I expected one thing before watching South Korean film “The Truth Beneath”, but the movie served me the other thing I did not expect at all. When it takes its first steps with a familiar thriller premise, you may think you know where it is going, but then it keeps throwing totally unexpected elements into its mixed bag as baffling or surprising you. While the movie is a little too chaotic and confusing at times, I enjoyed a wry sense of humor hovering over its increasingly unhinged mystery plot, and I also liked how it goes all the way for delivering all those offbeat moments to be loved or hated by its audiences.
When we meet Yeon-hong (Son Ye-jin) and her family in the beginning, they look like a model family anyone would envy. Thanks to her successful husband Jong-chan (Kim Joo-hyeok), she and her adolescent daughter Min-jin (Shin Jee-hoon) live in a big luxurious house located in a suburban area outside Jong-chan’s hometown city, and now Jong-chan is about to run in the upcoming parliament election. There are several other candidates, and one of them is not an easy opponent at all as a seasoned local politician with considerable influence, but Jong-chan believes he will win the election – and his wife is ready to support and stand by her husband to the end as one of his main campaigners.
As busily preparing for the first day of her husband’s election campaign with others, Yeon-hong has a brief conversation with her daughter. When Min-jin tells her mother that she will probably come home late tomorrow because of an appointment with her best friend, Yeon-hong does not particularly mind about that, though she does not know that much about her daughter’s friend except the name.
On the next day, Min-jin is gone missing. While Yeon-hong becomes quite nervous as fearing the worst situation, her husband is more occupied with how much their daughter’s missing will affect his election campaign once it is reported on the media, and that certainly puts a rift between him and Yeon-hong, who begins to have serious doubts on their relationship as discerning more of her husband’s imperfect aspects than before.
While the local police begin the investigation and her husband continues to focus on his election campaign, Yeon-hong decides to look for clues for herself, but she is soon flabbergasted by how little she knows her daughter in fact. For example, Min-jin’s aforementioned friend turns out to be a false one, and Yeon-hong also comes to hear about how lonely and unhappy Min-jin was in her school life as being ostracized by other girls.
And a number of questions start to emerge along with several suspicious characters who may be hiding something from Yeon-hong. Why does Mi-ok (Kim So-hee), a girl who is Min-jin’s actual best friend and is also the last person who saw Min-jin on that day, keep trying to unlock a certain smartphone currently in her possession? Does the art teacher in their school know more than what she initially confides to Yeon-hong? Is it possible that Jong-chan’s political opponent is involved with the missing incident, which is seriously damaging Jong-chan’s chance to win at present? And who sent Min-jin mysterious e-mails which can explain a lot about her recent test scores?
As we keep guessing on these questions, the movie constantly shifts its narrative course among different moods, and the director Lee Gyeong-mi, who previously made a remarkable debut with her hilariously wild, outrageous black comedy movie “Crush and Blush” (2008), does not hesitate to strike us with many weirdly disjointed moments as her tenacious heroine bumps around here and there with more truths to be revealed in front of her. Although it feels uttermost tense and serious on the surface, the movie slips into oddly humorous mode from time to time, and the soundtrack often brandishes its sly tongue-in-cheek attitude. This ironic offbeat approach eventually culminates to its highpoint during the second half of the movie, and there are even surprisingly tender, sensitive flashback scenes which caught me off guard during my viewing.
In contrast to this dizzy mix of clashing moods, the performers in the movie keep their performances as straight as possible, and that is exactly what is necessary for the movie to work. Son Ye-jin, who has been somehow wasted in several forgettable movies despite her undeniable screen presence, finally gets a real plum role to shine her acting ability, and her strong performance is captivating and believable as Yeon-hong goes through a series of dynamic changes resulted from her dogged pursuit of truth. In case of the supporting performers revolving around Son, Kim Joo-hyeok is effective as Yeon-hong’s selfish, ambitious husband, and Shin Jee-hoon gives a haunting performance to linger around the movie while Kim So-hee is also fine as a girl who turns out to be more connected with her friend than we thought.
I must admit that it took some time for me to hold onto its story and characters due to its occasionally uneven storytelling, but “The Truth Beneath” tries different things with its genre conventions, and the overall result has more style and personality than those run-of-the-mill thriller movies. As I pointed out at the beginning of this review, you may not be an ideal audience of the movie, but you will not be disappointed if you are ready for something different.