‘Vanishing Time’ is at once dreamy and real

November 25, 2016

SEOUL, Nov. 25 (Yonhap) — If one could compare a film to a painting, the South Korean movie “Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned” is definitely a Chagall, but with many dark elements.

The first commercial film by rookie director Um Tae-hwa tells the story of a boy who goes into a forest and returns days later as a full-grown adult. The only person who will believe his story is his friend, Soo-rin, who was with him when he vanished. Together, the pair try to convince the world that the man they see is in fact the boy Seong-min, and not his abductor.

To explain Seong-min’s sudden change from a boy to a man, Um transports audiences to a world where time has stopped. The sequence of scenes are a marvel to watch, from a boy being carried on the end of a balloon string to a jumping cat caught in midair and the transformation of water to jelly.

But Seong-min soon discovers that where there is no time, there is no life, and where there is no life, there is growing loneliness and despair. His despair only deepens when he is abruptly returned to the real world as a 20-something man and faces a hostile community unwilling to accept his fate.

This image shows a poster for the movie "Vanishing Time."

This image shows a poster for the movie “Vanishing Time.”

The story is overall taut and eerie as the protagonists come face to face with a number of supernatural situations. At the same time, it gives audiences room to stretch their imaginations and enjoy a world they have yet to experience.

Um doesn’t take it too far, either. There may be mysterious objects, such as the egg-like “monster” that stops time when it is broken, but there are no mysterious beings or creatures.

That helps, because when the real world reappears, it is real to the core. Only Soo-rin, who has formed a special bond with Seong-min, is pure and innocent enough to fully trust her friend. None of the adults, from her stepfather to the chief investigator to Seong-min’s orphanage principal, will budge, and even his classmate rejects his story.

Kang Dong-won, who plays the grown-up Seong-min, appears to be the ideal person for the role. At 36, he manages to pull off the image and looks of a younger man with an even younger soul. In terms of looks, the actor’s piercing eyes, pale face and hunched figure heighten the nervousness of his character. He also does a good job of keeping audiences in suspense as to whether he is who he claims to be or the abductor everyone else believes he is.

Still, there’s something undeniably uncomfortable about watching him. Whether that’s due to his disturbed character or his acting can be left to personal judgment.

On the other hand, Shin Eun-soo, who plays Soo-rin, is incredible in her first major role. The young actress delivers so flawlessly that it is no surprise she was chosen out of an audition of 3,000 prospects.

“Vanishing Time” leaves you with that feeling you get after spending quality time in a good art gallery. You just want to be alone with your thoughts for some time.

The film opened in local theaters on Nov. 16.