Review: Helpless (화차)

2012 Korean Film Festival tickets

*Possible Spoiler Alert*

Wow! This is a thriller that totally keeps you guessing until the end. She’s guilty… she’s innocent… she’s guilty… love it!

Helpless is based the bestselling novel, whose English title is “All She Was Worth” by Japanese author Miyabe Miyuki. It’s a dark thriller where a young woman – Kang Sun-young (Kim Min-hee) – disappears from her car at a rest stop on the way to meet her fiancé’s parents. Distraught, her fiancé Jang Mun-ho (Lee Seon-gyun) searches for her, enlisting his cousin, a former police detective Kim Jong-geun (Jo Sung-ha) to find her. As they search for her, they learn that she’s not who she says she is.

I thought that Lee Sun-kyun, who played the male lead Mun-ho (and whom I also loved in Coffee Prince) totally nailed his part. Helpless was well-acted for the most part but I thought that he made the movie. Mun-ho is a nice, likeable guy in a horrible situation and while the story is riveting, for me, Lee Sun-kyun’s portrayal of Mun-ho made the movie.

The scene where Mun-ho totally loses it midway through the film was fabulous – lots of swearing but totally believable. Nothing was turning out how he expected and being mildly threatened was the straw that broke the camel’s back. His temper tantrum was impressive! Even more so since it seemed so out of character (for Mun-ho) but fitting for the stress you imagine he’s under after finding out that his fiancé isn’t whom she said she was and what should have been the happiest time of his life, wasn’t turning out so swell.

On the other hand, I didn’t really like the female lead, the “Helpless” character but since I felt the film was mostly driven by Mun-ho and his cousin Jong-geum, an ex-police detective; it wasn’t an issue. The plot, with its constant twists, was more than strong enough to make up for one weak character.

An added bonus – for me anyways – was a few random scenes in the film like Jong-geum drinking banana milk or Mun-ho offering an ice lolly to Sun-young. These treats – the banana milk and ice lolly – made me nostalgic for Korea. Mmm… banana milk! But they were also nice, mundane touches that helped illustrate that crazy things can happen in normal lives.

There was one scene in the film that I found unnecessary. I really could have done without seeing the dog operation. I know Mun-ho was a veterinarian but it didn’t seem to be necessary to the plot and was just a little gross. This was the only part of the film I disliked and didn’t watch (yeah, I did the girl thing and covered my eyes).

But all in all, I thought that Helpless was a well-acted and written thriller. I would definitely recommend seeing it if you have’t already. And if you live in Toronto, it opens officially at Yonge-Dundas AMC on Friday May 11th so you can go see it for yourself. If you do, leave a comment and let me know what YOU thought of it!  Want to see another opinion, read Alexandra’s post about Helpless.

P.S. It will also be playing in theatres in Vancouver, New York, Chicago, Seattle and New Jersey starting on Friday. It already opened in Los Angeles.  

Rating: ***1/2 out of five

Did you see Helpless? What did you think?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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