At first glance Helpless seems to be a remake of an American film, The Vanishing with Kiefer Sutherland. A man is on a trip with his fiancé and she disappears without a trace at a rest stop. Heartbroken, he starts to search for her and find out what happened. Though it felt similar to The Vanishing, this film developed into something different. As Jang Mun-ho, played by Lee Sun-kyun begins to look into the disappearance he realizes that the woman he was about to marry has a secret and he doesn’t truly know her. The film is based on the Japanese crime novel, All She was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe.
The mystery in this film is done well. The story unfolds at a good pace as the detective gets involved and pieces of the intricate puzzle fall into place. The point of view switches between three main characters and is told in real time as well as in flashback scenes. The viewer is left to wonder what is real and what is not. The uncertainty of what is actually true grabs your attention and is best part of this movie.
Though the movie focuses on the mystery, I was left wondering about the character development. In several scenes Lee Sun-kyun’s character shows his frustration and loss but the impact of these scenes felt flat for me. Their relationship as a couple is seen in a few quick scenes and so little is shown of his fiancé in the beginning it was difficult for me to connect emotionally with her disappearance. While I was curious as to why she disappeared, I didn’t feel the angst of it.
The driving force of the movie becomes the history and motivation of Kim Min-hee’s character. Her portrayal of the fiancé was excellent. Kim Min-hee plays her in such an emotional and multi-layered way I would have liked to have seen more. In particular, there was one flashback scene of Min-hee’s I found absolutely riveting. Instead of intense scenes like this, additional time is given to the detective work. As an adaptation of a crime novel this makes sense but while interesting, I would have preferred to watch more than the brief and scattered scenes involving Kim Min-hee and definitely more scenes with her and Lee Sun-kyun.
Nevertheless, what I believed to be lack of character development may have been artistic license to intensify the mystery. Though you see the fiancé, it is just enough that she becomes an enigmatic figure. Whether this is intentional or the acting abilities of Kim Min-hee were squandered can be debated.
Either way, Helpless is an intricately told mystery with a good mixture of psychological thriller and suspense. It’s an engrossing watch and will keep the viewer guessing about the mysterious fiancé and how the story will play out until the very end.