Hostage: Missing Celebrity
South Korea, 2021, 94’, Korean
Directed by: Pil Gam-sung
Screenplay: Pil Gam-sung
Photography (color): Choi Young-hwan
Editing: Kim Chang-ju
Art Direction: Chae Gyeong-seon, Seo Ju-yeon
Music: Bang Jun-seok
Producers: Kang Hye-jeong, Jo Seong-min, Ryoo Seung-wan, Lee Jun-gyu
Cast: Hwang Jung-min (Hwang Jung-min), Kim Jae-beom (Gi-wan), Lee Yu-mi (So-yeon), Ryu Gyeong-soo (Dong-hoon), Jeong Jae-won (Yong-tae), Lee Gyu-won (Young-rok), Lee Ho-jung (Saet-byeol)
Date of First Release in Territory: August 18th, 2021
In this latest thriller Hostage: Missing Celebrity, Hwang Jung-min attempts a particularly challenging role: he plays himself. As the film opens we see him taking part in a press conference to promote a new film, an action movie which he headlines together with co-star Park Sung-woong (who is also playing himself). After dinner, he sends his manager home and stops at the convenience store outside his apartment. So far, it recalls one of those tongue-in-cheek dramas like E J-yong’s The Actresses or Moon So-ri’s The Running Actress in which stars appear as themselves and lightly poke fun at their public and private personas.
But then things take an unexpected turn. Hwang Jung-min gets kidnapped in the street and driven to a remote hideout in the countryside. The thugs who abducted him can scarcely believe their luck: right before their eyes is the celebrated star of Veteran and Ode to My Father, gagged and tied to a chair. As for Hwang himself, it’s like suddenly he’s been trapped in one of his own films. If he were unusually strong, or a skilled fighter, he might find some way to overpower his captors, break free and dash to safety. But that’s the kind of thing that only happens in the movies.
Hostage: Missing Celebrity by debut director Pil Gam-sung is undeniably a genre film, with numerous action setpieces, plenty of drama and a particularly impressive car chase. But at the same time it undercuts its own spectacle by playing with perceptions of reality, through the (real) character of Hwang Jung-min. This adds a new layer to the story, but thankfully the filmmakers are also able to tap this reality to heighten the sense of tension. So somehow, the casting of Hwang Jung-min as himself in a genre thriller ends up working rather well.
Writer-director Pil originally developed this feature as a remake of the 2015 Chinese thriller Saving Mr. Wu. That film featured Andy Lau as a kidnapped Hong Kong movie star (though the star in question was not named Andy Lau; he was a fictional character named Mr. Wu). Hostage has a different vibe, but it’s a credit to the director that he was able to take this idea and do something unexpected with it.
Playing yourself in a film is probably a lot harder than it sounds. Hwang Jung-min (who visited Udine in 2018 to present The Battleship Island) manages to convincingly look like himself, rather than an actor playing himself. It’s a nice irony that his character’s only available weapon in this desperate situation is not his strength or physical ability, it’s his acting skills. But we all know the power of acting to convince, captivate and deceive an audience.
Pil Gam-sung is a graduate of the film program at Dongguk University. He served as a production assistant on Musa (2001), and on the editing team for Marriage Is a Crazy Thing (2002) and Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (2004). He shot the 30-minute horror movie You Promised Me in 2011, but it took 10 years until he was able to make his debut feature with Hwang Jeong-min and leading production company Filmmakers R&K. Hostage: Missing Celebrity grossed 1.6 million admissions in August 2021.
2021 – Hostage: Missing Celebrity