Seo-jin (played by Kim Moo-yul) is an architect suffering severe mental problems due to the recent loss of his wife. There's also long term trauma from the disappearance of his little sister when he was still a child. And so, a woman claiming to be Yoo-jin (played by Song Ji-hyo) comes into Seo-jin's life, to the great joy of his family. Seo-jin remains suspicious. It's unclear whether he has valid reason to doubt this woman's story or if Seo-jin is just such a miserable sad sack he can't accept any happiness in his life at all.
"Intruder" genuinely excels when it's grappling with the inherent unreliability of Seo-jin as a protagonist. Many of the greater moments in "Intruder" are evocative of "Bluebeard", with the elaborate conspiracy necessary to gaslight our lead character seeming unlikely, but not strictly speaking impossible. That Kim Moo-yul is consistently such an unpleasant, bitter man contrasted with the genuine repressed hopefulness of Song Ji-hyo further highlights this dynamic.
Where "Intruder" falters is when the time inevitably comes that explanations are in order. And uh...without spoiling what exactly the first big revelation is, I can state fairly definitively that it was so outrageously stupid I immediately held out hope that there was going to be another twist or two. Unfortunately what little ambiguity remains is then thoroughly destroyed by the only character who can credibly offer an alternative explanation for Seo-jin's state of mind.
"Intruder" being a letdown is less surprising given how little focus is given to characters beyond the two leads. Seo-jin's physically handicapped mother Yoon-hee (played by Ye Soo-jung) and stern father Seong-cheol (played by Choi Sang-hoon) are very underutilized considering their powerful desire to find their missing daughter drives the entire plot. Seo-jin's daughter Ye-na (played by Park Min-ha-I) is more in focus, and quite effectively so as a little girl who wants to see her mother again and is crushed by her father's aloofness.
In the movie's best scenes we see all three characters unload on Seo-jin for personal shortcomings that are difficult to argue with. The moral ambiguity of the situation is compelling, arguing for why the Yoo-jin question may not be as big a deal as Seo-jin is making it out to be even if he's right. These emotional touches are deft, allowing Kim Moo-yul to show great range as a man very out of touch with his feelings and Song Ji-hyo as a woman who is by contrast a master of exploiting them.
But none of these compelling performances can make up for the very idiotic turns of the plot, many of which take an insultingly sensationalistic view of the all too mundane crime of child abduction. In the end even Seo-jin's emotional distance from his wife is only used to contextualize an extremely stupid plot twist. Then the final turnabout is so aggressively pointless that Seo-jin literally puts it through the shredder. The same could be done for the entire final third of the script and nothing of value would be lost.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
[HanCinema's Film Review] "Nameless Stars" + Full Movie
By now, most people who deal with Korean cinema would have heard about the infamous Gwangju Massac,...More
[Video] Teaser Released for the Upcoming Korean Drama "Into The Ring"
Teaser released for the upcoming Korean drama "Into The Ring",...More
Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads from the website (not for episode and movie videos) for US$0.99 monthly or US$7.99 yearly (you can cancel anytime). The first step is to be a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show up.