2017 | Unrated (R equivalent for language and violence) | starring Ha-Neul Kang | written and directed by Hang-Jun Zhang | 1 hr 48mins | In Korean with English subtitles |
With some movies you get the sense that they started with an outrageous mystery hook and tried to back in a solution that made that hook make sense and felt satisfying. Then there are movies where it feels more assured they had a story to tell, then broke it apart and doled it out to us piece by beguiling piece. Forgotten is the latter. A confident, satisfying and clever little twist machine and one of the more recommendable recent direct to Netflix movies I’ve seen this year.
Soft on character but strong in unfolding a story that keeps kicking the legs out from under us, Forgotten follows Jin-Seok (Ha-Neul Kang) a teenager who greatly admires his accomplished older brother until one day when the brother is kidnapped off the street in front of him. 19 days later he turns up with no memory of what happened to him, but Jin-Seok notices odd behavior and starts to suspect his brother that returned isn’t his brother at all. That premise is all well and good. It’s been done (The 1-season TV drama The Family and Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling comes to mind), but were another movie would begin and end, Forgotten is just getting revved up. Structurally, it recalls Pascal Laugier movies like The Tall Man or the modern horror classic Martyrs, that completely settle into one possibility before diving into another. Forgotten isn’t quite as twisty, but the information it chooses to give us and when makes it feel that way. It’s a fun ride.
It’s hard to say much more than that, so much of the fun of the film requires going in cold and wondering just what in the hell is going on for most of the running time. It does have a few bits here and there that feel formula and the film spreads it’s morally grey evil deeds around so evenly it’s hard to root for or against anyone. I like that moral ambiguity but the film’s puzzle box structure does keep it from exploring it’s characters deeper. It also centers around a plot device I feel like I’ve seen in a hundred movies since Oldboy.
Visually, Forgotten looks really good. It’s an almost teachable example of how to shoot a movie on a budget and make it look good. There is an early foot chase through a warehouse, that could have been shot in one hallway for all I know, that has a visceral feel because of how director Hang-Jun Zhang shoots it. I’d be very interested to see what Zhang does next.
Forgotten feels a tad slim and familiar next to other giants of South Korean cinema, but it has a unique hook and a strong story that makes the journey worth taking. Like those films it has a tragic destiny quality, where there are no heroes or villains, just very desperate people in very messy situations. Deception, murder, hypnosis, coincidence and an elaborate ruse all play into the tragedy. Forgotten is another terrific Korean mystery with some knock-out set pieces and more than a few Hitchcockian staples. It starts off one place and ends in a completely different direction. In other words, it’s exactly what I’d want in this type of movie.