REVIEW: Helpless (2012)

A woman suddenly disappears without a trace. Her fiancee searches frantically, and he realizes that she is not who she claims to be.

By Raymond Arcega
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Original Title: 화차
Year: 2012
Country: Korea
Language: Korean
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Director: Byun Young-joo

Helpless is an adaptation of the novel All She Was Worth by acclaimed author Miyuki Miyabe. The story follows Mun-ho (Lee Sun-gyun) and Sun-young (Kim Min-hee), who are engaged to get married and planning to take a trip to visit Mun-ho’s parents and inform them of the wedding. They pull into a rest stop and Mun-ho runs in to get some coffee. He returns to his car to find that Sun-young has disappeared, nowhere to be found.


Returning home, he finds his place ransacked, with all evidence of Sun-young gone. Mun-ho searches for his fiancee, enlisting the help of his cousin Jong-geun (Jo Sung-ha). They come to the realization that Sun-young may not be “Sun-young” at all.

A film of true suspense and mystery, Helpless creates the questions that you will want answered, keeping you drawn into the story. The performances by the lead characters are intense and will keep eyes glued to the screen.

The storytelling is probably the most intriguing part of the film. Rather than saving all the plot twists for the very end, we get to see almost a part of the truth revealed with each clue uncovered. The reveals are shown as if they were conjectures or hypotheses, each slowly putting together the complete puzzle. Each reveal brings up more questions, with nothing being fully answered until the end.


Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Byun Young-joo, the film garnered many nominations and wins at various awards show. It debuted at number one during its opening weekend at the Korean box office, and it’s no surprise why.

One reason is because Kim Min-hee’s performance. Kim brings a a natural realism and awe-inspiring beauty to the character, making it no surprise that a man like Mun-ho would stop at nothing to find her. One eye-catching symbolism utilized in the story is the connection between Sun-young and butterflies. There was one printed on the first clue the male leads find, and we see them pop in throughout the story. They represent her wish to be born again, just as a butterfly emerges from its cocoon.


The only thing that felt lacking was the aftermath of the climax. The film takes one on such a trip only to have the ending feel kind of incomplete. The story indeed ties up loose ends, however it felt as if everything just “ends”, leaving the audience to only guess as to what happens next.

Korea is known for its fantastic library of psychological thrillers. Oldboy, The Chaser, and Voice of a Murderer are among the many, and Helpless makes a fine addition. What makes this film unique amongst Korea’s thrillers is that it doesn’t rely on gratuitous violence. A thrilling atmosphere combined with the eerie realism of the actors, we have a film that is a must-see for fans of the genre.

Watch this film…

…if you’re in the mood for a film to make you start distrusting the people around you.

About the Author

Raymond Arcega


Follow Ray on Twitter and chat with a fellow cinema nut. He also tweets about tokusatsu, assorted geekery, and life and adventures in Japanland.