Michaele Jordan is still watching Korean TV. Here’s a show she thinks you should try.
Are you missing MISSING?
Review by Michaele Jordan: It would be easy to do. Just now, when I went on-line to collect production credits which are included in any responsible review, I hit a wall of Missing entries, which all proved to be about the new movie, starring Nia Long and Storm Reid.
Extracting myself from the morass, I corrected my search to “Missing tv show”. I still got a lot of answers. There’s a Canadian series from 2003, a British crime drama series from 2006, an American thriller series form 2012, and another British series (this one an anthology) from 2014. And that’s just the shows that remain popular enough to be on the top of the hit list. I scrolled through several pages, and thought I’d found it when I reached: WATCH THE MISSING: NETFLIX. Nope. (I’m beginning to wonder how I ever found this show in the first place.)
The full title (often not included anywhere in the copy) is: Missing: The Other Side. It’s from Studio Dragon, Written by Ban Gi-ri and Jeong So-young, and directed by Min Yeon-hong. Yes, it is on Netflix, even if it was not the subject of the above-mentioned ad. (I should know by now, the Korean stuff is not generally at the top of anyone’s list but mine.) And it is a superb K-drama. As has become popular in Korea, Missing is what we in fandom would call cross-genre, a mix of mystery, drama, police procedural and fantasy.
Strangely, it does not include romance, as the beautiful girl Choi Yeo-na (played by Seo Eun-soo) is murdered early in the first episode. This does not mean that the part is a walk-on. Just the opposite. We see as much – if not more – of her than we do of her grieving fiancé, the handsome detective Shin Joon-ho (played by Ha Jun).
Her abduction, if not the actual murder, is witnessed by our primary protagonist, Kim Wook (played by Go Soo). There’s no denying he’s a scam artist – he had a troubled childhood – but he’s not a bad guy. Certainly not bad enough to ignore thugs carrying off a screaming, struggling girl, and shoving her into a car. He’s quick witted enough to rip out his phone and capture the event, including both faces and the license number. But the bad guys spot him. There’s a fight, and a long chase into the middle of nowhere, which culminates in his tumbling off a cliff and being left for dead. Pretty action-packed for a first episode.
He’s the protagonist, so he’s not dead, of course – or is he? He is found, rescued, and nursed back to health by the residents of a nearby village. It’s a tiny, primitive place. There’s no TV, and nobody has a cell phone. Nobody but Thomas, the innkeeper, (played by Song Geon-hee), seems to have a job, although they all help out around the town. There are no families; they all just wandered in and never left.
They can’t leave, they explain. Because they are dead. He is dead, too, they assure him. The proof is that he can see them, and the living can’t see the dead. (Spoiler alert: before episode two, we discover that’s not quite true. Most living can’t see the dead. But Wook can.)
But these people are not just any dead. They are dead whose bodies were never located. They never received funeral rites. Their families never found closure. They are forever missing. Every now and then, either by random chance or after years of a survivor’s desperate searching, a resident’s remains are recovered. And that resident stops suddenly, looks up and smiles, and dissolves into a shimmer of colored light. Most of them want this. Just because they are dead doesn’t stop them from worrying about everyone and everything they left behind.
A friend of mine rolled his eyes when I told him about the separate pre-afterlife village for the unburied. “Oh, please,” he groaned. “Dead is dead. Whatever does or doesn’t happen to you next, you’re past caring what happened to your body.” Here in the west, a lot of people would agree with that. But not everybody.
Back in the Middle Ages people believed that the last rites were essential to the well-being of the soul, cleansing it of its mortal contaminations. They even thought the unburied would rise up and turn into monsters. Not just vampires. They had a wide selection of nasty undead, all of whom arose from the failure to lay the living properly to rest. These days we are less rigid about the need for any specific ritual but many still feel a strong need for the dead to be remembered, acknowledged. There is a very special, piercing kind of pain that comes from not knowing what happened to a vanished loved one.
This is the central theme of the show: the sadness of the missing. We see it from every angle, parents still searching year after year for children so long gone that, if they live, they must surely be grown, and children waiting and waiting for parents that never return. Detective Shin Joon-ho grows frenzied in his search for Choi Yeo-na. He’d quarreled with her, and is desperate to find her in time to set that right before their wedding. And she flatly refuses to believe that she can’t get back to him, devising strategy after strategy to communicate.
I say that’s the theme, but please don’t worry that the theme is substituted for a story. What would be the point of having a detective in the cast, if there were no mystery? In fact, there are two main mysteries, and several sub plots. The village gatekeeper, Jang Pan-seok (played by Huh Joon-ho) is another living that can see the dead, and he’s made it his life’s work to find the residents’ missing remains so that they and their families can find rest. What motivates him to take on such an impossible quest? Most of the residents don’t even know who killed them. Well, that’s another mystery.