Helpless review: A tight and draining thriller with shocking surprises in store.
Helpless review, Luke Ryan Baldock at the London Korean Film Festival.
Helpless is one of those rare films I got to see with my only knowledge being the title. Thankfully so, as this is a mystery/thriller that really benefits from knowing absolutely nothing. What I did know though, was that star Kim Min Hee, is the lead in Park Chan Wook’s current film, The Handmaiden, and that means she’s one to watch. Even before she reads a line, Kim Min Hee has one of those distinct looks that could be both threatening and intimidating, as well as soft and stunning, which is perfect for Byun Young Joo’s psychological and emotionally traumatic movie.
Off to meet his parents, Moon Ho (Lee Sun Kyun) and his fiance Seon Yeong (Kim Min Hee), stop off at a service station. Moon Ho grabs a couple of coffees just as Seon Yeong receives a call. Upon returning to the car, Moon Ho discovers the door open, the engine running, and Seon Yeong missing, having left behind her umbrella despite the pouring rain. Moon Ho alerts the police, who believe it was just a case of cold feet, leaving Moon Ho to hire old friend, and disgraced ex-police detective Jong Geun (Jo Sung Ha), to help find his fiance. However, the more they dig, the more they discover about Seon Yeong, a woman who Moon Ho admittedly knew little about.
Helpless, albeit a very entertaining thriller, is also very relatable, and hooks into emotions in ways that many films fail to in their quest for shocks and twists. The main driving force is of course the mystery, which unfolds at a brilliant pace, offering up new pieces of information while gradually completing the big picture of what is going on. Red herrings are thrown out, while never focused on for too long, and characters have their own interpretations of what may have happened, giving us some good camaraderie and friction between Moon Ho and Jong Geun.
Emotionally the film is terrifying, as Moon Ho is left without answers, and when they do start to pour in they result in him questioning everything he’s believed. It makes him the driving force at first, but soon he crumbles and becomes more vulnerable, all reflected in Lee Sun Kyun’s dramatic delivery and energy. Jong Geun is also well fleshed out, where he could have been just the comic relief. As a cop fired for taking bribes, we see him start to come alive again when taking on the case, despite the fact it requires him to ignore his already fairly estranged wife.
Looking at truth and perception of the truth, Helpless keeps us motivated to find out more, and when story strands are revealed, they make sense as well as being genuine surprises. We also feel emotions on all sides, from perpetrators to victims, with characters sometimes being both. Perhaps a bit too reliant on talk to this person, get a clue, rinse and repeat, narrative, It is still a tight and considered film of fear, mystery, and romance.
Helpless review by Luke Ryan Baldock. The film screened as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2016.