Like a lot of South Korean foods, South Korean movies that achieve success in the US often have a few things in common. There’s a dark, psychological story (the grilled meat), graphic violence (the spicy side dish), ludicrous plot twists (the leaf wrap), and a nice bit of tearjerker melodrama as the cherry-on-top (or dab of soybean paste). Of course, Korean movies are as generically diverse as anywhere else, but when you think “popular South Korean movies,” you’re not thinking of the buddy comedies or romances that never release stateside. You’re thinking Oldboy, I Saw The Devil, Train To Busan, The Wailing, Snowpiercer, etc. If that’s your cut of samgyeopsal, keep your eyes peeled for Forgotten.
Forgotten (or 기억의 밤, literally Night of Memory) is a South Korean thriller that will release on Netflix at the beginning of next year. Knowing next to nothing about it, I decided to see it in a Korean theater with no subtitles as an experiment (as a film fan, I should have been doing this with South Korean movies since I got here. I know, shame on me). I was expecting to sit through a bunch of scenes I didn’t understand; instead, I got some of the most fun I’d had at the movies since I moved here. As Norma Desmond said in Sunset Boulevard, “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”
Forgotten is a thriller at its core, but it dabbles in horror, family drama, and other genres too. Jin-seok (Kang Ha-neul) is a college student who has just moved into a new house with his parents and older brother. As they are settling in, Jin-seok’s brother Yoo-seok (Kim Mu-yeol) is kidnapped by mysterious men. Days later, he returns with no memory of his time away, and he starts acting strangely around the house. Is this the real Yoo-seok, or a doppelganger? I won’t spoil anything else about the plot—it’s best to go in cold—but I will say that even if you guess “the twist,” that’s only the beginning. Forgotten’s final 40 minutes are an avalanche of hilarious absurdity that doesn’t sacrifice pathos for an interesting puzzle.
Despite my tiny Korean vocabulary, I completely understood Forgotten’s escalating, zigzagging plot. As much as I’d like to credit my beautiful brain with this success, I think it’s more to do with director Hang-jun Chang’s knack for visual storytelling. Forgotten is too over-the-top and audience-friendly to win any Oscars, but Chang has obviously studied Hitchcock and absorbed his understanding of cinematic clarity and slow-burn suspense. My guess is that American critics might scoff at Forgotten’s bonkers second half, but if so, word of mouth will make it a hit.
When you see Forgotton on your Netflix Recommendations in early 2018, invite some friends over and give it a watch. If you’re feeling daring, turn off the English subtitles. I promise you won’t regret it.
Kells is an Oakland native with a sad compulsion to put his opinions online. He hopes that you like them, but what’s really important is that you like yourself. Twitter