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Korean writer director Jung Geun Sub makes his debut with “Montage”, another thriller revolving around the perennially popular child kidnap genre. The film was one of the more anticipated domestic releases of the year due to the presence of top actress Uhm Jung Hwa (“Dance Queen”) in the lead, playing a mother trying to solve the mystery of her daughter’s murder before the statute of limitations runs out on the investigation, joined by actors Kim Sang Kyung (“The Tower”, “Memories of Murder”) and Song Young Chang (“Nameless Gangster”) in supporting roles. Despite the familiar sounding plot, the film proved a moderate hit at the box office, notching up an impressive two million admissions during a particularly crowded blockbuster season.
Uhm stars as Ha Kyung, who experiences every mother’s worst nightmare when her young daughter is kidnapped and killed, the perpetrator never being caught despite the best efforts of detective Chung Ho (Kim Sang Kyung). Some 15 years later, just five days before the statute of limitations renders the case closed for good, Chung Ho finds a recently placed white flower at the crime scene, a location known only to Ha Kyung, the police and the killer. As the two of them race against time to revisit the case and follow the new clues, another girl is snatched under very similar circumstances under the nose of her grandfather Han Chul (Song Young Chang), making the search for the murderer even more desperate.
Thankfully, though its plot isn’t exactly original (not least due to the statute of limitations gimmick having been used very recently to enjoyable effect in Jung Byung Gil’s “Confession of Murder”), “Montage” takes a different enough route to make it stand out, Jung Geun Sub aiming for less of the high octane thriller that might have been expected, and more for suspense and hard hitting emotional drama. The film’s main strength is definitely its story, which is skilfully told and carefully constructed, Jung doing a fine job of weaving in different character perspectives and their investigations, showing a nicely judged use of flashbacks and well-timed revelations. Even the statute of limitations itself is put to good and surprising use, not being played for time ticking tension, but something deeper and more satisfying, the film building up to a powerful twist that a lot of viewers won’t see coming.
The three main characters are all strongly written and convincing, and at least somewhat out of the ordinary, and this similarly adds both dramatic and emotional weight to the narrative, pleasingly so. Jung holds the interest and keeps the pressure building through the simple fact that the viewer actually comes to care about the cast (something which so many writers and directors seem to wilfully ignore), and though the film has a distinct lack of action or violence, it’s far more gripping than many other outings which substitute pointless set pieces for substance. Great performances from the leads also help, in particular the excellent Uhm Jung Hwa, as does the general lack of melodrama and pointless tears, the film coming to a rewarding and mature yet quiet conclusion that hits hard and true.
This is very representative of the film and of Jung’s approach in general, coming across as earnest and as genuinely seeming to care about the subject matter and about spreading awareness of the social issues and kind of crime it touches upon. On its release, the film was involved in fund raising for the ‘Prevention of Missing and Kidnapped Children’ campaign in Korea, which is only to be admired.
The result is a different kind of thriller which rises above a familiar premise to deliver a couple of hours of captivating and poignant entertainment, Jung Geun Sub making a fine first outing as both writer and director. Hopefully “Montage” won’t get simply pigeonholed with all the other child kidnap and murder outings coming from Korea of late, as the film more than makes up for its lack of traditional action with grounded suspense, and has a great deal to offer audiences looking for something a little more believable and less over the top.
Jeong Geun-Seop (director) / Jeong Geun-Seop (screenplay)
CAST: Jeong-hwa Eom … Ha-kyeong
Sang-kyung Kim … Cheong-ho
Young-chang Song … Han-cheol