Review: Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (가려진 시간)

Still courtesy of SHOWBOX
Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned still courtesy of SHOWBOX

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.

Still courtesy of SHOWBOX
Still courtesy of SHOWBOX

Synopsis

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?

Still courtesy of SHOWBOX
Still courtesy of SHOWBOX

My Thoughts

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.

Still courtesy of SHOWBOX
Still courtesy of SHOWBOX

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.

Still courtesy of SHOWBOX
Still courtesy of SHOWBOX

Final Thoughts

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?

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.

9 thoughts on “Review: Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (가려진 시간)

  • December 5, 2016 at 1:59 pm
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    Your review reminds of a mix of the American tv show Stranger Things and the film, Alice: Boy from Wonderland. Both strange, touching and a lot of ick.

    Reply
  • June 9, 2017 at 9:55 pm
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    I feel that’s the most amazing part of the film, how the boy was stuck being 13 due to his circumstances, (not that I’m saying it’s right for an almost 30 year old man to love an underaged girl), but it explores this other perspective of how the body and the mind can be separate. His body is aging through the inevitable moving time, but he himself did not actually get to experience life, thus, making his mind stuck in the same state. He mentions he didn’t get to live his life, and that he missed the whole process of growing up (going to junior high, high school, etc.)

    Reply
  • June 10, 2017 at 12:24 pm
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    I think its very original. Never would have expected the twist and outcome of this movie. Good movie.

    Reply
  • June 11, 2017 at 1:31 am
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    I greatly enjoyed this movie. Yes, it was discomforting to watch the relationship take a turn when he returned as an adult while she remained a teenager. I still found it unique and watchable. Great movie in my opinion. Nothing icky happens and that’s what made me happy.

    Reply
  • July 17, 2017 at 7:20 pm
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    I loved this film. For me, the love between SuRin and SungMin transcended the issue of sex. I’ll get that out of the way now. They meet as children, and yes, there is the normal childhood crush, but that scene is important for the expression of ‘forever’ love that they make to one another. He returns as a young man, but with the emotional development of someone much younger. This is believable. Their relationship is mutually dependent, trusting, and intense, as both are alone in an unforgiving world.
    Ultimately, she is willing to break the egg to escape with him and/or catch up to him, but the situation precludes this choice, and he makes the choice to sacrifice himself for her. He is willing to endure the awful, terrible, unspeakable isolation of years more in the time prison in order to save her. This, above all, makes him purely good, nothing at all weird or perverted about him.

    A few of her days later, when she finds him boarding the ferry, of course, she runs to him. But note–he has not sought her out. How long has he returned? We don’t know. A day? A week? Perhaps his sacrifice extends to a willingness to let her be now, considering the age difference and his wanting her to have that normal life. The film ends with them alone, on the deck of the ferry. BTW, the other people have not disappeared. Remember he has sought that solitude on the deck, away from others. They are there, just not in this scene. This is perfectly believable. Now he is–what–in his thirties? In this final scene there is no hint of a sexual relationship, so it is not ‘perverted.’ They are simply together, two ‘forever’ friends who have found one another. It is part of the beauty of this film that we are left there, to leave them, with only our imaginations to continue the relationship. This film is about the purity of love and the nobility of sacrifice.

    Afternote: I know that we are aware and concerned about sexual predators, as we should be. I’m no Pollyanna. Finally, the world IS aware and taking action against this unspeakable crime. But I hope that our rightful concern about this does not distract or pervert the beauty of this film.

    Reply
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:11 pm
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      I’m glad that you saw something better and more innocent than I did, although I don’t agree. He lived the years they were apart, albeit in an isolated manner, and so would have matured even if not entirely at the same rate or manner. And that was my issue with the film. Not that he was a predator, he wasn’t, as he cared and sacrificed for her. But there was still an age difference that made me uncomfortable and didn’t allow me to enjoy the film.

      Reply
      • July 17, 2017 at 10:17 pm
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        I watched the ending again just now. She is on the ferry going to the mainland to attend school. He is also on the ferry going to the mainland. That means he is leaving, and he has not contacted her. He understands the problem with the difference in age, and, again, was willing to sacrifice for her sake. I can see nothing but beauty in his love for her. I don’t understand your concern. Fathers-daughters–uncles-nieces. Brothers-sisters. These relationships can and are beautiful, loving, and innocent. I think that the horrors of what we realize goes on in unhealthy minds to victimize children may be keeping us from seeing innocence. Again–he was leaving her.
        Perhaps one of the many attributes of a good film is that it sparks discussion and even controversy.

      • July 17, 2017 at 10:29 pm
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        Their relationship was never rooted in family but rather a first romantic crush when they were both young. That those romantic feelings didn’t go away when he returned older was my issue. I don’t think he sees her as a predator would because I don’t think he sees the age difference but a romance, no matter how innocent, between two people with such an age gap when one is so young, isn’t something I am comfortable with.

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