detective Joong-sik, who is played by Kim Sang-Kyung. Kim does a great job as a sloppy looking, profanity spitting detective who is surprisingly sharp, but that shouldn’t be surprising because he plays basically the same character in Memories of Murder or any number of other Korean thrillers.
As soon as Jin Han arrives at the morgue, Joong-sik immediately suspects that he isn’t telling the truth. While the story frequently cuts to flashbacks, showing Seul-hyeon as a wealthy, older woman who is domineering and manipulative, someone who only married Jin Han because he was young and handsome, it’s difficult to ever come around to Jin Han’s side. Watching him attempt to keep his crime under wraps as Joong-sik pursues him has a tense cat-and-mouse feel.
Even while spinning that plate, there’s also the mystery of exactly who took the body. While the police are starting to suspect it could be Jin Han, the audience knows that’s not the case. In fact, it quickly becomes unclear if Seul-Hyeon really died. Perhaps she was wise to Jin Han’s plan and faked her death and is now getting revenge. It’s also possible that a third party has taken the body and it is an elaborate revenge scheme against Jin Han. The movie never really rules out a supernatural possibility either, so as various items and clues appear around the building and the power cuts in and out, it seems as if the movie could swerve out of its genre and into horror territory. It also has a somewhat Tell-Tale Heart feel to it, as Jin Han becomes increasingly unhinged as more impossible things that only he should know about constantly appear.
The Vanished is actually a remake of The Body (El Cuerpo), a Spanish thriller from 2012. The basic story is largely the same, but there’s some odd changes that may have been nods to the source material for people who saw the original. For example, when Jin Han arrives at the morgue, he lies to the detective, saying he was at the pharmacy, when he was actually with his mistress. The detective says if that’s the case, he should have painkillers in his pocket. Jin Han actually produces the painkillers, and his deception is discovered in a different way. However, in the Spanish version, that character isn’t asked about the painkillers until later, and he’s caught by being unable to produce them. In addition, the Spanish version seems to dismiss any supernatural possibilities right off the bat and makes no attempts to look like a horror movie. Kim Sang-Kyung’s detective is also far more humorous and likable. Director Lee Chang-Hee said he wanted to create “a more three-dimensional character” and I think he succeeded. In fact, I think he’s actually made a better movie all around. Most films like this end up living or dying based off how the execute the big reveal, the big twist ending. The Vanished does a good job of providing a satisfying and fitting reveal that really makes the movie worth watching.