Voice of Silence (2020) ☆☆(2/4): Voice of incompetence

What an inane and messy bore South Korean film “Voice of Silence” is. Often dreary and unpleasant in its casual depiction of human evil and violence, the movie attempts to be not only an absurd crime noir drama but also a sentimental tale of redemption, but it unfortunately fails in both cases mainly due to its lackadaisical narrative and superficial characterization, and its incompetent tonal shifts along the narrative are often too jarring to say the least.

In the beginning, the movie lets us get to know how a guy named Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung) and his mute younger partner Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in) earn their living day by day. The opening scene shows them selling eggs at some rural marketplace, but their actual job is taking care of any bloody mess caused by a criminal organization for which they have worked for years, and we soon see how they handle their latest assignment. After getting a call from their direct boss, they go to a certain remote spot where their direct boss is waiting along with several thugs, and they wait for a while until some unfortunate dude is beaten to death by these thugs. Once this atrocity is finished, they promptly clean up the scene in addition to taking care of the body, which is later buried in their usual burial spot with some consideration.

Some time later, Chang-bok and Tae-in are called by their direct boss again, but it turns out that their direct boss wants them to do something different instead of cleaning up his mess as usual. He orders them to take someone from a certain place belonging to one of his criminal associates and then hold that person in question for a few days, and Chang-bok and Tae-in follow the order without asking much because, well, it is usually better for them to know less.

When Chang-bok and Tae-in subsequently go to that certain place in question where they are supposed to pick up that person in question, they belatedly come to realize that the situation is quite more serious than expected. That person in question turns out to be an 11-year-old girl, and this girl, named Cho-hee (Moon Seung-ah), was recently kidnapped by Chang-bok and Tae-in’s direct boss, who has been expecting to receive the ransom money from the girl’s father within several days.

Anyway, Chang-bok and Tae-in take the girl to a small shabby residence where Tae-in has lived with Moon-joo (Lee Ka-eun), a little girl who is supposed to be his sister. Although she is apparently confused and scared, it does not take much time for Cho-hee to get accustomed to her changed captive status, and, not so surprisingly, she also comes to befriend Moon-joo, who does not mind having a new friend at all while still quite oblivious to what is going on around her.

Meanwhile, the situation surrounding Cho-hee becomes more complicated than before. Around the time when her father finally agrees to give the ransom money for his daughter, Chang-bok and Tae-in’s direct boss happens to be eliminated for having caused too many troubles, and Chang-bok and Tae-in do not have any problem with taking care of his body. They are also instructed to keep Cho-hee in custody a few more days, and they consequently find themselves getting involved in this situation more than expected.

While adamantly not explaining much to us on what exactly is going on around its main characters, the movie dryly delves into several unpleasant moments as expected. In case of a scene where Chang-bok and Tae-in meet that criminal associate of their former direct boss, you may be chilled as Chang-bok and that criminal dude casually discuss on how to handle the situation surrounding Cho-hee and then get the random money as soon as possible, and then you may come to fear for what may happen to her in the end.

However, the movie often does not seem to be serious enough for this and other unpleasant moments. While Chang-bok is merely a slow-witted man helplessly stuck in a circumstance way over his head, those criminal figures with whom Chang-bok and Tae-in are associated are just seedy or pathetic, so we come to observe them from the distance without much care or attention, and that is why a certain major sequence later in the film does not work as well as intended. In case of the expected relationship development between Tae-in and Cho-hee, it is not so believable as the screenplay by director/writer Hong Eui-jung (This is her first feature film, by the way) pushes these two characters into one artificial sentimental moment to another, and a part involved with a local female police officer is particularly contrived and manipulative to my annoyance.

At least, the main cast members of the film try as much as they can. While Yoo Jae-myung and Yoo Ah-in are fairly effective in their respective roles, young performers Moon Seung-ah and Lee Ka-eun do more than holding their spots well amid their adult co-stars, and their effortless interactions on the screen bring some life and personality to the movie.

In conclusion, “Voice of Silence” regrettably fails in balancing itself among several different plot elements which do not gel together well on the whole, and I became offended more than once during my viewing instead of being emotionally involved in its story and characters. Believe me, there were numerous South Korean films much better than this misfire during last year, and I sincerely recommend you to watch them instead.

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