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In the port city of Icheon, five female friends struggle to stay close while forging a life for themselves after high school. When one of the group, upwardly-mobile Hae-ju, moves to Seoul, the other girls deal with the loss in different ways. Feeling most rejected, shy Ji-yeong finds comfort in her new friendship with rebel Tae-hee. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Interesting coming of age story with a few good performances and good direction from Jeong but weak in several important areas to the film's overall detriment
A group of female school friends find their lives change when they all are out of education and either in jobs or looking for work. After coming together for a birthday party the friends start to drift apart. Hae-Joo heads to Seoul to take a job that quickly starts to take over her life while her other friends, feeling abandoned and separated are left to take stock of their relationships and lives. As the group starts to drift apart, Tae-Hee and Ji-Young start to become closer than they were and try to plan out their lives.
When a film is subtitled from a foreign language it is easy to praise it for being excellent when really it is just 'good'; likewise it is easy to want to see a film because of the country of origin and not on the merits of the film itself. Finally it is easy to forgive a foreign film for weaknesses or standards that we would frown upon in an American film. I don't know quite why this is maybe because so few people see these films or it is hard to see them so we want to sound cine-literate and intelligent by seeing 'a great little foreign film', and maybe we blind ourselves to it a little I know I do it, I loved Swiri when really it was just an enjoyable American-style action movie, nothing more. So with this film, I didn't sit to watch it because of the story but mainly because it was from South Korea and I have seen several from this country recently and liked them.
The IMDb reviews for this film generally fall into the trap of forgiving a film for things that you wouldn't forgive an American film for and, as such, are quite gushing on the whole. This is not to say that it is no good, but rather than it is only 'good' and not some wondrous piece of art! The plot is fairly loose and is more character driven than anything else and, in this way, it suits the style and tone that the film sets out very early on. The freewheeling film would have been better if the film had hit a more realistic and engaging script. The characters are OK but not all of the five or so main characters are easy to get to know I ended up finding Tae-Hee easiest to care about and Hae-Joo the easiest to understand (mainly because her low-paid, hard-worked administrator is universally recognisable). The characters are still interesting and make for an OK tale about the difficult stage where school friends drift, the workplace takes over the majority of your hours and you find you life changing, but it is no more than good for the majority.
The script could have been much sharper and the characters much better written and this would have been a much better film as a result. At this point I will admit that perhaps I didn't get a lot of it due to not being aware of the culture that the characters were in but, to be honest, I think the story is fairly applicable across cultures with only maybe the influence of parental pressures having greater importance. The way the story heads in the final third also betrays what started as a pretty realistic picture of the life of the twenty year olds by going places that seem to have been done in the name of creating more narrative and dramatic flow. The script does manage to convey the chatter and general hustle-bustle of city life, with the use of text messaging, mobile phones and ring tones well done in capturing those still young enough to enjoy the world of pop ring tones while also finding themselves with the income to waste on them!
The cast mostly do well but the lion's share of the film is given to three actresses. Yu-won Lee is good but the script paints her a too-simple character in Hae-Joo and she is left to deliver the obvious rather than the insightful. As the heart of the group (or at least the story) Du-na Bae is likable and does well with conveying her mix of sadness, loss, hope and happiness. OK is unconvincing as Ji-young and is too difficult to get inside as a character. The Lee twins are used just as twins and have no meat on their characters at all the film lets them drift in and out of view so easily that I wondered why it hadn't gone for a scaled down story and made it about 3 friends instead of 5. Director Jeong makes the film look and feel very interesting, with nice use of split screens and a clever display of text messages etc. Her collection of award winning shorts shows she has talent in this area but, like many directors of shorts, the step up to features has seen problems exposed that a short film, by their very nature, would conceal. The title and end credits are imaginative and enjoyable (even if the style at the end makes it hard to read any names maybe bothering those that worked on it but not me, since they were all in Korean).
If my review sounds overly negative maybe I am accidentally overcompensating for the praise it has had from others. I did like the film but I must admit that it was quite weak in many regards. The basic plot works at the start but the writing is not good enough to sustain a character driven story, while later narrative twists just take away from what should have been a touching story set in reality. Worth seeing once as a coming of age story but not worthy of the praise it has garnered from some circles and not one I'll be rushing back to for a second viewing.
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