When I read the synopsis of the film, it intrigued me but also led me to think it was going to be more fantasy than it actually is, which is probably why I ended up disappointed. In reality, Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (가려진 시간) is a drama with only a small dash of fantasy – that smashing a glowing egg can stop time for those that do it for a decade or more. It’s more about relationships and that’s where it lost me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
A young girl, Soo-Rin moves to a rural Korean island with her stepfather after the death of her mother. She has a hard time making friends as she’s seen as a bit odd but soon Sung-Min, another 6th grader befriends her. She tags along with Sung-Min and two of his friends when they venture into the mountainside to watch the tunnel construction and there they find a mysterious egg in a cave. When Soo-Rin goes back into the cave to find a barrette she dropped, the three boys smash the egg and trap themselves in time. Only Sung-Min makes it back to reality but will anyone believe him?
The film started off really cute with the two main characters, Soo-Rin and Sung-Min in grade 6. As the film sets the background story, the interaction between Soo-Rin and Sung-Min, in fact with all the kids, is genuine and realistic. Soo-Rin doesn’t fit in to her new school and several of her classmates make fun of her blog, which is quite dark and unusual for a young girl. Sung-Min develops a crush on her and quickly befriends Soo-Rin, leading to a sweet, first blush of a romance (and first kiss) where she even shares a made-up alphabet with him so they can leave each other secret messages.
Like I said, the beginning of the film is simply adorable, and both of the two main characters are likable as kids.
Then Soo-Rin tags along with Sung-Min and his friends when they venture up the mountain to check out the construction of a tunnel, which her step-father is in charge of. In the process, they find a cave and being kids, they crawl in to check it out. The discovery of a glowing egg leads them to bring it out in the open where Tae-Sik tells a story his grandfather told him about goblin eggs and the full moon. Not believing the story, the boys crack the egg to see what happens (Soo-Rin having conveniently gone back into the cave for a lost barrette) and disappear.
From this point, the story is told by two voices for a while (before they both converge again).With Soo-Rin, we continue in the normal timeline with the village desperately looking for the missing boys, presumed kidnapped. Sung-Min tells the other side of the tale and we find out that the story of the goblin egg isn’t a fairy tale as the three boys are trapped or frozen in time.
The part of the film that shows the three young boys – Sung-Min, Tae-Sik, and Jae-Wook – trapped in time was probably the best part of the film. The way stopped time was portrayed and the boys’ interaction with their new environment was fantastical and fun to watch. Until the reality of being stuck outside of time sunk in – no medicine or interaction with others – and things stop looking so rosy. They were getting older but their environment was stuck, unchanged. This part of the film grabs the viewer, tugging at their heartstrings, while progressively getting darker (although, it could have gotten even darker as even death seemed unreal – dead kid as a balloon anyone).
But then it went off the rails a bit by becoming too melodramatic and weird. And this is where the film loses me.
Once he comes back as an adult, it became uncomfortable to watch. She’s still 13 as only days have passed for her and he’s now almost 30 but they still have budding romantic feelings for each other… yuck! The creepiness factor was making my skin crawl. Yes, they were friends and perhaps each other’s first crush before he disappeared but he did age about 15 years while he was trapped in time. Time did pass for him so he’s no longer a 13 year old. I get that he’d be emotional stunted and certainly odd after years with limited human contact but he still aged, he’s not 13 years old anymore so any hint of romantic feelings with a 13 year old girl is icky. If he came back older in body but without living those years trapped in time, it might have been different. But he didn’t just get an older body, he lived those years so he’s not a kid anymore.
I wasn’t the only one who had an issue with it as he was perceived as a predator by the villagers and police once he was discovered. Because hello, he looked like an adult. Soo-Rin was the only one who believed him and so the other characters in the film saw what made me uncomfortable – a 30 year old man with a 13 year old girl. Sure, I felt for him when the woman who ran the orphanage was afraid of him – it wasn’t that I didn’t feel for the older Sung-Min, he wasn’t a bad character. I just felt uncomfortable with the relationship between Soo-Rin and Sung-Min at this point because romance was a part of it, no matter how innocent.
Putting aside my growing feelings of discomfort, Soo-Rin and the older Sung-Min had great chemistry as actors so at times, I was able to put it aside. Because I wanted a happy ending. Sung-Min deserved it after what he suffered. The ending, while a bit unbelievable (seriously, where were all the other people on the ferry? We watched everyone board but no, the final scene has just Soo-Rin and Sung-Min) at least gave me that, sort of.
Despite my issues with the latter part of the story, I was impressed by Shin Eun-Soo (신은수) who plays Soo-Rin, especially after finding out that this was her first major acting role. She brought such passion, likability and innocence to the role. Gang Dong-Won (강동원) was also solid as the older version(s) of Sung-Min and was able to convey his confusion and hopelessness so well.
I don’t recommend it but I also don’t not recommend it. Sound non-committal? That’s because I’m super conflicted about the film. The first half was great, loved it. But the latter half made me uncomfortable. It’s not that I was expecting something different – I was but that’s besides the point – but I can’t recommend a film that makes me uncomfortable. Which is too bad because it’s an interesting premise with solid acting and a great first half.
Have you seen Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (가려진 시간)? What did you think of it?