Helpless

2012-03-19

Helpless

The transition from the agricultural era to the industrial age resulted in the growing number of nuclear-family households. The family unit seems to be becoming even smaller in Korea. The number of people living alone is increasing fast, especially in Seoul, and the number of one-person households exceeded that of traditional four-member families in Seoul for the first time in 2010. City dwellers find it increasingly difficult to know who lives in their neighborhood and they have less contact with their own family members. The recent movie “Helpless” sheds light on human alienation, one of the serious social ills that plague the contemporary Korean society.

Veterinarian Mun-ho and his fiancée Sun-young are visiting his hometown to meet his parents before they marry. When Mun-ho returns to their car after getting coffee at a highway service area, Sun-young vanishes without a word. Baffled by her disappearance just one month ahead of their wedding, Mun-ho asks his cousin Jong-geun, a former detective, to help him search for her.

Jong-geun discovers that Sun-young withdrew the entire balance from her bank account on the day of disappearance and erased her fingerprint marks on everything in her house. Jong-geun knows by intuition that she went into smoke on purpose. During their pursuit, the two men learn that she wasn’t the person who she claimed to be. Everything about her—her hometown, her past and even her name—proves to be incorrect. She is even suspected of being involved in a murder case. They soon face the blood-soaked background of her mysterious life filled with shocking facts—her debt-ridden father, her ex-husband who ruined his business due to the huge debt that she inherited from her father, her prostitution, her dead baby and the murder of a woman of her age. It turns out she killed a woman and stole her identity in a desperate attempt to escape from her miserable reality and find a new life.

The socially-conscious film poses a serious question of a young woman’s distorted desire to find a way out of her “helpless” situation and pursue a normal and happy life in society. The movie lays bare just how harsh the society is toward weak women and how dramatically a woman can become evil due to her dismal surroundings. Actress Kim Min-hee does deserve praise for her successful performance as the young, lovely fiancé who turns out to be a monstrous murderer.

The gruesome mystery thriller is based on Japanese writer Miyuki Miyabe’s 1992 novel “Kasha”, meaning “Fire Train.” It is said that the title refers to a train to hell featured in Japanese folklore. Passengers can only board but not get off. In the Korean film, the story unfolds so fast that viewers may feel as if they were riding on a fast train. The novel portrays the ills of Japanese society in the 1990s, such as private loans, organized crime and prostitution. The background of the film version is set in contemporary Korea. What disturbs the audience is that the problems the novel criticized 20 years ago are still actually occurring in Korean society.

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