Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
Thursday, April 27, time 1.15 PM


By date


By title


Vanishing Time: A boy who returned

The movie will be shown for badge holders and with english subtitles only.

Soo-rin is a lanky, independent but lonely girl who after losing her mother, lives with her construction manager stepfather. After moving to a small island for her stepfather’s work, she is approached by a cute orphan Sung-min. Recognizing his empathetic and imaginative disposition, Soo-rin cultivates a friendship with the boy, sharing a set of secret linguistic codes to communicate with each other. One day, Sung-min and his buddies Jae-wook and Tae-shik decide to explore a mountain cave, tied to a vaguely Rip Van Winkle-like local myth. Soo-rin decides to tag along, despite the other boys’ objections. When the kids enter the cave, they unexpectedly discover what appears to be a large dinosaur egg, and Sung-min decides to crack it open. When Soo-rin comes back to rejoin the boys only minutes later, she finds them vanished into thin air...

Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned seems to have been chiefly marketed to the young female demographic that launched Jo Seong-hee’s Werewolf Boy (2012) into the box office stratosphere. Unfortunately for its domestic box office prospects, this new film failed to draw the crowds looking for a feel-good fantasy. Which is not to say it isn’t emotionally affecting: it just has a different agenda. Without being self-consciously “realistic,” director Um Tae-hwa illustrates with great efficacy the profound sense of isolation that the young Soo-rin feels from the rest of the world. The adults in the film are not evil, simply unimaginative and unwilling to break out of their commonsensical world-view. In the end, these pessimistic if not entirely despondent ruminations constitute the film’s core identity, rather than its supposedly light-hearted, genre-bound pleasures.

Um’s wrangling of the overtly fantastic aspects of Vanishing Time deserves much praise. The special effects are exceptionally well done, with some clever rules devised to explain the new, time-suspended world that the boys find themselves in. (My favorite CGI scene, supervised by Macrograph, shows Tae-shik encased in a tube made out of static bubbles, surrounded by massive blue walls of sea water).  
Vanishing Time also benefits much from its strong cast. There is something tremendously appealing about Shin Eun-su’s unaffected portrayal of the tall, tough 13-year-old Soo-rin. Her interactions with Lee Hyo-je about the losses of their mothers, for instance, are deeply felt but entirely stripped of mawkish qualities. Gang Dong-won, turned 36 this year, is probably one of the few Korean actors working today who could make the notion of a thirteen-year-old boy trapped inside the body of an adult achingly and genuinely believable, without making his character seriously creepy, or coming off like a sad poodle. Among the supporting cast, a special mention must be made of Um Tae-gu, the director’s brother, as the adult Tae-shik. He brings his characteristic angular, hard-edged intensity to the role of a fellow drifter in time who initially appears to be made of tougher stuff than Sung-min, but proves to be more vulnerable to the cosmic loneliness he is forced to reckon with.

I wish director Um had spent a bit more time on the screenplay, addressing various little problems in it (we never find out exactly what caused the time stoppage, for instance, and whether the artifact the children find is really the egg of a mythical creature: these details feel simply abandoned, rather than kept deliberately ambiguous). Vanishing Time nonetheless emerges as a beautiful, poetic little fantasy. Its literary flavor is that of a mature author looking back with great compassion and understanding at a childhood spent struggling to overcome feelings of isolation. It’s a bitter and somewhat sad taste of licorice and anise.  
Kyu Hyun Kim
Film director: 
Um Tae-hwa
Running time: