Tragic and Cruel, BRING ME HOME 나를 찾아줘 Is Not for the Faint-Hearted
Six years after her son went missing, dedicated mother Jung-Yeon still hasn’t lost hope – even after her husband’s shocking accident while rushing to follow up on a potential sighting. Although she’s in mourning, drowned in despair for her losses, she doesn’t give up. Just when everything feels like it’s in vain, she hears about a young boy living in a fishing community outside the city who seems to resemble her lost son.
Facing strange surroundings and corrupt cops covering up child abuse, Jung-yeon may not be able to handle all the obstacles in her way, let alone fend for herself.
Director: Kim Seung-woo
Cast: Lee Young-ae, Yoo Jae-myung, Park Hae-joon, Lee Won-geun
Country: South Korea
Runtime: 108 minutes
After 14 years away from the big screen, actress Lee Young-ae is back with a new thriller Bring Me Home, written and directed by Kim Seung-woo as his debut feature. Bring Me Home tells the story of Jung-yeon, a mother whose son has disappeared for 6 years, but she hasn’t given up on searching for him. When she receives a tip that leads her to a fishing village, she finds out that the residents there may be hiding something sinister.
For many audiences, Lee Young-ae is most likely known for her performances in the 2003 hit drama Jewel in the Palace, or in Park Chan-wook’s 2005 revenge thriller Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Naturally, audiences who have seen Sympathy for Lady Vengeance will be quick to spot the similarity between the 2005 film and Lee’s new film Bring Me Home.
In both films, Lee plays the role of a mother with a child and both films touch on the topic of vengeance. But they are not the same. Not in tone, story, or even emotional impact. While both films are dark and gritty, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is more stylistic in its approach to the story, even becoming slightly cartoonish (in a good way) in certain moments, whereas Bring Me Home tries to stay grounded in reality throughout the film, evoking a sense of despair for the character. If Sympathy for Lady Vengeance seems like a Greek tragedy, then Bring Me Home is something you can see in a newspaper report, closer to reality, yet equally tragic.
As a thriller about a mother searching for her son, Bring Me Home is raw and unflinching in its approach, never shying away from discomfort and violence, even though most of the physical violence is saved for the later part of the film. However, if there is one thing that holds the film back from being amazing, it also lies in its genre as a thriller.
Bring Me Home falls into the trap of following genre conventions, which leads it to become predictable. The film may be gripping and intense, but there are important moments that you can see coming from a mile away, which then leads to a game of “When will it happen?” And when it does finally happen, the impact is long gone, and that is a huge pity.
Luckily, there is a saving grace – Lee Young-ae’s heart-wrenching performance. Despite taking a 14-year break, the veteran actress’s screen presence is still tremendous and magnetic. In fact, there is a sense of maturity in her performance that is very different from her previous works. Perhaps that’s because she has become a mother to twins during her break, which has helped her understand and express the character’s pain of losing a child more powerfully. Bring Me Home uses instances of flashbacks to show the main character’s faith and hope for finding her son, and does so without feeling awkward or cheesy. When she finally reaches the fishing village, this naïve hopefulness clashes with the stark reality of social indifference.
And this is where Bring Me Home becomes more than just a thriller. While it was pretty obvious that the film wanted to show that there is still hope in such depressing situations, Bring Me Home also addresses a number of social issues with an honesty that is grim and, at times, disturbing. These include police corruption, human trafficking, child labour, social indifference, class differences, and child sexual abuse. There were times throughout the film where I noticed audience members shifting in their seats or even gasping at such moments, and it just shows how effective Bring Me Home is in its portrayal of social issues present.
It’s good that films tackle topics like this and bring it to audiences, but there are risks too, and unfortunately, Bring Me Home fails to produce very dynamic villains. Aside from being one-dimensional characters with no growth, the villains are also portrayed as fraudulent lower-class workers whose only purpose seems to be to juxtapose the angelic qualities of the middle-class main character. Bring Me Home’s take on class differences reminds me of Parasite even though it takes a different stance on the same subject, but it doesn’t fair well when compared to the latter.
With Bring Me Home as his debut feature, writer-director Kim Seung-woo shows off his ability to capture audiences with his bleak approach to such a painful topic that leaves audiences choked up and amazed at the same time. While it feels like Kim is still trying to find his footing and style, it is really exciting to watch a new director with such potential for storytelling and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table next.
Bring Me Home will be out in cinemas on 12 December, but in the meantime, you can check out the trailer here: