Length: 100 minutes
Director: Hong Eui-jeong
Writer: Hong Eui-jeong
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Yoo Jae-myung, Moon Seung-ah, La Ga-eun
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
With a title like Voice Of Silence, you can already tell what sort of film it's trying to be — contradictory, thought-provoking, and oh-so-artsy. There's nothing wrong with arthouse, nor with the decision to use mutism as a storytelling device for a film. Unfortunately, it's a poorly executed choice with murky intentions, which is a pity because underneath all the layers of needless pretension, there is a strong story that doesn't have the opportunity to shine.
Voice Of Silence is a Korean crime drama that features a duo who cleans up after a crime organisation's various illicit activities — one who speaks, and one who doesn't. Their usual routine of handling gory murders and tortures is disrupted when they're tasked to clean up another mess, which is taking care of a kidnapped girl. Amidst this ghastly crime, both abductors and abductee find a certain connection with each other... until things go south.
The biggest question is: Why does Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in) even have to be mute in the first place? It serves little purpose in terms of narrative, and the script handles it so clumsily that everyone has to talk for him or artificially explain how he's feeling to another character. If there's a thematic purpose to it (other than to align to the title), then it might have been warranted. But it feels like it's an attention-seeking, indie film (which it is) type of gimmick that's meant to stoke your interest and little else. There's little merit in including such a character and then not paying it off, and a lot of irritation to be had as you try and puzzle out why exactly Tae-in has to be prevented from speaking, story-wise.
Of course, the execution (or lack of it thereof) just exacerbates the whole matter. Yoo can emote, to an extent — it's just that the film is too fearful of letting the actor actually act, so it stuffs in everyone's exposition to make it crystal clear what Tae-in is thinking. The only time the film actually lets up and gives you the silence that comes with mutism is when the scenes are so explicit that you don't need someone telling you what lurks in Tae-in's head. It would have been better just letting Tae-in speak.
Because if Tae-in did speak, his character would certainly sound like Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, the well-meaning but simple-minded protagonist who faces tragic circumstances. In spite of the movie's unwitting attempts to cripple his characterisation with mutism, his good nature is apparent, which leads to the actual point of the movie and its genuinely touching core.
At the centre of it all is a story about family between people who aren't, connections made when there shouldn't be any, and relationships forged between people who are supposed to be opposed to each other. The dramatic irony of it all is how human nature and the desire for family brings them all together, despite the fact that it would be against their best interest to do so. And the tragedy of it all is, of course, that they can't be a family, even though they would be much happier if they were together.
Unfortunately, it's buried underneath pretension, such as the incredibly strangely sound design for the film. It opens with several distinctive spaghetti western-sounding soundtracks... before completely forgetting that it did that and proceeding with fairly average music. But the tonal whiplash from the audio design, in a movie where sound is purportedly an important aspect of the film, is just mind-boggling.
Young star Moon Seung-ah, who plays the kidnapped girl Cho-hee, is the breakout star of the movie. Her range and maturity are astounding as she works her way through her conflicted decisions to the end. It also helps that she's probably the smartest character in the film, too. And when she finally gets what she wants, in the cliched and rushed ending of the film, that uncertainty is so palpable that you can't help but wonder what would have happened, if she had chosen otherwise.
Voice Of Silence is a bag of bad decisions that somehow manages to stumble through its odd directorial decisions, thanks to a solid cast who manages to make the most of their roles. There's a powerful message if you're willing to wade through the questionable filmmaking of the film, but whether you're willing to is another matter altogether.
Voice Of Silence opens in cinemas:
- 5 November, 2020 (Singapore)
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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