Missing Yoon (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Imitation of Life

Here is a little South Korean film which somehow made me care much more than expected. I must confess that I initially observed its two different main characters with mere pity and annoyance, but “Missing Yoon” gradually let me understand and empathize with them as they frequently pulled and pushed each other along the story, and then it surprised me more with an unexpected touching moment you have to see for yourself.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Soon-yi (Oh Min-ae), a middle-aged woman who has worked as a veteran imitation singer of legendary real-life South Korean singer Yoon Si-nae. As “Yeon Si-nae”, Soon-yi is about to do the opening act for Yoon’s farewell concert, and she is certainly excited about finally meeting the singer she has passionately imitated for many years, but, alas, Yoon is suddenly disappeared right before her concert to everyone’s bafflement.

In case of Soon-yi’s daughter Ha-da (Lee Joo-young), Yoon’s disappearance does not matter that much to her at first, but then she sees an golden opportunity from her mother. As your average YouTuber, Ha-da is willing to draw more viewers by any means necessary, and, once her mother happens to attract lots of attention from those online viewers out there, she soon begins to show more of her mother to them without her mother’s consent.

Meanwhile, Yoon is still missing during next several days, so, after doing some soul-searching, Soon-yi decides that she should search for Yoon for herself. Although she was not particularly close to Yoon, she knows about some connection between Yoon and several prominent imitation singers of hers, and this connection may help her locating Yoon’s whereabouts at present. When she subsequently comes to learn of her mother’s decision, Ha-da is naturally more excited, and she soon accompanies her mother while not still telling her mother anything about what she has been doing behind her back.

As Soon-yi and her daughter bounce from one point to another during their bumpy journey, the movie gives us a loving glimpse into the small world of imitation singers. At a small training academy for imitation singers, Ha-da regards those imitation singers without much care, but then she finds herself swept into their enthusiastic party time, and what follows next is both amusing and touching. Yes, many of them lack originality from the beginning, but they simply follow their passion without any shame or hesitation, and I am sure that they can sing a lot better than me (Compared to me, Pierce Brosnan in “Momma Mia!” (2008) will look like an accomplished professional singer, by the way).

Soon-yi and Ha-da later get associated with Joon-ok (Roh Jae-won), a male imitation singer who has worked as “Woon Sin-ae”. As he later comes to accompany Soon-yi and Ha-da, Joon-ok becomes a sort of buffer between Soon-yi and Ha-da, but Soon-yi and her daughter still clash with each other at times, and their conflict becomes more intense when Soon-yi belatedly discovers what her daughter is doing behind her back.

Around that narrative point, both Soon-yi and Ha-da come to reflect more on not only themselves but also their messy mother-daughter relationship, and the screenplay by director/writer Kim Jin-hwa accordingly shifts itself on a more introspective mode. While Soon-yi comes to question whether it was worthwhile to throw herself into her little career for many years, Ha-da comes to confront how superficial her online activity has been. While both of them have desperately wanted attention and recognition from others, they have not gotten much satisfaction as only getting disappointed again and again, and their rocky journey prompts them to ask themselves on what is really the most important in the real life behind their imitation of life.

Soon-yi and Ha-da are not exactly likable characters, and I still prefer to stay away from them as much as possible, but they are engaging to observe nonetheless thanks to the strong acting from Lee Joo-young and Oh Min-ae. Besides ably complementing each other throughout the film, Lee and Oh frequently energize the screen as embodying their characters’ complex human aspects, and that is the main reason why it is moving to see how their characters makes a little but significant forward step together in the end.

Around Lee and Oh, Kim assembles several colorful performers, each of whom has each own moment to shine. Although his supporting role seems rather thankless at first, Roh Jae-won holds his small place well between Lee and Oh, and he is especially good when his character diligently performs at a nearly empty night club as a last-minute replacement. As another imitation singer character in the story, Kim Jae-hwa has a little funny moment as her character tries to perform a bit in front of her few audiences, and I also appreciate how the movie skillfully incorporates a brief but crucial guest appearance into the finale.

In conclusion, “Missing Yoon” is alternatively funny and poignant thanks to its solid mix of comedy and drama, and Kim, who previously made several acclaimed short films, makes a commendable feature debut here on the whole. You can see what you will get right from the beginning, but the movie surely earns all the emotions during its finale, and it is certainly one of the better South Korean films of this year.

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