A dark and disorienting thriller of two distinct halves, Jang Hang-jun’s Forgotten starts off as an exquisitely crafted mystery with a devilish flair for the uncanny before taking a sharp turn into tragedy.
It’s clear from the jump that not all is as it seems when the young Jin-seok and his fantastically cheerful family move into a new home that’s ideal save for one beguilingly forbidden room. Sure enough, after Jin-seok’s brother Yoo-seok is suddenly kidnapped, what follows is a series of strange and dreadful discoveries that seem geared to mercilessly undermine everything we thought we knew about this house and this family.
We sat down with Jang at the 2018 Far East Film Festival to hear the Korean writer-director’s thoughts on this tense and erratic work.
Forgotten is a very twisty work that ends in a very different place from where it begins. How did the film’s unusual structure come about?
Mainly I wanted to make it very hard to predict the ending. That was the main purpose of making this film. That’s why I used the medium of thriller. The genre is not the result; it’s more like the medium by which I’m telling these two different stories in the beginning and in the end.
And what was the inspiration for this story and these characters?
About two and a half years ago, around Christmas time, I met with some friends. One of my friends said that his cousin had left home for about a month, then came back and he seemed like a stranger. So I thought, are you sure that he’s your real cousin? Maybe he has the same face and voice but he’s not the real cousin. So that story began and we though about it and talked about it for two hours while drinking. And we thought, maybe a brother can be more interesting than a cousin. And how about him having some kind of physical difficulty as a characteristic? We thought it could be an interesting story.
Even before Yoo-seok is kidnapped, there’s something very eerie about this perfect, happy family living in this perfect house.
You know the novel called Bluebeard? I really like it. ‘Don’t go in that room!’ – I like that kind of sentiment. I wanted to push this idea that even though this house is perfect and the family is perfect, something in that room might come out and endanger the family. That was the dominant sentiment I wanted to push.
Can we also talk about that jump-scare? I am of course referring to the scene where Jin-seok pulls back his bed covers to see something sinister looming over him. At the Far East Film Festival, that moment had the audience screaming first, then applauding immediately afterwards. Does this part usually get that kind of response?
The reaction is usually similar. In Korea, people scream and also swear like “Ah, fuck!” but they also smile and everyone laughs. But I think that the reaction last night was the hottest. In Korea, many people ask me why a ghost suddenly comes out, but the ghost is the girl who was killed. I thought that she would be the darkest person or theme from his subconscious, so that was the reason I picked her.
Why do you think this particular jump-scare proves so effective with audiences?
Maybe because this film doesn’t seem to have a ghost in the story. With other films, you might go there expecting the ghost to come out. But with this one, people expect some person or some other thing to come out from that room but not the ghost. Nobody expects that, and that’s why it has a bigger impact.
Do you have any plans for your next film?
It’s a story based on a true event. It’s about a high school baseball team in a very small school but they won the semi-final in the national tournament. The script is complete and ready – and no ghosts!