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Hostage: Missing Celebrity - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2021


Pil Kam-sung

Hwang Jung-min
Kim Jae-bum
Lee Yoo-mi
Ryu Kyung-soo
Jung Jae-won
Lee Gyu-won
Lee Ho-jung
Jo Kyung-hyun
Baek Joo-hee

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Hostage: Missing Celebrity

Hostage: Missing Celebrity - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Successful actor Hwang Jung-min (Hwang Jung-min) is slightly drunk and on his way home when he clashes with a group of gangsters led by Choi Gi-wan (Kim Jae-bum). They eventually kidnap him and tie him to a chair in their hiding place. However, he is not alone there, as he is not the first victim of Choi and his people. Ban So-yeon (Lee Yoo-mi) was kidnapped too. She is a temp at a convenience store and was kidnapped by the gang along with the store owner. The police are looking for the store owner, but he was already killed. Hwang is supposed to pay a ransom, but he stalls for time, as he does not believe that he and Ban will actually be let go after paying the money. While the leader of the gang slowly figures out that Hwang is only giving him the runaround, the actor's manager is wondering why Hwang did not show up for his interview. He goes to see him at home, but Choi turned everything upside down there when he was looking for Hwang's bank card. Choi tries to make it clear to Hwang that he would stop at nothing, but Hwang is already trying to escape. In the process, the actor and Ban realize that they may not live to see the next day, especially since the police do not yet know that Hwang was kidnapped and are therefore not even looking for him...

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Review: There are so many new movies every year that it's difficult for a remake to make it onto the watchlist of my next evening entertainment. The Chinese thriller "Saving Mr. Wu" with Andy Lau was a neat picture, but the story was not necessarily so great that you would want to see it a second time, just as a Korean version this time. The English title also suggests a rather bad TV adaptation. Nevertheless, I didn't realize that Hwang Jung-min ("The Point Men") was going to play himself. With that the meta-level of the original is supposed to be pushed to extremes even more. And it actually works. Even though the thriller does not reinvent the wheel, it still ticks all the right boxes in order to guarantee some good entertainment. That also means that the movie occasionally loses some credibility, but we are more than willing to forgive that.

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In terms of directing, Pil Kam-sung doesn't experiment too much in his debut work. The basement and the secluded house are kept in gloomy colors with an orange/green tint and there are a few action scenes which are scattered throughout the movie perhaps a bit too perfectly, making clear that they are not affecting the story all too much, but are instead just supposed to get the adrenaline pumping. So, we get both, chases and a few small fights. The latter, however, brings up the meta-level again, because you inevitably have to ask yourself how the actor Hwang Jung-min would/could defend himself in real life - after all, he has shot his own action scenes in quite a few movies. The result is pretty believable, as we get a realistic fight in the finale, which features no elegance, but instead shows the necessary doggedness of someone who fights for his life.

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A pretty successful scene in which Hwang flees through the forest is another example for the movie to repeatedly distance itself from any claim of reality, as Hwang sustains injuries that would normally be fatal. Of course, it is also questionable whether an actor would actually feel a calling to become a hero based on his profession. We are pretty much used to seeing the actor as an action hero, but here he's supposed to be just himself too. It's a fine line to wander, and sadly the movie doesn't always find the right balance here. It's also a pity that we hardly learn anything about Hwang's actual character, and of course, with the little we do get presented here, we also have to wonder whether or not it's the truth. Maybe that was intentional and supposed to be part of the story's appeal, but it's actually also frustrating.

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Eventually, in one of the few moments in which he does talk about himself, Hwang explains to So-yeon, who has also been kidnapped, that you should never give up, because after having had countless auditions, nobody ever believed he would become successful with his red complexion and accent. There should have been more of those scenes. Acting-wise, though, Hwang still manages to do a great job, as he is able to deceive his kidnappers more than once with his acting chops. What is interesting is the fact that, unlike the original, the movie's focus stays with him and the kidnappers whereas the police work only takes place on the sidelines. That way, the story keeps its focus. Still, the kidnappers are a bit problematic. One seems crazier than the other. The leader of the gang is completely insane, and the rest also just represent clichés, for instance, there is the somewhat retarded one, or the one who revolts against his boss etc. But at least there are some exciting developments within the gang.

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With a rather simple story, these developments are a must, though. Along with the well-distributed action scenes, "Hostage: Missing Celebrity" ultimately manages to pack exciting entertainment into its 90 minutes without dragging things on. With its meta-level, the movie of course manages to appeal to fans of Hwang as there are enough references to his movies and there is even a cameo appearance by Park Seong-woong, who starred with him in "New World" among other works. Nevertheless, you can't help but get the impression that you could have gotten more out of the premise, and especially the credibility aspect gets torpedoed by the rather exaggerated kidnappers and some action scenes - but in the end, the movie is still fun to watch. Maybe that's also because it's a dark movie, which works without using a lot of drama or comedy. Something that some filmmakers certainly couldn't have resisted using and would therefore probably have destroyed the flick's level of suspense. Even if this picture is not exceptional, "Hostage" is still worth recommending, and not only to fans of Hwang Jung-min.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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