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


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.

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

  • December 5, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    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.

  • June 9, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    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.)

  • June 10, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I think its very original. Never would have expected the twist and outcome of this movie. Good movie.

  • June 11, 2017 at 1:31 am

    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.

  • July 17, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    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.

    • July 17, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      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.

      • July 17, 2017 at 10:17 pm

        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

        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.

    • January 5, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      Completely agree with you, everyone pretty much forgot they loved each other ‘forever’. He loves her but not once does he try to do anything inappropriate. He asks her to run away with him because no one believes him and she is the only person who knows who he really is, not for ulterior motives. I think even as an adult he knew there was a difference between them but was still keeping it together as bets he could. I’d be shocked or even traumatized because of the whole time skipping. Because really? Who would not come back kind of unstable after something like that?!
      Even as time passes, his love for her is still innocent and pure <3 and we see that at the end. He doesn't look for her, but fate would have it otherwise

  • October 10, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    In my opinion, we should not focus on the physical or we could say in the outer part of the person. In the movie I understand that even we aged and get into the adult stage, if there is something inside our soul, our inner self, there will always be a connection between the two. 🙂 This movie is very heartwarming, it shows us what is the meaning of selfless 🙂 even we say the age gap issue about the characters yes it is part of the synopsis but cant you see? when you open your mind, just try to understand the things happened in this movie, i bet you will appreciate it even we had the age gap issue :)) its about the lesson of the story on how it really amazed me, its not about the physical conflict of the characters, what most important is, this movie perfectly portrays that love can also make us selfless person.

    • October 10, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      While I’m glad that you saw a more positive side to their relationship after he aged, I have to respectfully disagree. Once he returns, the film makes me uncomfortable and nothing will change that. But that’s the beauty of film reviews, different people can see the same film and yet have different opinions about it.

    • January 5, 2018 at 10:08 pm


  • October 29, 2017 at 2:38 am

    I am not sure why anyone is feeling creeped out. She was the only person he knew. She was the only person who believed him. It was very scary to be all grown up all of a sudden in the world where time flowed. Not to forget that he had just gone through loss (his friend had killed himself and he was about to do the same). I did not feel there was anything romantic in their relationship when he came back as an adult. They had a promise to like each other forever. I think they were only keeping their promises. And not in a romantic way. You can continue liking someone even if you aren’t romantically involved. The most important thing is that He was alone and scared. She wanted to protect him. She was the only one who could protect him. If anything the girl is having to behave maturely on behalf of the boy.

    I personally think I would have behaved the same way like either of them. If I was stuck in time and came back, I would have gone to her. Not because I wanted her romantically but because she was the only one who believed me.
    And if i had been the girl whose friend had come back all grown up, I would be be with him to protect him. Only i beleived him and only i could help him. So obviously I would be with him to try and prove who he was.
    What would you have done if you were them?

    • October 29, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      That’s the beauty of opinions, we’re all allowed to have them and they’re allowed to differ. They were experiencing their first love/crush, and it was sweet and innocent before he (and the two friends) were sucked into the egg. Those feelings didn’t appear to change and yes, it was romantic if an innocent first-love type of romance when they were both young, but when he came back that same relationship felt wrong to me. He was no longer a youth, no matter that he grew up differently, he still grew up. I don’t fault how she behaved, as from her perspective, not much time had passed. But time did pass for him and while I was sad for him and what he suffered, it still felt off. I may not have reacted differently if I was her but I would have if I was him.

  • October 29, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    It kind of bothers me that you will not allow any of us who see their relationship a different way to let our words stand without your continuing to push your point. Respectfully, you have made your point clearly. Several people, including me, see it differently, but you respond with the same argument again. In my opinion, you do not have to restless your point after each contribution. Your adherence to it has becoming a bit concerning. The majority of viewer and professional reviewers do not see it your way, whether they liked the film or not. I’m sorry if this offends you, but there reaches a point that your insistence–because you author the blog and simply can do so–becomes quite awkward.

    • October 29, 2017 at 5:54 pm

      While I can understand you point, it is our policy to always reply to comments as it often encourages interesting discussion. Plus the previous person did ask my opinion so it would be rude not to respond. 🙂 And no, it doesn’t offend me, although I’m not sure why you think it’s concerning that I haven’t changed my opinion despite opposition. I am, however, sorry that it offends you that I defend my opinion and review.

  • December 14, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    I can agree with you all. I saw the movie and “felt” the discomfort Cindy mentions, but also can see the beauty of sacrifice in both characters. Good for Natty for saying what you did as that takes courage, but hopefully done without malice……I believe it was without such. Perhaps it would have been more gracious for Cindy just to acknowledge others comments with a, “Thanks”, and I believe that would have happened if her response was not so soon after….but…’s human nature and that is normal and natural. That’s the thing about posts/blogs. People do well to allow a day to pass before responding so that one can truly respond objectively rather than a response of emotion. If any responses to this, please do so after a day…;-) I thought the movie did what it was intended to do…….show the struggle and injustice of life…..and through it all, love prevails. We can all thank Disney for the happy endings….(which I love), but life so often times is not that way………cheers to all!

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