When it comes to modern Korean horror (Parasite doesn’t count), there’s really a “before The Wailing” and “after The Wailing” period going on currently. Sure, there are still some fast-moving, breakneck horror being made in South Korea, but there has also been a trend of slower, drawn out genre films taking hold of cinemas following the release of Hong Jin-na’s 2016 horror epic. Its slow pace, palpable atmosphere, and horrifying payoff have rubbed off on many filmmakers’ works both in and outside of Korea (Ari Aster has called it his favorite horror film of the decade). So it comes as no surprise that there’s an argument to be made that Jung Jin-young’s Me and Me (사라진 시간) is a poster child for dark Korean mysteries made in a post-The Wailing world, even if the final products are quite different (as they should be, obviously).
In a small village, a friendly teacher, Su-hyeok (Bae Soo-bin) and his mild-mannered wife, Yi-yeong (Cha Soo-yeon), live a peaceful, quiet life until Yi-yeong begins exhibiting strange behavior at night that frightens the provincial townsfolk. Locking the couple in their upstairs at night to secure themselves, the townsfolk doom the couple to die in a tragic electrical fire from which they could not escape. When Detective Hyeong-gu (Cho Jin-woong) begins to investigate their deaths, he finds the town’s citizens acting strangely surrounding the deaths of the innocent couple, and soon finds his own reality warped as he begins to take on aspects of the couple’s life in his own investigation.
Me and Me is roughly three and a half movies made into one, and surprisingly, it mostly works. The initial setup gets us involved with the lives of Su-hyeok and Yi-yeong and her barbaric treatment due to her mental illness. Taking a hard left turn, the film then turns into a police procedural and cover-up plot involving a deceptive townsfolk. Then, finally, the film morphs into a case of supernatural stolen identity and reality warping that changes the film into something much stranger and less grounded. Unfortunately, it’s the third part, which is arguably the most ambitious part, and the one that loses me in the end. It’s a strange turn to a compelling tale that leaves much of the film’s mystery unsolved when it becomes the main focus. Had the film taken more time to section these acts a bit more strategically, the film could have worked, but it ended on an empty note.
Regardless of the type of film that it’s trying to be, Me and Me has atmosphere for days for each of its respective acts, all of which are engaging and impressive all the same. For the opening, there’s a dreamy, surreal quality to the film that, even in its darker moments, still manages to feel light. The film’s middle act takes on a hazy, dark, smoky tone that brings an on-the-nose, but entirely appropriate, air to the fire investigation. The finale brings the film back to that dreamlike feeling, but changes the tone to take on more of a nihilistic nightmare scenario, one that you don’t quite understand, but feel uneasy about regardless.
Me and Me is also not lacking on performances, either, with Cho as Detective Hyeong-gu taking the film over at a late-game stage and running with it like it was his the entire time. It’s an impressive narrative shift that surprisingly takes a turn for the more.
These elements that build the world of Me and Me definitely help the film overcome the narrative shortcomings which often make the film feel disjointed and impenetrable at points. This combination of cinematography, editing, and performances help mask these issues to a certain extent, but there’s definitely still much to be desired in Me and Me as a whole. There is an incompleteness to the film that is cut short by the film’s emotional, but abrupt finale. It leaves much of the intrigue of the first half untouched and unfinished, and given that I was actually incredibly invested in that part, left me feeling a bit cheated. There’re still points for ambition and creativity abound here, and mixed with its expertly crafted world, is enough to save Me and Me from ruin, if only slightly.
Me and Me screened during the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.
For more information on Me and Me, head to the official festival website.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.