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Posted February. 24, 2006 03:06,   


“Shin Sung Il Is Missing,” released on February 16, is an independent film brimming with imagination.

It was shot on budget, too.

Director Shin Jae-in, who received accolades for his short films, “Talented Boy Lee Jun Seop” and “His Truth Marches On” that he made soon after graduating from the Korean Film Academy, made “Shin Sung Il Is Missing,” his first feature film, on a budget of just 65 million won. Most of the money came from grants from the film guild.

But his frugality does not affect his creativity. He breaks stereotypes, making even the most boring subjects sizzle.

The film’s lead actors are a deep-thinking, lanky boy whose namesake is the romantic heartthrob Shin Sung-il, and an arrogant, stand-offish little girl named Lee Young-ae, who says on her first day at an orphanage, “You know what corruption is? It’s when you sleep with me. With a concentration that remains consistent throughout the movie, the director convinces us that the famous names aren’t just to attract watchers; they are artful contrivances that breathe perception into the film.

But his monochrome subject is both a blessing and a hindrance to the movie. Compared to the expectations one gets from reading the film’s synopsis, Shin’s repeated pounding of the same stories can exhaust an audience.

The symbolism and metaphor in the movie are excellent. The outlandish doctrines that Shin feeds to the children, and the passive way in which they accept them, is a satire of the twisted leader-follower relationships that exist in the real world. Through the violence committed in the name of kindness, the movie indirectly portrays politics and religion, brainwashing, group hypnosis, and insurgent citizens.

There is a problem, however: the movie plays for 103 minutes, making all the new ideas as flat and organized as lecture notes.

This comes from stretching metaphoric messages that could have been conveyed in just 30 minutes. At some point, the movie becomes what it is mocking, almost forcing its thoughts upon viewers because of a lack of substance. “Shin Sung Il Is Missing” could have been more than it is if the director had really played with the movie.

Seung-Jae Lee sjda@donga.com