THE CAUTIONARY TALE OF THE FROG BOYS
The film is based on a true story about the unsolved murder case of 5 boys dubbed the “frog boys” who went missing in 1991 after telling their parents that they were going to the nearby mountain in order to catch frogs. We see glimpses of the aftermath through several eyes: the parents, the detectives and a TV documentary producer, Kang Ji Seung (Park Yong Woo).
Some elements of the movie was fictionalized. While I cannot be 100% sure after researching the story myself, my feeling is that the role of the TV producer chasing the story is fiction. Perhaps the moviemakers felt compelled to add a role that was impartial, apart from the detectives investigating the case and the families mourning the lost boys, so that we could identify with the occurrences. The audience is represented by Kang Ji Seung as we are compelled to find out the truth and accuse a worthy suspect in order to find justice. However, it is unnecessary as most Koreans were captivated by this news in 1991 and likewise those unfamiliar with the incident will still be captivated by learning the stories behind the news. For me, the role and journey of Kang Ji Seung felt jarring to the flow of the movie.
The acting is in fine form which treats us to polarizing performances by Sung Jiru (Jong Ho’s father), Kim Yeo Jin (Jong Ho’s mother) and Sung Dong Il (Detective Park) and we’re treated to different theories on the case through the eyes of these witnesses.
Kang Ji Seung teams up with a professor (Ryu Seung Ryong) who begins to suspect that one of the family members must have abducted and killed the boys. They point to Jong Ho’s father who doesn’t outright deny the accusations. From Professor Hwang’s and Ji Seung’s perspective, Jong Ho’s father had outwardly displayed suspicious behavior when they visited the house to ask them questions about the day the boys went missing. Furthermore, there was the evidence of a phone recording with Jong Ho’s mother. She picks up the phone but when the other line is silent she wonder if it is her missing son and calls out his name. The professor points out that the mother’s voice remained strangely calm. Throughout this whole sequence, we begin to suspect that the parents are involved as well and fall into the tabloid mouse trap ourselves.
On the other side, we have Park who is a typical, hot-blooded Korean detective but methodical. He’s eager to catch the suspect but knows there isn’t enough evidence to accuse anyone. He theorizes that the kids must have been offered sweets like a bun in order to get the children to trust and follow the mysterious assailant. Detective Park even recalls spotting a strange car on the day Hwang and Ji Seung accused Jong Ho’s parents but was unable to question him further as the unknown driver fled the scene.
Here is where the movie profiles a murderer for us. Ji Seung takes his own initiative to search for the killer himself that he even asks the forensic scientists what his opinion is on the skeletons they’ve found 11 years after the boys went missing. Are you expecting me to believe that a forensic scientist at the center of a national news story is going to privately reveal details of the case to an infamous, documentary producer? Seems highly implausible. Ji Seung’s family is put in danger because of his relentless search for the truth which puts him face to face with the murderer. However, the murderer lets him go in the end. Also implausible.
All these fictional elements lessen an otherwise powerful film. There are movies that try to put a face to an infamous, historic murderer that got away with their crime. From Hell comes to mind as one such movie. They added fabricated components in that movie but what works in that movie is that fabricated components worked together with the truth. Here it feels like two isolated movies. As of 2006, the statute of limitations has expired on the boys’ murder case and the case is still unsolved.