Moon-ho (Lee Seon-gyun) and Seon-yeong (Kim Min-hee) appear to be the perfect couple and are planning to get married in a month's time. Journeying to Andong to visit Moon-ho's parents, they stop at a roadside service station, in the midst of a torrential downpour of rain, with Moon-ho heading inside to buy Seon-yeong a takeaway coffee while she waits in the car.
On his return, Moon-ho is dismayed to discover that Seon-yeong is nowhere to be seen - having disappeared without even taking her umbrella, leaving the car door wide open - and though he searches high and low he can find no trace of his fiancé save for her hairclip, which he discovers on the floor of the ladies' restroom.
With the police subsequently being no help whatsoever, Moon-ho enlists the help of ex-cop Jong-geun (Jo Seong-ha) to track down his wife-to-be, but as they delve into Seon-yeong's past for clues to where she may have gone, or to what may have befallen her, they begin to uncover a web of lies and deceit, and Moon-ho must soon face the realisation that he knows nothing about the woman with whom he was intending to share his life, least of all her real name...
Immediately following his fiancé's disappearance, Moon-ho is understandably convinced that something untoward has happened to her (by his reckoning, quite possibly against her will) but his unflinching trust in her; his assumption that love and honesty go hand in hand; and his utter belief that he knows her inside out, if you will, add up to make it all the more difficult for him to accept that everything she told him about herself was an out-and-out lie. On several occasions, Moon-ho vehemently protests that Seon-yeong "wouldn't do that" even though it's increasingly obvious that she did and his claim that others "don't know her" - a desperate attempt to convince himself as much as anyone else - is repeatedly met with the simple retort "do you?"
As such, Helpless underlines its narrative by asking if we can ever be sure that we truly know those around us (even those we are closest to) and raises the question of whether love and/or friendship can lead us to be altogether too trusting and ready to accept what we're told at face value, without question - all with a hefty dose of social critique and commentary added to the mix, for good measure.
Helpless (which is based on the novel 'Kasha' by Japanese crime-thriller writer Miyabe Miyuki) gradually morphs from Moon-ho's frantic search for his fiancé to his increasingly desperate efforts to find out who this woman actually was, with the 'why' quickly becoming as important as the wherefore, and as Seon-yeong's lies begin to be successively revealed, her position as the villain of the piece appears resolutely set.
However, in a film as intelligently layered as Helpless, things are never simply black or white:
With the circumstances that pushed her to each of her questionable decisions expanded in flashback, viewers will find it almost impossible not to feel for her desperate plight, regardless of her callousness and her ignoring of the concepts of right and wrong, and though there can obviously never be justification for her utterly self-serving choices and increasingly vicious actions, the implication is nonetheless given that she is ultimately as helpless as anyone else.
Cinematically, Helpless is utterly superb: Pacing is faultless throughout, matching the thrilling narrative perfectly - both present-day and flashback sequences building in speed and climaxing in parallel as the true state of play is gradually revealed.
Imagery and visuals are equally accomplished with subtle shifts in the colour schemes of scenes serving to accentuate their overall feel - warm, sumptuous pastel colours used in flashback segments showing Moon-ho and Seon-yeong in love, increasingly darkening and turning almost primary in hue as the characters' lives become bleaker.
Nuanced direction and camera work add further to this, the closeness of filming and framing initially feeling intimate but becoming uncomfortable to the point of claustrophobia as the film progresses towards its frenetic conclusion.
In the early stages of Helpless, the majority of emotional content is provided by the character of Moon-ho, Lee Seon-gyun's portrayal being every bit as nuanced and accomplished as is to be expected from an actor of his calibre.
However, as Seon-yeong's increasingly twisted story gradually unfolds, Kim Min-hee is given the difficult task of eliciting viewer empathy for her character, in spite of the selfish and violent depths to which she stoops. Kim Min-hee not only steps up to the mark but exceeds it to the nth degree and, frankly, her portrayal of this desperate woman left with nowhere to turn is ultimately astonishing, easily giving Lee Seon-gyun a run for his money.
The rest of the cast play largely supporting roles but each performs admirably.
A deftly layered mystery thriller with depth, Helpless initially appears as the story of one man's desperate search for his missing fiancé, gradually morphing to detail the myriad of lies his wife-to-be has told, with the "why" being every bit as important as the wherefore.
The DVD edition reviewed here is the Korean (Region 3) CJ E&M (single disc) First Press edition. The film itself is provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and there are no image artifacts (and no ghosting) present. The picture is absolutely exemplary and compliments the visuals perfectly.
The original Korean language soundtrack is provided as Dolby Digital 5.1 and both it and the musical score are well balanced and noticeably nuanced throughout.
Excellent subtitles are provided throughout the main feature but English-speaking viewers should note that, as with many Korean DVD releases, there are no subtitles available on any of the extras.
• Director: Byeon Yeong-joo
• Format: NTSC, Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
• Subtitles: English/Korean
• Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
• Region: Region 3
• Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: 15 (Korean Film Classification)
• Studio: CJ E&M
• Run Time: 117 minutes (approx.)
• Audio commentary with director and crew
• Audio commentary with durector and cast
• 'Making of' Featurette - Woman in Boundary
• 'Making of' Featurette - Briefing
• Music Video
• 3D/2D Animation
• TV Spots
Finally, the official 'Helpless' trailer (with English subtitles) from CJ EntertainmentUSA is attached below: