Monday, May 23, 2011

Man Bites Dog

Missing Person (2008) - Lee
Missing Person is screening for free tuesday, May 24 at 7:00 PM, as part of Korean Movie Night at Tribeca Cinemas. You can find more details and information on the Subway Cinema site.

Milan Kundera once said, "Mankind's true moral test consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals."

Startling in its moral depravity, writer/director Lee Seo's Missing Person is a deeply disturbing film. Winner of the Best Film at Jeonju Film Festival and Artistic Achievement Award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, it tells a story of master and his subject in an urban slum. Won-yeung (Choi Myeung-su), a sleazy owner of a small real estate business, is first seen lecturing on the importance of one's gaze in survival to an unnamed, small, funny looking man (Kim Gyu-nam) on all fours with a dog collar around his neck. "You gotta stare like a tiger, with your teeth showing!" He then proceeds to chain the man and beat him. This is their arrangement.

While Won-yeung spends most of his days gambling with his co-workers or screwing an inattentive single mom, In-ae (Kim Ki-yeon), the nameless man earns a pittance kidnapping and killing dogs, then pasting missing dog signs around the neighborhood. The man is a fascinating case: he assumes the role of a dog (to Won-yeung) without question. When his master needs to lash out his frustration against the unfair world, he is there to receive the punishment. In a rather heavy handed metaphor, Lee shows that the man lives like a dog in a shack, sharing food with his dog from the same bowl.

Owning a pet is a status symbol even among the poor. In-ae goes hysterical when she loses her pet dog while totally neglecting her wailing young daughter. As the missing dog signs are replaced with the missing person signs, the film gets even darker. When Won-yeung, tired of his messy love life and tired of his boorish ways himself, finally shows his tender side, his 'dog' turns on him.

Missing Person paints a bleak picture of social hierarchy of violence with the strong preying upon the weak, who in turn preying upon the weaker. Further, the film suggests that morality is only for the people who can afford it. No one in the film acknowledges the existence of our little man or his pain. He is worse than a dog. In Lee's view, we are failing Kundera's moral test badly. And the underprivileged of the society are as inconsequential as that of those discarded missing person signs.

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