With a relatively modest 1.6 million admissions at South Korean theaters, “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” wasn’t the champion at the summer box office this year. This is a bit surprising, given that Hwang Jung-min is the movie’s main star. And he’s not even playing a character. Rather, Hwang Jung-min is just playing himself, the famous actor, as he’s abruptly dropped into a dead serious hostage situation barely a few minutes into the movie.
Based on the way “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” was promoted I got the impression that this would be a uniquely Hwang Jung-min dominant film, anchored entirely around his performance. So I was surprised to find out that the lead character being Hwang Jung-min was entirely incidental. Any big name would suffice for the part. For that matter, a fictional big name actor would also work perfectly fine in the context of the script.
Debatedly a fictional big name actor would actually be an improvement. At a few points Hwang Jung-min is prompted to recite famous lines from his actual movies. As I could not remember the famous lines offhand, and wasn’t sure what they were supposed to sound like, the jokes did not land with me. A fictional movie preview showcasing a fictional big name actor’s persona would have done a much better job setting up the premise than just expecting the viewer to automatically free associate Hwang Jung-min‘s identity with that of his character.
This is especially true considering that Hwang Jung-min doesn’t exactly have a set brand of character to begin with. He can be anything from an exhausted yet extremely cool gangster to a lovable dork. Hwang Jung-min‘s casting here is just a rather boring gimmick in an otherwise unremarkable script about a hostage situation. The villains in “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” are dumb psychotic thugs, have access to an awful lot of explosives for dumb psychotic thugs, and that’s about as interesting as they get.
A parallel storyline about the police trying to track down Hwang Jung-min‘s kidnappers likewise does no favors in the innovation department. They’re just the same regular old cops you might expect to see in any movie. They’re tough, competent, and pushed to the edge over the course of a difficult investigation. The background setting is more interesting than the actual characters. “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” is filled with grimy, dirty environments, is a far cry from the more polished look of “Veteran” which is, of course, mentioned as a Hwang Jung-min joint.
The most pointed comparison I can think of isn’t a Hwang Jung-min movie at all though, but rather the underrated and underappreciated “What Happened to Mr. Cha?” which came out worldwide on Netflix earlier this year. Now there was a movie that knew not to take for granted that the audience knew who its leading star was. Sure, that was a farce, while “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” is a serious thriller. Although I suppose that’s the whole issue. An inherently unrealistic yet serious movie about a real person isn’t really a story so much as it is fanfiction.
Review by William Schwartz