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Original Title:

South Korea 2012


Byun Young-Joo

Lee Seon-gyun
Kim Min-hee
Jo Seong-ha
Kim Byeol
Lee Hee-joon
Choi Duek-mun
Kim Min-jae
Choi Il-hwa
Kim Tae-in
Bae Min-hee
Cha Su-yeon

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Story: When Moon-ho (Lee Seon-gyun) makes a short stop at a roadhouse and comes back to his car his fiancée Seon-yeong (Kim Min-hee) has vanished without a trace. In a few weeks the two wanted to marry and thus Moon-ho has absolutely no explanation for her disappearance. Eventually he gets to know that she received a phone call just before she vanished which informed her that there are some issues with her credit card application as she has already had a personal bankruptcy. However, she never mentioned that in front of Moon-ho and why would she apply for a credit card if she knew that she would get that answer? In order to get some answers to the many questions Moon-ho hires a friend, the former police detective Jong-geun (Jo Seong-ha) who was fired because of taking bribes. With his help he finds out that Seon-yeong has taken on the identity of someone else. But why and which other secrets has she kept from Moon-ho the last few years? More and more details come to the surface and Moon-ho has to ask himself if he really knew his fiancée after all.

Review: If a thriller manages to create a dense atmosphere and keep it up until the very end then it has actually mostly managed to meet its target already. "Helpless" works out so well just because of that. From the very beginning there is a certain gripping tension based on the mystery of the identity of a woman who leaves her fiancé out of the blue. Moon-ho's search for her is told in a very exciting fashion and even though we haven't yet a picture of the characters or their personalities the initial plot idea is strangely enough absolutely sufficient to pull us right into the action. The answers are delivered in just the right intervals so that there is never any boredom creeping in. That's just how a thriller should be.

Although "Helpless" was a box-office hit in Korea the movie manages not to create any great expectations. It works within his very own little framework and to the surprise of the viewer occasionaly breaks out of it. Female director Byun Young-joo doesn't use any cheap tricks when doing so, though, but instead simply tells her story in a straightforward fashion. Byun already brought us an at best mediocre movie with "Ardor" and with "Flying Boys" directed a film that positively surprised me a lot. Luckily, she works on a similar high level this time and her success is also thanks to the movie's story which is based on a novel by Japanese writer Miyuki Miyabe.

The story itself has already been adapted in one way or another. Especially during the time the novel was published, in 1992, speculations and indebtedness were big problems in Japan. "Helpless" shifts the focus more to the interpersonal level of the story. Can you really ever know a person for sure? Moon-ho suddenly is confronted with a woman that he has never seen like this before. With every new horrible information about her he uncovers she is swept away from him even more and all the more desperate he tries to hold on to her. Moon-ho really is a character you almost have to take pity on because of his blind love, but at some point he can't shut his eyes from the truth anymore either. The burden of proof becomes back-breaking and the fact alone that she has disappeared shows how serious her situation must be.

Actor Lee Seon-gyun ("Paju", "Oki's Movie") sometimes looks rather dim-witted since he wants to believe in the pureness of his fiancée no matter what. Apart from that there are some parts where he just seems to be overacting too much. Lee often tends to do that but luckily it isn't that much of a bother this time. Jo Seong-ha ("The Recipe") can imbue his character with a lot more charisma than should have been possible which is a good thing for the movie. Kim Min-hee ("Moby Dick") bestows the necessary mysteriousness upon her character and always has something inscrutable about her which makes her seem dangerous as well as vulnerable. Especially towards the end she manages to get to viewer to think about her character thanks to her subtle performance.

However, at some point you actually start to ask yourself what it was that brought the two together and even made them get engaged. It would have been nice to see more of their past and not just how they got to know each other. Director Byun uses flashbacks sparingly but at least effectively. The story at no point treads water and the revelations are always surprising. It's just these ingredients a thriller is in need of. "Helpless" may not be anything out of the ordinary but the interesting story and the drama towards the end just work out the way they are supposed to and they are captivating. A good thriller, that knows its assets and puts them to good use.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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