World of Silence (2006) Movie Review

“World of Silence” (a.k.a. “The Missing Girl”) sees the return of filmmaker Jo Eui Seok some five years after he made his debut with “Make it Big”. Although his comeback outing is ostensibly a detective thriller, “World of Silence” thankfully strays far from the path usually followed by such films, and in fact offers something quite different — a rare quality indeed given the recent tendency of many Korean directors to stick to tried and tested genre methods and motifs.

“World of Silence” revolves around the murders of young girls who happen to come from the same orphanage, and who turn up dead dressed in strange clothes and carrying weird looking dolls. Leading the investigation is the cynical, world weary detective Kim (Park Yong Woo, recently in the excellent “My Scary Girl”), who is gradually drawn into the horrors of the case. After Kim encounters a man named Ryu Jung Ho (Kim Sang Kyung, also in Bong Joon Ho’s “Memories of Murder”) several times under strange circumstances, he begins to grow suspicious of him. Not only is Ryu a mysterious figure, but he has also recently taken custody of Su Yeon (Han Bo Hae), another girl from the same orphanage, and who is quite obviously hiding a number of dark secrets, not to mention some decidedly uncanny abilities. Matters come to a head when poor Su Yeon disappears, forcing the two men into a deadly confrontation.

Misleadingly styled as a cat and mouse battle between detective and suspect, “World of Silence” is actually more of an offbeat character piece, with Kim and Ryu never really entering into any of the kind of games which might have been expected, and with viewers being largely left to their own devices to determine the identity of the killer. Indeed, at times the “Public Enemy” style investigation into the murders take a definite backseat to the exploration of Ryu’s past, as well as his seemingly supernatural abilities.

The film certainly covers a lot of thematic ground, working in elements from various genres, along with a weird ambiguity that hovers throughout, and which gives the proceedings an air of unpredictability that keeps the viewer guessing. As a result, the film works well as an engaging and multilayered puzzle, with its complexity undermined only by the late reliance upon a rather unlikely coincidence which was quite obviously included to move the plot towards its resolution. Fortunately, the characters are an interesting and enigmatic bunch, enough so to allow the viewer to overlook this fault, and director Jo manages in general to weave the various narrative strands together into a coherent and fascinating whole.

Despite the grim subject matter of a serial killer who preys upon orphans, and a closet positively overloaded with skeletons, Jo throws in a few moments of mirth and light here and there, and in doing so avoids wallowing in the same kind of melodramatic gloom as similarly themed efforts, making the film far more entertaining than it might otherwise have been. Although a little slow during the padded middle section and essentially lacking in any kind of action, “World of Silence” moves along at a good pace, with some well timed plot developments giving it an unforced feel for the most part. The tightly wound narrative inevitably unravels towards the end, though it does at least do so in an amiably daft fashion, with a number of leftfield plot twists and a bizarre final revelation which seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought to explain the title.

Jo directs in a controlled rather than stylish manner, though he does at times show the obvious influence of Italian Giallo maestro Dario Argento, especially during scenes featuring the killer which revolve mainly around point of view shots of black gloved hands handling creepy dolls and other weird objects in fetishistic fashion, along with sudden close-ups of twitching eyes. He also shows a good use of colour, with some startlingly hallucinogenic dream and vision sequences which make for a wild contrast against the dull greys of the film’s rain swept world.

This helps to further underline “World of Silence” as being a welcome and eccentric diversion from the standard police thriller mould which has become so common of late in Korean cinema. Strange enough to feel almost original, the film benefits from strong, well written characters and a series of absorbing riddles. And although its many twists and turns don’t quite hang together, director Jo certainly deserves extra points for trying.

Ui-seok Jo (director) / Han Jin, Jeong Ee-mok, Jeong Jae-ho, Ui-seok Jo (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Sang-kyeong ….
Park Yong-woo ….
Han Bo-bae ….
Lee Me-ri ….
Jeong Gyoo-soo ….
Lee Jong-soo ….

Buy World of Silence on DVD