24th Udine Far East Film Festival: “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” Review

Breaking news! Hwang Jung-min, Korea’s top star, has been kidnapped by a gang of thugs and taken to a remote location. Well, not really, but that’s the concept of Pil Gam-sung’s action-thriller Hostage: Missing Celebrity. As per the previous (joke) announcement, Hostage: Missing Celebrity is what you probably expect it to be about: It follows Hwang Jung-min ―playing himself― as he is taken captive after being accosted by suspicious men, who then demand he give them ransom money for him, and fellow hostage Ban So-yeon (Lee Yoo-mi), to be freed.

Image © Next Entertainment World

Whoever first came up with the idea of an actor playing themselves in film is a genius because somehow the concept works no matter who is thrust into the spotlight, and Hwang is more than up to the task. The actor is so versatile he can truly play anyone onscreen, so why not play himself? Well, he does a wonderful job in Hostage: Missing Celebrity, he’s charismatic and amiable, and unbelievably smart in the face of his aggressors. One particularly striking moment sees him use code to tell his friend Park Sung-woong (also playing himself) to call for help by referencing the characters he played in previous films, like Veteran police officer Seo Do-cheol.

Image © Next Entertainment World

But things aren’t easy for Hwang because he must contend with cold, calculating criminal Choi Ki-wan (Kim Jae-beom) who is almost always five steps ahead of him. Kim is particularly terrifying in the role of gang leader Choi as his dead-eyed expression and intimidating nature make the character that much more menacing. The actor is phenomenal, as is his fellow cast members Ryu Kyung-soo, Lee Ho-jung, Jung Jae-won, and Lee Kyu-won, who play Choi’s co-conspirators. Ryu, of Itaewon Class fame, is particularly good as Yeom Dong-hun, who struggles with Choi’s sense of self-entitlement as the leader of the group, a role Yeom doesn’t think he deserves.

Hostage: Missing Celebrity is director Pil’s feature film debut, and it is impressive how well made it is for a first production. The story flows effortlessly from one twist to another and the action rarely stops to let viewers take a breath, it’s almost like Pil wants the audience to feel as tense as Hwang is throughout the film. Pil’s previous experience as a film editor has clearly been put to good use in his first feature film as it is a powerful thriller from start to finish, and the remote locations add to the dramatic nature of the production.

Image © Next Entertainment World

All in all, Hostage: Missing Celebrity is a fun ride, and it will certainly entertain audiences from beginning to end. Hwang, as always, gives a masterclass in acting ―not that anyone should doubt that he’d do anything less― and it is fun to see him let loose and play himself onscreen, even if it is still a cinematic version of his real personality. While Kim and Ryu are also wonderful in their respective villainous roles. For a first film this was exceptional, and we can’t wait to see what director Pil comes up with next.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Roxy Simons

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