Why do kidnappings have to be so complicated?
It is just another morning in 1978, and no one is happy. Little Eun-joo gets yelled at by her mother for sleeping in late and eating candy. Eventually, she is ready to go to school, getting into the private car, driven by Driver Cheon.
There is a confrontation at the docks over who gets what fish. When the Big Big Boss shows up, one of the guys, Bae Cheol-ho, tells him that the others stole the big fish. The others claim that they simply took some small ones and that rich people are greedy. Well, no big deal for the Big Big Boss. He just returns home and puts some cash in a safe.
Detective Gong Gil-yong is taking time off from quashing yet another political demonstration in the street to chase down a suspected criminal. In what is most certainly some form of corruption, Gil-yong negotiates the handover of the suspect to another cop named Sang-gi. By that, I mean he wants money for the other one to get credit for the arrest. It seems like they finally work out a deal, when Gil-yong turns back around with the intent on beating the suspect.
The rainy school day is over and the kids are leaving. Eun-joo is sharing an umbrella with her friend Min-hye when another classmate (using his backpack as an umbrella) runs over and gives her a piece of candy, the same that her mother scolded her for. Min-hye asks her if she knows that other kid. Eun-joo says that his father had helped her aunt. As the two girls walk to the cars, a man asks them for help with something and they happily oblige.
The Big Big Boss is on the phone trying to get information on what happened with his daughter. Apparently, she and Min-hye got into the car of a man who was asking for directions. Eun-joo’s mother is in disbelief. Just then, Eun-joo’s aunt arrives. She embraces her sister, who bursts into tears.
Chief Inspector Yoo talks with the Big Big Boss. He says that Eun-joo should be safe for the moment if the kidnapper plans to ask for money. Then he asks if the Big Big Boss has any enemies. People who know that he keeps cash around the house. People like the nanny…or the driver. Maybe workers at the fish company with grievances. If they do not receive a call within three days, then they will have to search for witnesses, perhaps offering a reward.
Two days after the kidnapping, Eun-joo’s mother and aunt start to go around consulting fortune tellers, searching for one that tells them something other than Eun-joo being doomed or already dead. That is easier said than done, though, and Eun-joo’s mother sinks further and further into gloom.
Meanwhile, the police took in Driver Cheon for questioning and…uh…questioned him hard. Face still bloody, he goes to the Big Big Boss to tell him that he resigns. He is already sick with guilt for not seeing Eun-joo get kidnapped and now the police are beating him until he gives up information that he does not have. The Big Big Boss is furious…maybe not so much that the police tortured his employee, but more so that they are trying to dig into his affairs instead of looking for his daughter. But what is the alternative?
Well, he makes a phone call.
And, apparently, that phone call gets Gong Gil-yong on the case. But why? He tells his superior that he does not know that, though he did help out the girl’s aunt by beating up a group of gangsters who were trying to hit her up for money at her bakery. Wait, Eun-joo’s mother is so upset about her eating junk food when her own sister runs a bakery? Anyways, the Big Big Boss called the Chief and asked for him specifically. The case may be in Jungbu station’s district, but the Big Big Boss…disapproves of how they have been handling it. Since he has the biggest cash holding in Busan and perhaps has some influence in Seoul, this could be Gil-yong’s chance to move up from squad. Gil-yong is confused. The very same man who demoted him to squad in the first place for stealing another district’s case is telling him to do it again? His superior tells him that it was his own fault for calling their boss a dumb fuck.
When he gets home, Gil-yong offhandedly brings up the baker’s niece and asks if she is in the same class as their oldest son, Sung-han. She is not, but she was the previous year. His wife tells the four kids to greet him and he notices that Sung-han has a mark on his face. It turns out he got into a fight with another kid who said that cops wipe the butts of the rich. Nothing that Gil-yong can really say to that.
Afterwards, Gil-yong tells his wife that the baker’s relatives want his help in finding their daughter. His wife is shocked, not necessarily that she was kidnapped (because she had already heard about that), but that he is so blasé about the request. Besides, the baker sends them cookies all the time. Well, Gil-yong says that he is not taking the case and they should stop accepting the cookies. He worries that he will get saddled with all the blame if things go bad and the girl dies. His wife gets angry; he has time to chase protesters, but not to save a kid just like their own?
Well Gil-yong goes to the family five days after the kidnapping and lays out the baseline story. Min-hye said that the man had a Seoul accent and followed their directions as if he didn’t know the way, suggesting that he is not from Busan. He also offered them a ride home, which suggests that he didn’t know that Eun-joo has a driver. Gil-yong theorizes that the kidnapping was not targeted, and the Min-hye could have easily been the victim had her home not been closer to the school. He does not say that his own son could have just as easily been a victim if that were the case, but whatever. It does suggest that looking for a personal motive against Eun-joo’s family or suspects from within his circle is a waste of time.
Gil-yong says that he cannot organize a team, as he is from a different station. The Big Big Boss tells him that the Chief has temporarily transferred him to the metropolitan police. Gil-yong is still not sure about all of this, but Eun-joo’s aunt reminds him of how heroic he was when fighting those gangsters. And, besides, it is his birth destiny to find her.
Gil-yong is stumped.
The Big Big Boss tries to change the conversation to other cases that Gil-yong solved. He may not be well-liked among his colleagues or superiors, but he has a reputation for solving cases. The Big Big Boss promises to do what he can to compensate Gil-yong in terms of promotion or money.
Gil-yong is silent for several seconds…and then asks them about their cash. They are going to need to spend cash a lot of cash. Not for him. Not for the kidnapper. Cash to set up a secret investigation office that the kidnapper cannot know about. Cash to keep the Busan press quiet. Cash to convince the Chief to make this a closed investigation. All so that the kidnapper will believe that the family had not contacted the police. And only Eun-joo’s mother can answer the phone.
So, things get set up, but not all is smooth sailing. Seoul has been slow to send information about any similar kidnappings up there. And, as expected, Chief Inspector Yoo is not particularly pleased at this interloper Gil-yong ordering his men around.
As a hypnotist tries to get Min-hye to remember the car’s license plate number, Gil-yong meets with his son in private at the school. Apparently, the school has been told that Eun-joo is visiting relatives in the States. He asks Sung-han if he was close to Eun-joo. Sung-han says that she was nice to the kids who wer picked for the school be lottery.
It has been ten days without a ransom call and people are suspecting that Eun-joo is dead, including Gil-yong. One night, Eun-joo’s parents overhear Gil-yong asking someone over the phone about corpses and the mother bursts into tears. She says that the kidnapper will call on the fifteenth day and then she walks away. Why does she think that? Who told her that? A guru. A guru who told her that only Gil-yong is fated to save Eun-joo.
Gil-yong has his colleague Sang-gi look up this guru. Fortuneteller Baek Jae-hoon started from practically nothing in 1970 to becoming rich in 1977, and moved to Seoul. Kim Geum-tae, who goes by the name Kim Joong-san, had spent the last 4 years as Baek’s apprentice, and took his Busan number when he left for Seoul. He is the person whom the sisters decided was the person to believe.
Gil-yong goes to Kim’s house and is greeted by his wife. It is kind of…uh…modest, similar to his own house. He asks if Mr. Kim is home and she says that the cops took him already.
And…yes…some of the of the cops are beating him up while the rest eat lunch nearby. They are not even asking him pertinent questions when Gil-yong arrives. He does not immediately stop them, but he checks his alibi and it checks out. Mr. Kim had been in a temple on a mountain over 70 miles away when the abduction occurred.
Gil-yong talks with Eun-joo’s mother. Did she and her sister really ask to see him because of this Joong-san guy said that his birthdate fits? She says that it was not just that, but does not really elaborate. Gil-yong worries would happen if the other cops find out, not mentioning that they already view him as an intolerable interloper. But, she tells him that Guru Kim is the only one to say without a doubt that Eun-joo can come back alive if Gil-yong helps.
Gil-yong drives Guru Kim back to his home. He asks Kim about his spiritual path that made him become a guru. Needless to say, Gil-yong is rather skeptical, and amused that he could not foretell getting dragged to the station and beaten. Kim says that he cannot know everything in this world. Then why go on about this 15th day call? Kim responds with…uh…stuff about a response from Heaven and a tree and water and fate. Gil-yong interrupts his explanation, basically calling it complete nonsense. Kim tries to compare it to a detective’s hunch. Gil-yong says that his hunch is telling him to cuff Kim. He pretty much accuses Kim of trying to scam rich women out of their money.
Yes, this movie was made before the shaman scandal brought down the Park Presidency.
The fifteenth day arrives and…the kidnapper calls…asking Eun-joo’s mother why they had not called the police. She does not answer that, asking him what he wants and whether Eun-joo is okay. He tells them to prepare $50,000 in cash. Then he guides them to a place in an apartment building where he left an envelope with a photo of Eun-joo and some pictures. Then finally, he tells her to go wait by a particular record store with the cash. He mockingly blows on the whistle that kids get to alert others of danger before hanging up. Eun-joo’s mother sees this as confirmation; her daughter is alive. Guru Kim was right. Even when all of the other fortune tellers said that signs pointed to her being dead, he had seen a path to life for her.
Eun-joo’s mother waits by the record store while disguised cops wait in watch. He does not show up. He then calls to tell her to wait on a beach. He does not show up. He then tells her to wait by a tunnel. She starts getting frustrated, especially as she starts to notice the same cars passing by. Which one is him and which are the cops? Even Americans?
Gil-yong did not authorize that. The Jungbu cops must have gone over his head. He starts to scold them, when Yoo barks back. They are the officially appointed team; Gil-yong is just the father’s mercenary. Gil-yong counters that he would not be given authority over the Jungbu cops had they not messed up in the first place.
Weeks pass and little progress has been made. The Big Big Boss has halted fishing operations without telling his irritated employees that it is because Guru Kim said to leave the fish alone while Eun-joo was still in danger.
Finally, 30 days since the kidnapping, the kidnapper calls again. He wants to meet in Seoul. Eun-joo’s mother can go to a relative’s house and they can stay in contact there.
The Big Big Boss decides to go to Seoul with Eun-joo’s aunt. The relative in question is an old classmate of the Director General of the National Police, who will lead the special team himself. Eun-joo’s mother has become ill with stress and misery, and cannot go herself. She orders Gil-yong to go. Gil-yong worries that the Seoul police will be uncomfortable with him around, as the Jungbu cops have been. But she says that their kids are friends. That must count for something. She begs him to go. With Guru Kim. And bring Eun-joo back home.
This movie is based on a true story from the late 1970s. Exactly how true, I am not sure, as it gets a little…erm…well…anyways…
True or not, it does have do nice tiny twists to movies of this type. The political situation is presented in the beginning, but mostly only backgrounded for the rest of the movie. The issue of the police being in the pocket of the wealthy is kind of seen as bad, but mostly taken as a given. There is inter-jurisdictional friction, but it is not merely two precincts battling it out. There is corruption and incompetence and lying throughout, along with some pretty bad brutality. Boy, they are quick to resort to violence. The protagonist Gil-yong may not be as bad as his Jungbu counterparts, but it obvious from the beginning that he is no saint.
It does present a somewhat interesting dynamic between the rich and poor. I would not say that either Gil-yong or Guru Kim are in dire straits, but they are certainly struggling compared the Eun-joo’s family or even Kim’s former master. Gil-yong accuses Kim of leeching off of rich wives, but he would probably be better off financially if that truly were the case. Besides, it is not like Gil-yong is above taking money from people who are not so rich. He does not necessarily air his personal opinions about the rich themselves, but it is clear that he is uncomfortable with the power that they hold over the police and himself personally. I am not sure if there was a specifically socio-economic meaning behind Kim and Gil-yong each having around four young children while Eun-joo is an only child, but I am sure that one could come up with analyses.
Still, struggling as he may be, Gil-yong does have a relationship with this wealthy family. He had protected Eun-joo’s aunt against gangsters and she repaid him with a constant stream of cookies to his family. Eun-joo was nice to his son Sung-han at school. Now, it is unclear whether Sung-han getting picked to go to that school in the first place was related in any way to his confronting the gangsters, especially since it is unclear which happened first. Also, we cannot be certain what the true story behind that was or how dangerous these supposed gangsters truly were. But, anyways, it seems that neither was the primary reason for Eun-joo’s family pulling strings to have him help them again. That is…due to Guru Kim. And that is…another can of beans.
Eun-joo’s family is said to be the richest in Busan, or among the richest at least. And they even have sway in Seoul. Due to a spate of kidnappings at the time, there are special tasks forces set up to deal with this. One would expect that if anyone would be rescued quickly, then it would be someone like Eun-joo. Yet, that does not happen. Whether it is because of Gil-yong’s rather ambitious plan or just fate, simply throwing money at the issue does not speed up the process. THIRTY DAYS pass before I end my synopsis of the movie’s first third or so. And I could feel the effects of the case drawing on and on, particularly with Eun-joo’s mother.
As I said, this movie does some nice little twists with the movie genre. Nothing major, but just little things. That allows for some surprises here and there, including one at the end that kind of threw me for a loop. But, yeah. I like this one.
WTF ASIA 162: Peepli Live (India: 2010, approx. 109 minutes)
WTF ASIA 163: Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days (Japan: 2013, approx. 113 minutes)