"All those photographs in your darkroom... it's a bit perverted, isn't it?"
Jaded homicide detective Kim (Park Yong-woo) is assigned to investigate the murder of a young girl - a foster child found drowned wearing oddly old-fashioned clothes and clutching a creepy clown doll - but the subsequent discovery, in quick succession, of two other girls (also foster children) who were killed in almost the same way soon leads him to the realisation that the murders are, in fact, the work of a serial killer, rather than being isolated incidents.
As detective Kim begins to dig deeper into the case, his attention is repeatedly drawn to Jung-ho (Kim Sang-kyung) - a tacit photographer with seemingly psychic abilities who only recently moved to the area - and the discovery that this rather mysterious individual is guardian to another young girl, Su-yeon (Han Bae-bo), from the same care home as the murdered girls, sets him on a race against time to find out for sure if Jung-ho, or someone else, is the killer, and to put a stop to the murders before Su-yeon becomes the next victim...
A jaded, rebellious cop who plays by his own rules; a mysterious stranger who seems to have more to him than meets the eye; a series of twisted murders carried out in almost ritualistic fashion; an innocent, vulnerable young girl in peril; and a race against time to save her: So generic are the building blocks of The World of Silence that many may initially feel that yet another addition to the countless films (both from South Korea and, in fact, virtually any country you could care to mention) which base their stories around these utterly predictable plot elements is not only entirely unnecessary but also, frankly, rather lazy. As such, The World of Silence's only chance of separating itself from the crowd is largely dependent on how imaginatively those plot elements are conveyed; the themes, commentary and discussion contained within the narrative; and the believability of the characterisations, as well as the acting present:
The death of a character in the opening minutes of the film (unrelated to the later serial killings) sets the ball rolling in classic style - deftly drawing viewers into the story even before it gets underway in earnest, while subtly laying the groundwork for the main narrative theme. The decision to then focus for a time on the incredibly likeable character of detective Kim in his ongoing (and at times fairly humorous) pursuit of a villain not only nudges viewer allegiances in his direction but also serves to sow a seed of doubt in the mind as to trustworthiness (and ultimate agenda) of the contrastingly rather closed, uncommunicative character of Jung-ho - thereby facilitating questions regarding his history (and, of course, whether or not he is involved in the killings) to be raised, almost effortlessly.
Rather than delving deeply into the homicide detective's history, as is so often the case in films of this type, The World of Silence does almost the exact opposite, with Jung-ho's background unfolding as a much larger sub-plot - which also accentuates the main underlying theme (more on this later) - and with the introduction of the character of Su-yeon, their two individual threads gradually become entwined, allowing social commentary and discussion to help drive the plot right through to its theme-related conclusion.
And talking of themes: The main underlying theme of The World of Silence is the abuse of the innocent and vulnerable by those authority figures charged with their safety, nurturing and protection, and the legacy of violence that can be caused as a result. While discussions of themes of this nature is certainly nothing new, by any stretch of the imagination, The World of Silence still manages to make its point without ever seeming overly predictable, and the fact that almost every thread of the narrative (both main and numerous sub-plots) is part and parcel of the film's overall discussion actually helps to bind the many seemingly unrelated parts into a cohesive whole.
While so many separate elements being connected in such a manner may lead one to think that the main theme is being slightly overplayed and overused at times, the sad truth is that stories detailing this type of abuse (and utter betrayal of trust) are seen all too frequently in real life news reports throughout the world.
However, The World of Silence is certainly not a perfect film (if there is such a thing) and the use of utter, and highly unlikely, coincidences to produce major plot movements - the most noticeable being a minor character randomly breaking into the killer's home and deciding to have a bowl of mushroom soup while he's there, thereby enabling police to later determine where the killer lives - rather detract from the effectiveness of the film overall, and it really is a shame that less care seems to have been taken to attempt to make these small elements less glaringly contrived than was afforded to the much stronger plot points and theme discussion.
Cinematically, The World of Silence is accomplished throughout, with the camera work perfectly matching the gradual increase of pace - moving from calm, single position shots during quiet moments to become increasingly animated during the tension building scenes, and finally shifting gear to fairly frenetic as time starts to run out for our heroes.
Visually the film is a fairly glossy affair with the culmination of the film being the crescendo for both the plot and imagery, but here too the final scenes are plagued by a feeling of more effort having been made with some parts than others, and during a scene in which a fire engulfs a building (endangering the lives of several characters) at several points the flames appear as an expansive, vicious inferno, while at other times it’s obvious that a studio set (funnily enough) with little more than several burning props has been used. Thankfully, the latter is the case far less frequently.
Though flawed by the use of unlikely coincidences to move major plot points forward, worthy underlying theme discussion combined with engaging characterisation and some superb acting make The World of Silence a welcome addition to the serial killer/thriller genre.
Park Yong-woo (as detective Kim) and Han Bo-bae (as Su-yeon) easily own The World of silence, and though the other actors (both main and supporting) give fine performances, none ever quite manages to steal the limelight from the two of them.
Even though detective Kim is characterised in far less depth, and with far less background shown, than either Su-yeon or Jung-ho, the humour with which his rather rebellious attitude is depicted (repeatedly taking pleasure in 'winding up' colleagues, superiors and criminals alike, largely for his own amusement) is beautifully realised and Park Yong-woo perfectly manages to portray him as a man who enjoys both his job and his life, exuding clear confidence in his abilities - but never to the point of arrogance.
From the moment Han Bo-bae first appears on screen, and in every single scene in which she appears, she quite simply relegates every other member of the cast to a supporting role. Her performance would be incredible even for a much older, more experienced actress, but factor in her young age and her portrayal of Su-yeon can be described as nothing less than mind bogglingly astonishing. From the crestfallen looks she gives Jung-ho across the dining room table to the sheer (unspoken) joy she exudes when he compliments her, her acting is never forced or overplayed, and it is impossible not to invest in the utterly believable, quiet heartbreak of this vulnerable, innocent little girl.
I was going to say that Han Bo-bae's performance is yet another example of the sheer talent seen in so many Korean child actors, but she succeeds in blowing a fair number of them out of the water too. There are a lot of things that make The World of Silence a success, and Han Bo-bae's acting sits incredibly high on the list.
Kim Sang-kyung (as Jung-ho) does a fine job as well, but even though his character's past is depicted in a fair amount of depth, there isn't really enough for him to really get his acting teeth in to. In fact, one can't help but think that his character's seemingly clairvoyant abilities were, perhaps, as much of an attempt by the writers to make his character worthy of a leading role, as they were deemed to be a necessary addition to the storyline. However, that aside, Kim Sang-kyung still gives an accomplished performance worthy of note.
Kim Sang-kyung, Park Yong-woo, Han Bo-bae, Han Soo-yeon
The DVD edition reviewed here is the Korean (Region 3) Single Disc Edition from Bear Entertainment. The film is presented as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and there are no image artifacts (and no ghosting) present.
The original Korean language soundtrack is provided as a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 and is crystal clear and well balanced throughout.
The English subtitles provided for the main feature are of high quality but
English-speaking viewers should note that, as with many Korean DVD releases, there are no subtitles available on any of the extras.
• Director: Cho Eui-suk
• Format: NTSC, Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
• Subtitles: English, Korean, None
• Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
• Region: Region 3
• Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: 15
• Distribution: Bear Entertainment
• Run Time: 107 minutes (approx.)
• 'Making of' Featurette
• Promotional Video
• Theatrical Trailer
• Teaser Trailer