SEOUL, June 16 (Yonhap) -- A phone call from the perpetrator, and the parents are told their only child is held for ransom. Time is ticking. Police are clueless.
This sounds too cliche for a kidnap thriller, but "Man of Vendetta," written and directed by Woo Min-ho, tries to elevate the story from the ranks of the genre by infusing it with a close-up of a man who, under extreme ordeals, abandons his faith and descends into self-destruction.
Woo builds his debut feature against a religious backdrop in tandem with his short films that took Christian subjects like "Who Killed Jesus?," which won a Seoul Christian Film Festival award in 2003. But his religious ingredient seems to be more of a cinematic device meant to amplify the character's descent rather than a thematic focus.
The story evolves with a well-paced chase sequence between the girl's father (Kim Myung-min) and the kidnapper (Uhm Ki-joon). Kim, known for his acting style that totally immerses himself into his characters like the skeletal patient with Lou Gehrig's disease he played in "My Love by My Side" (2009), fully develops the character as it transforms from a pious church pastor to a shaken third-class businessman in the wake of the daughter's abduction. The story gives relatively less space to the perpetrator, Uhm, or to the pastor's wife (Park Joo-mi) whose role is efficient but brief.
The film doesn't dwell on how the girl is abducted or how police fail to rescue her. It directly jumps into a point where eight years later the kidnapper reaches out to the father again with a ransom demand. By that time, Ju is no more a dignified man who used to preach on the podium in a roaring voice about loving your enemies or forgiving seventy times seven. Hope is gone for his daughter, and he is now a low-down divorcee trying to keep afloat his debt-ridden business with bluffs and blusters.
Suspense picks up when Ju receives a phone call from the kidnapper, who says his daughter is still alive. It reignites his hope, and immense guilt sweeps him over from the fact that he had deliberately abandoned the search so as not to suffer, contrary to his faithful wife who had kept up her search.
Given a week to raise a ransom and unable to do so, Ju makes a diabolical decision as the last resort to fulfill his parental duty.
Ju is entirely on his own chasing after the kidnapper and never seeks police help. The director might have intended that lonely chase would underline the father's gruesome state of mind and lengthen the pace of suspense. In the story, police involvement eight years ago had ended up blowing up a chance for rescue, but for audiences, the frame alone does not make Ju's thorough lone search logical enough.
After the pulsating chase scene and the final showdown with the perpetrator comes a quiet, emotional climax for Ju. His daughter asks him a piercing question that is tormenting yet forgiving, one that will perhaps also affect viewers.
The director said he wanted to portray how extreme agonies change victims' lives by focusing on the main character's transformation rather than instilling hair-raising effects into the thriller.
"If kidnap movies usually evolve with the situation of abduction and the suspense it creates, this one brings us into eight years later, when the issue has been forgotten and the lives have been changed for the mother, the father and the daughter and even for the kidnapper and the cops," he said after a press premier in Seoul on Monday.
Man of Vendetta, whose original title in Korean is translated "A Destroyed Man," was produced by iFilm Co. Its cinema release is set for July 1.