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The Truth Beneath - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Bi-mil-eun eobs-da

South Korea 2016

Thriller, Drama

Lee Kyoung-mi

Son Ye-jin
Kim Joo-hyeok
Kim So-hee
Choi Yoo-hwa
Shin Ji-hoon
Kim Min-jae

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The Truth Beneath

The Truth Beneath - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Jong-chan (Kim Joo-hyuk) decides to go into politics. He has to face the much more popular politician Noh Jae-soon, though. During the first day of his campaign, his wife Yeon-hong (Son Ye-jin) lending him a helping hand, his daughter Min-jin (Shin Ji-hoon) disappears without a trace. Yeon-hong looks into where her daughter might be on her own and it turns out that the friend the daughter wanted to go to on the day of her disappearance doesn't exist at all. The mother realizes that she knows nearly nothing about her own daughter as she finds out that she was even bullied at school. It turns out that Min-jin did have a friend after all. Accordingly, the girl Mi-ok (Kim So-hee) is soon a suspect in the police investigation that is now underway. Furthermore, it's strange that the grades of the two girls at one point suddenly and rapidly improved. Their teacher seems to have to do with this in some way. Meanwhile, Jong-chan has to deal with dropping poll ratings since he continues his campaign despite his daughter's disappearance. But when Min-jin's body is found a wave of sympathy hits Jong-chan. Yeon-hong on the other hand is now doing everything in her power to find the murderer.

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The Truth Beneath - Film Screenshot 4

Review: It seems as if we once again get a movie about corrupt politicians here who put the democratic country pretty close to its northern neighbor. Yet, you shouldn't be deceived by this impression. It takes a while, but eventually the viewer realizes that "The Truth Beneath" tells a way more personal story, namely that of a mother who tries to find out about her daughter's true identity and the reasons for her murder. So this is after all nothing but a detective story? In a certain way, yes. But you shouldn't take anything away from the rather complex story as it tries to tackle several aspects. The fact that female director Lee doesn't just aim at telling a story about a mother who becomes aware of her own flaws, but also about bullying at school, a tender friendship between two girls and corruption in politics makes the end product also a bit unfocused at times, though.

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The protagonist's initial hunt for votes arouses only little interest, but the introduction is necessary as it sheds light on Yeon-hong's relationship with the people around her, whose nature is later questioned. The big question which like a leaden weight lies heavier and heavier on Yeon-hong's heart is ultimately whether or not she could have prevented her daughter's death. There are constant surprises in "The Truth Beneath". Even though you first might assume that the murder has a political motive this turns out to be false. But that's when we still don't have all the pieces of the puzzle. The world of politics dominated by men takes a backseat and we follow the mother as she uncovers more and more details about her daughter. The investigation at a computer and by going through the police report in part proves to be rather classic.

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Apart from those collage-like montages there is some very interesting editing featured, which makes the narrative's flow special. This particularly concerns the cut-together of two different timelines, as we get inventive transitions from the past to the present, for example. This might lead to some loss of orientation the first time, but after that it turns out to be a well-thought and original method to spice up the detective story. Moreover, there is a drama hidden within Min-jin's past which doesn't get the room it could have got. Then again, this isn't such a bad idea since this probably would have shifted the movie's focal point too much into a direction where one of the picture's pillars might stand, but not the sole fundament.

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Another one of those pillars is the smear-campaign of the politicians. Kim Joo-hyeok, who has already stood in front of the camera with Son Ye-jin as a couple in "My Wife Got Married", plays the politician who unintentionally benefits from his daughter's death and like his rival uses any means necessary to make a good impression on the voters. Thus, we may be mourning with him during the funeral, but the orchestration of the whole thing for the media leaves a bitter taste. His wife on the other hand dives deeper and deeper into madness, which is also realized in shifting up the pacing culminating in a shamanistic ritual in the middle of the movie. Son Ye-jin ("White Night") masters her role with flying colors and breathes a strong personal note into the detective story, which all in all makes the picture more captivating. The many twists are also thrilling and the ending is especially strong.

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Female director Lee Kyoung-mi has already delivered her debut work with "Crush and Blush", a drama which didn't resonate with me at all. But in "The Truth Beneath" it becomes clear that she has already worked with Park Chan-wook in "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". This doesn't just stick out towards the end during some very intensely captured scenes, but also during some moments when black humor is flashing through. "The Truth Beneath" starts off slow and often changes its course. The twists may be considered a bit unbelievable, but it's easy to overlook this since everything is rounded off well in the end as it becomes apparent that the director was heading into this very direction from the very beginning. Accordingly, the last scene turns out to be the most moving and powerful in the movie which will make you think about the protagonist, her missteps and her remorse even long after the credits have rolled.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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