Straddling fantasy and reality in ‘Vanishing Time’

Angela Jung , Nov. 2, 2016, 9:35 a.m.

Director Um Tae-hwa’s “Vanishing Time: a Boy who Returned” offers a mix of genres unfamiliar to Korean cinema -- it is fairy tale-like in its plot, fantasy-esque in its computer graphics, but also firmly rooted in reality.

Um has always been interested in “the area where the real and surreal clash, or influence one another,” he told reporters after a press screening on Tuesday in Seoul.“I imagined what it would be like to live in a place where time stops. I imagined it would be a lonely existence,” he said.

In the film, Soo-rin (Shin Eun-soo), a young girl, moves to the fictional island of Hwanodo with her stepfather after the death of her mother. She spends her days lost in her own imagination and later befriends Sung-min (Lee Hyo-je), a young boy living on the island. The two become close, developing a language of their own within a shared fantasy, deep in the forest. 

Out of curiosity, the two visit a construction site in the mountains, but everyone at the site goes missing in an accident, except Soo-rin.

A few days later, a grown man, in the form of actor Kang Dong-won, claims to be the young Sung-min and approaches Soo-rin. He explains that he was trapped inside a time warp, where he alone aged while others remained the same. 

Only Soo-rin believes him, while the villagers and police suspect the grown man to be the culprit behind the disappearances.

The bond between the two young souls in a world where everyone is skeptical forms the core of the film, which has the notion of faith as its biggest theme. According to Kang, “this film, essentially, is about people’s ability to have faith, and their innocence.”

Kang, 35, who embodies a 13-year-old boy for his character, pulls off the feat convincingly with his trademark boyishness. 

“I had to find the right tone,” he said. “I tried to think of how the audience would perceive the character.”

Actress Shin, born in 2002, is 20 years Kang’s junior. In her on-screen debut, Shin deftly portrays a young girl who is intensely sensitive and perceptive of details that others often miss. 

“I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be in her position,” she said.

The film hits Korean theaters on Nov. 16.

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