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Exposed during an illegal arms trade gone wrong in Berlin, a North Korean "ghost" agent finds himself in the crosshairs of an international manhunt. Was he betrayed by his wife or his country? He must prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Well composed and compelling, despite somewhat uneven nature of omnibuses
If You Were Me 2 is the second omnibus film sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, connected by the theme of "prejudice" or "discrimination". It's a rather broad theme and the only thematic demand placed on the filmmakers in regards to their individual short projects. That said, what we end up with is a rather striking, sometimes uneven, look at societal problems in South Corea (problems which I imagine are echoed in many first world countries).
The first short, "Seaside Flowers", is a quiet narrative film that follows the day of a young woman who appears to have a condition that is either Down Syndrome or a related condition. As not to spoil the story contents, I will just say that we follow her as she faces the struggles of her condition as well the moments where she can still live like a normal human being. On a positive note, the film stars a woman with the condition herself who likely brings to her performance a lot of the experiences she's had to deal with in her life as well. Nothing amiss here, Seaside Flowers brings you into Eun-Hye's life and helps you get to know her. Solid character study.
The second short is by a director who is well known for his action films, whose films that I appreciate myself. Entitled "Hey, Man!", it seemed to be shot in one continuous take with steady cam. Ryoo's style is readily apparent, but the film is in no way an action film. Rather it's a study of South Corean masculinity, its inherent contradictions and the problems that it causes for both the man and the people around him. While the tone is never overtly comic, the writing is at times quite sharply ironic as the drunken man mouths off at a "street vendor" type restaurant, insulting all those around him. Amusing and reflective.
The third short, "A Boy with a Knapsack" follows a young North Corean who escaped to South Corea and her struggles. Although there are a few revelations in the film that non-Corean speaking audiences won't get, there is still quite a lot here to recommend. The short appears to be shot in black and white as well as on digital, which is a change of pace from the previous shorts. I love how the film, like Seaside Flowers, works solely by watching the heroine both her active moments and her quiet moments and draws surprising empathy despite its rough look.
The fourth short, "Someone Grateful" hits two separate issues at the same time and just when you think it's about one thing, it's about another. It's no secret that the Corean government, more in the past, but still in the present, has no qualms with using abusive (and torturous) methods of interrogation and we start the piece with a student being interrogated. However, the story in part becomes a story about the plight of contract workers in South Corea and the difficulties they face. The thing about this piece is that it has a primarily humorous tone despite the terrible history and very real problem that it brings to light and I was impressed by how deftly it handled that balance.
The final short, "Jongno, Winter", is a documentary by the director of my favorite Corean documentary, Repatriation, Kim Dong-Wan. This film uses the event of the passing of a Chosonjok (an ethnic Corean from China) who illegally immigrated to South Corea to look into the difficulties and discrimination that face both contract (under the table) workers as well as ethnic Coreans from elsewhere in Asia who illegally immigrate to Corea. This is a rather brutally honest work that dramatizes moments to solid effect. It doesn't leave you feeling very good about the situation and is potent and immediate because of its documentary nature: the people suffering have a real world counterpart.
All in all, I feel that this is a very successful omnibus with no particularly weak moments and despite the differences in style and approach, they are all tied together so well by overarching themes of unjust human suffering that you can't help but feel compelled to, at the least, be more aware of your own prejudices and the plight of those suffering due to the oppression of others no matter what country you live in. Solid work. 8/10.
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