Spoilers ahead. If you’re planning to watch this show, I highly recommend watching it first, then reading this review.
Leave the audience wanting more. That is one of the best compliments a movie or TV show can get, and something that Missing: The Other Side earns from the audience in it’s scant twelve episodes. One the one hand, the amount of time was exactly correct for the plot and characters, on the other hand, the time was too short and the plot and characters could have easily handled longer story arcs. This is rare, especially for television, which almost always draws things out too long, ruining great beginnings in the process.
Missing is essentially a ghost story, but it’s also a procedural crime drama. I found it to be a good mix of both and didn’t make the mistakes of either wallowing in its own violence or succumbing to over-explicating. Episode one was a doozy and so much better if one doesn’t know a thing about the plot, so one can along with the main character, Kim Wook (Ko Soo, Heart Surgeons) be left reeling, wondering just what on earth is going on.
Kim Wook is a con artist who works together with a couple of other friends, one a pawn shop owner, the other a hacker. Through a series of coincidences, Wook ends up in a forest in the country. Here, he survives a couple of near-death experiences and comes across a village that he belated realizes not just anyone can see. The old man who saves his life can also see the village and the people in it. Jang Pan Seok (Heo Jun Ho, Come and Hug Me) has been living just outside the village for quite some time. Turns out the village is a bit of a purgatory-like place, a stopping off point for ghosts who have particular unfinished business. The unfinished business is that their bodies haven’t been found by any human. Many of them also died violently or due to circumstances they don’t remember.
Wook catches on pretty quickly to just what Pan Seok has been up to: Doing what the police detectives could not do, finding the bodies of these people, allowing them to move on to the next life or sphere. They work together, sometimes with the police, and sometimes not. One detective in particular, Shin Joon Ho (Ha Joon), keeps running into Wook and gets roped into helping them. Considering Wook sounds crazy and sees things he cannot, Detective Shin is pretty openminded, and a good thing, too, as he solves more cases by being so.
In this story, the “missing” are people missing in real life, but also those whose bodies are missing. It’s an interesting dynamic and allows for, well, a lot of heartbreaking scenes as those still alive realize their loved ones are dead, and also that their bodies need to be found for them to be at peace. Detective Shin’s story is particularly tragic as he first realizes that his fiancee is missing, then discovers she is dead. The fiancee Choi Yeo Na, played by the beautiful Seo Eun Su (A Hundred Million Stars from the Sky) also struggles with the fact that she has died. In the village she can eat, drink, sleep, feel, touch, etc., and continually plans to escape in whatever way she can.
The rules of the village–which I think is called Duon–were masterfully done. It was a good mix of clarity, subtlety, and little or no explanation. The ghosts in the village seem real to each other, having all their senses, and, again, the ability to eat, drink, fall in love, cry, have sorrow and pain. For the living who can see them, the village is much like a real place, with buildings and furniture they can sit on, food they can eat, and people they can interact with just as if they were still alive. The ghosts move on when their bodies are found, that’s their only out. For the still living people, by the end of the show, it’s revealed they are seeing this village because they have a connection to it. They know a person in the village somehow and when that person moves on, they can no longer see the village or people. Many of the inhabitants in the village have been there for years and lead fully lives. They have the ability to learn to skills and to work if they want to. It’s an interesting angle. One of the oldest residents is an owner of the local bar/coffee shoo/restaurant. He’s named Thomas and was once a freedom fighter for Korea and died under Japanese rule. Another couple, who fell in love after they died, have been in the village for over twenty years. And so on and so forth.
Missing is unique and really keeps one guessing in some ways, but in other ways telegraphs everything that will come. For the main mystery of a missing grandchild, it was easy to tell how that was going to play out. But other things threw me, like Thomas’s status as a Renaissance man, and the revelation that bad killers who died also come to the village and wreak terror on their fellow ghosts even if they technically can’t kill them anymore. That aspect is so disturbing that I’m glad the writers don’t dwell on it too long. These poor people die tragic deaths and then get molested again in the afterlife? Ugh, just ugh! It definitely adds another level to the plot, though, as what to do with the baddies isn’t always easy or obvious.
The acting in this show was really good. I came to like Kim Wook more and more, though he wasn’t super likable at first. I was surprised to find the actor that plays Thomas, Song Geon Hee is actually really young. He plays and old soul well, and I would say had the most iconic screen presence of the show, so much so that it was highlighted at the end when Thomas goes to the next life. Ha Joon, who played Detective Shin, threw me out of the story at first, as he looks at lot like American actor Scott Wolf to me (Party of Five, White Squall – WWG1WGA! – sorry, gotta get a Q reference in). He is a cutie born in 1987 like some other famous actors–Li Min Ho, Li Seung Gi, Seo In Guk among others. Something good was in the water in Korea that year. He and the other leads did great jobs with their crying scenes, and there were many. They seemed genuinely sad and heartbroken.
Because Missing to its credit doesn’t explain much about this purgatory world, there’s little of religion in it aside from both the alive and ghost humans pleading and praying to God when they need it. There’s little of magic, either, but the amount was sufficient to me as the focus was always on the characters and on solving the various mysteries. I wasn’t quite sure if they were going to keep Thomas in the village at the end or have him move on. The writers chose to have him move on, but then alluded to Wook and Pan Seok continuing to have the ability to see the ghosts of the missing and being able to continue solving mysteries.
All in all a great show and so much potential if they had wanted to continue it–leaving Thomas around as a staple, for example, or adding new ghosts and/or new humans that can see them. It was only twelve episodes, so shorter than many Kdramas, but it was sufficient length for the mysteries they chose and I don’t think they left any major strings untied by the end. This is the kind of show, though, that could sport several seasons and much longer story arcs. It’s also something easily adapted to other countries and cultures. Every place on earth there are people who go missing and die violently, with their bodies never found. My belief is that of the Bible, that when they die people go to heaven or hell, they don’t stick around, but this was a great way of showcasing the idea that some could and why they could. I liked that it wasn’t just about finding the killers, but that it was about the finding of the bodies and giving them a proper burial and recognition. Duon village seemed like another dimension or realm that none of the characters fully understood. Thomas speculates that there could be other villages of its kind, and the ending hints that as well.
Next Week: I am not yet sure what I’m going to review, having belatedly decided to do Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, to get more of Trolls for Dust, Season Three under my belt. No way will I be writing 50,000 words in November, but I will be very happy if I can get over 25,000. My plan is to still post or do a review weekly, but we’ll see how that plays out. Happy Halloween, and for the Lutherans, Happy Reformation Day!