Story: In 1991 near the city Daegu five boys dissappeared without a trace. They went to chase after some salamanders but they never
returned back home. Large-scale search operations also lead to no results about their whereabouts.
Four years later documentary producer Kang Ji-seung (Park Yong-woo) is transfered to Daegu for disciplinary reasons since he manipulated the shots for his movie in order to drive the viewer ratings up. When at first Kang hears of the case revolving around the five boys he isn't interested at all, but an interview with the psychology professor Hwang Woo-hyuk (Ryoo Seung-ryong), who has his very own theory about the incident, eventually gets him curious. Along with Hwang at his side Kang uncovers some inconsistencies in the case and the theory of the professor that in fact one of the kids' fathers (Seong Ji-roo) is the killer makes more and more sense. In the end Kang is putting all on the line and gives the information to Detective Park (Seong Dong-il). The house of the father is turned upside down while the media is at the scene as well, but no evidence turns up...
Review: The subject of this thriller inevitably has to remind you of "Memories of Murder". Thrillers based on real-life murder
cases seem to be pretty popular in Korea. You also can't deny that "Children..." really brings its story to the screen effectively concerning its
amount of drama. Unfortunately, it's more than anything else the fact that we are informed at the beginning of the movie that this picture is based on
true events which makes the occurences on screen more captivating for the viewer. Granted, without the very good acting achievements the movie
wouldn't have worked out either, but in order to be truely impressive the movie in some respects simply lacks something important for a thriller.
What's likeable about "Children..." is its critical depiction of media. Always on the hunt for some sensation the media gambles with the victims' feelings just to provoke more drama and big revelations. Kang embodies exactly this kind of selfish reporter and yet he can also act as the hero of the story, of course only because he experiences a purification. However, credit goes to Park Yong-woo's ("Handphone", "Once upon a Time") detailed portrayal as well. Unfortunately his private life is reduced to a minimum, but we still see him as a father moved to tears by his little baby or as a happy husband. Moreover, the guilt he carries in the later course of the movie is also written all over his face which is why we can easily forgive him his actions eventually.
Sadly, Ryoo Seung-yong's ("War of the Arrows") appearance as a smart investigator is a little too short. His talent to make out connections where others see none is impressive and so he is significantly responsible for putting the thriller aspects of the film more into the focus. The collecting of information proves to be extremely enthralling for the viewer, the screenplay is well-written, but in the end professor Hwang should have listened to his own words which he passed on to his students during one of his lectures. That is because he becomes a victim of his own narcisstic nature and develops paranoid features. That's just when he leaves the stage which is a strange decision of the filmmakers since you really would have liked to see more of Ryoo's very well done portrayal.
The supporting cast, especially the parents, is chosen well, too. In fact that's also necessary because - who would have thought - the parents have to burst out in tears on several occasions and that's were the movie could have become manipulative very easily. To a certain degree it still is, considering a few slow-motion-shots that are supposed to show what kind of emotional emptiness grief can cause, but the director shows the much needed sensitiveness to avoid treading on the toes' of the real case victims' relatives. In technical respects director Lee Kyoo-man ("Return") reduces his film to the basics which is a wise decision since the slightly grainy look of the pictures illustrates well that we are in the 90s, resp. in the year 2001.
On a negative note it has to be pointed out that "Children..." comes up with a simply stereotypical killer at the end which seemingly was thrown into the movie for the mere need of a thrilling showdown. Ultimately, this movie only shows what could have been happened after all! Thus, it would have been wiser to stay true to the initial style. Moreover, the movie can be considered a bit too long with its 131 minutes running time. The slightly repititive soundtrack and a few small manipulative moments also interfere with the good overall impression. Still, "Children..." stands as a well done thriller which also is more of a drama, but with its atmosphere manages to win over fans of "Memories of Murder" as well.