Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:35 am 
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A politician's wife uncovers dark secrets

This political thriller-slash-family mystery is a rip-snorter from the rising Korean female director Lee Kyoung-mi, and the role of a lifetime for lead Son Ye-jin, who reportedly has had to do with relatively mediocre, conventional feminine parts up to now. She plays Kim Yeon-hong, wife of politician Kim Jong-chan (Kim Ju-kyuk, also fine). He has just won an intense campaign for his party's presidential nomination when their teenage daughter Min-jin (Ji-Hoon Shin), disappears. The result is an increasingly dark and feverish unleashing of secrets and lies and passions that's worthy of David Fincher. This is an ambitious and polished movie, as well as an elegant one, that at points may also remind you of Park Chan-wook (who in fact is one of the five writing credits on the screenplay).

The public is turned off when Jong-chan keeps on with the campaign for president and at first has kept the disappearance of Min-jin a secret so as not to look as driven and egocentric as he is. Also turned off by his behavior is Yeon-hong, who reacts by beginning her own personal investigation of their daughter's disappearance. These ambitious parents seem to have known little about the girl or her life at school. First off, she doesn't seem to have been as nice a girl as they assumed, or very popular. She was linked with Choi Mi-ok (Kim So-ni), daughter of her father's chauffeur (Park Gene-woo). Despite the awkward social difference the two girls were fellow misfits, in a strange punk band. Their intimacy, the questionable nature of their activities, lead to doubts of hostility and violence and make Mi-ok a suspect in Min-jin's disappearance. But that's only the beginning, as things move gradually on toward scandal, tragedy, and revenge - while skillfully juggling Yeon-hong's feverish investigations, mixed with videos, social media, and other trendy artifacts including the repeated strains of a nonsensical but haunting pop song.

The whiffs of scandal, both school and political, grow stronger. The screenplay's contemporary relevance in view of recent events in Korea is evident. But there is nothing doggedly realistic; the writers and filmmakers have let their fantasy run free, with pleasurable results. Much depends on odd revelations which we can't go into, because it's essential to the pleasure in The Truth Beneath to be a breathless, constantly unfolding mystery. One set of secrets involves the gift of a car deodorant, but we can't say why. Wait and see!

Undeterred by her femininity, Lee Kyoung-mi gradually but inexorably ramps up the film's foul language and its glimpses of violence and sexual intrigue, in the end becoming an exquisite violence porn. Ups and downs with her politician husband - whose fortunes do not fade, and her discoveries in several fields lead Yeon-hong into turbulent reversals of passion and finally, a kind of madness. Things arguably get a bit too graphic in the final quarter. This is, however, continually not only a dramatic but a visually satisfying film, full of chiaroscuro and delving into a great variety of imagery.

The Truth Beneath (Hangul: 비밀은 없다; RR: Bimileun Eopda, lit. "There Is No Secret"), 102 mins., debuted in Korea 23 June 2016, showing in at least five festivals including Fantastic Fest, Kyoto, Tokyo and Taipei. It has been under-seen at home and deserves more abroad. Worth a US release (excellent English subtitles too). Screened for this review as part of the 2017 NYAFF. (Already shown.)


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