Two men learn to never do favours for your boss in Hong Eui-jeong’s crime drama.
“Today’s honest sweat is tomorrow’s happiness.”
There’s been something of a strange running theme with some of the London Korean Film Festival’s screenings as of late. Last year saw the release of Pawn, in which a young girl is taken as collateral by two loan sharks before being briefly sold. Last week the teaser screening was Deliver Us from Evil, which saw a gangster fight his way through Thailand to rescue his kidnapped daughter from organ thieves – the same actress who played the little girl in Pawn, mind you. Now to finish the trinity of gangsters-stealing-little-girls films is Voice of Silence.
Our two kidnappers in this case are hapless protagonists Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in), a young man who lives in a shack with his younger sister and his foster father-figure Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung). When they’re not selling eggs at the market they work for a local crime boss as clean-up crew and body disposal. Their life is turned upside down when their boss orders them to look after Cho-hee (Moon Seung-ah), a young kidnapping victim. Chang-bok has a family, so Tae-in is made to keep Cho-hee at his place for a couple of days. Things take a turn for the worse when their boss finds himself killed, leaving Tae-in and Chang-bok in a sort of kidnapping limbo.
Anyone going into Voice of Silence will probably have some kind of an idea of what to expect. Its bright summer colours and upbeat atmosphere hints at a saccharine sweet comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family unit who learn to love one another. And in a way, it kind of is. Cho-hee’s father is constantly haggling to get the ransom lowered as he considers his son his only worthy heir, while Chang-bok and Tae-in are more open with their work, and even let her help out. For a while, it looks as though this unorthodox kidnapping might turn out to be exactly what these people needed.
And then you remember that it’s still a kidnapping. Cho-hee has a life outside of those two henchmen. Tragedy is bound to strike – and when it does, it does it pretty hard. There’s a lot of drama here, and much of it rests on the performances of its leads who all sell their characters effortlessly. But while Chang-bok and Tae-in are billed as the two main characters, the focus is put squarely on the latter and it’s up to Yoo Ah-in to deliver. Yoo has already shown his ability to carry a movie on the strength of his performance in #Alive, and he does equally good work here. Better, I should say, as he never says a word for the entire runtime, and yet I understood him more than I might a dozen other characters in similar roles with lines and lines of dialogue.
The chemistry between them all is the driving force of the entire film, but it never seems to know what to do with it. Cho-hee never seems fully consistent in her characterisation, which feels realistic, but it often puts Voice of Silence at odds with itself about what kind of story it wants to be. Tonally it seems a little all over the place, and never knows if it wants to be a crime drama, a cutesy comedy or something else. It flip flops often and while this genre switch is hardly uncommon in Korean cinema (and is often a welcome change of pace) it doesn’t feel quite as polished here. It really did feel like a second film was starting during the movie’s final twenty minutes
But small gripes aside, ultimately I found Voice of Silence to be a touching and sometimes bittersweet story that explores different sides of organised crime. It was refreshing to see the point of view of people who aren’t remotely interested in the gang work and who are only looking to do a day’s work (even if it is mostly burying bodies).
Verdict: With Yoo Ah-in grounding it with a performance and character who feels real and devastatingly tragic at times, Voice of Silence comes off as more than the sum of its parts.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Tragedies: A few
Kidnapping services: Wow, business is booming
Child selling: Not as much as Deliver us From Evil, more than in Pawn
Voice of Silence (2020)
Also known as: 소리도 없이; lit. “Without A Sound”
Director: Hong Eui-jeong
Writer: Hong Eui-jeong
Yoo Ah-in – Tae-in
Yoo Jae-myung – Chang-bok
Moon Seung-ah – Cho-hee
Lee Ga-eun – Moon-ju
Jo Ha-seok – Jung-han
Seung Hyung-bae – Joon-cheol
Im Kang-sung – Yong-seok
Yoo Sung-joo – Il-gyu
Kim Ja-yeong – Myung-hee
Seo Dong-soo – Young-mook
Kim Han-na – Han-sol