|Index||3 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this film through once and then the first half a second time
in order to try to gain a bit more certainty about what is happening.
The movie is moody and dark (literally & figuratively) and having to
depend on subtitles was distracting. So at times I wasn't even certain
which of the two primary characters was speaking and the plot was
anything but obvious.
The term "inscrutable Asian" is a somewhat condescending cliché, but watching this film I can understand why, especially to westerners, the near absence of facial tells and behavioral cues may be interpreted as a shortcoming on the part of the actors and a sign of an amateurish production. I am not Asian but have lived in Asia for nearly two decades, which does not imbue me with magical insight into Asian behavior, but it has apparently made me sympathetic to what appears to be a calculated and inculcated concealment of emotions. In fact, the stoic, stiff and apparently cold behavior of the actors speaks volumes to empathetic eyes far more than the emotional & dramatic circus that might be considered appropriate in a similar western production of the same story.
Because the plot is intentionally difficult to fathom, at least at first it is, I've indicated that my comments could be construed as including a spoiler for the beginning of the movie, but honestly I think most people who watch this movie are going to feel somewhat lost. My review is not so much a spoiler as a little help to understand what's going on and it's a case of the blind leading the blind because I'm only about 80% sure I've got it right.
Before the movie begins, two young men are attacked by a homophobic bully. Won-gyu manages to escape the attack, leaving his companion to take the brunt of it, which results in injury and a permanent limp for him. The incident essentially also amounts to a devastating outing of the two men, causing them alienation from family and friends.
One of the men, Won-gyu, a flight attendant, then leaves Korea for two years. At the start of the film he returns to Korea and meets the former friend who was left with the injury and who clearly blames Won-gyu for running away from the fight, leaving him to attempt to defend himself alone. The two again part company, both are angry, depressed and burdened with self-loathing. Absent a more appropriate target, they've vented their anger at each another.
The reason Won-gyu has returned to Korea is because he has heard that the attacker has been released from prison after serving a reduced sentence. This then become the less than obvious focus of what follows.
Won-gyu meets Tae-joon, both of them having the intention of having a one-night stand. Tae-joon has experienced many of the same social and family issues as Won-gyu, but is far better able, both physically and mentally, to deal with it all and defend himself. Won-gyu's emotional baggage gets in the way of them really connecting, although there is a fairly subtle bonding between them.
If you get to this point in the movie with a reasonable idea of what's going on, the rest will be fairly obvious and I'll leave it to you to see how some things are resolved to an extent and left hanging in other ways, bringing some closure and opening new possibilities.
My favorite line in the movie follows the fairly violent resolution of one issue. Sitting next to each other, totally stony poker-faced throughout the conversation, Tae-joon asks, "So is that why you came back to Korea?" Without batting an eye or changing his expression, Won-gyu says," No, I heard that house prices were going down." Under the circumstances and taking into account the manner in which the reply is delivered, it really is pretty funny.
Quite a good movie, but not an easy one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film contains a variety of subtleties in emotion, and you need to
follow the storyline carefully, as things are not spelt out clearly and
obviously from the start- the main character is quite introverted and
has difficulty explaining himself and opening up.
Initially I didn't like it, as I thought it was just about an empty one night stand. But after better understanding, and thinking about the film the next day, I began to relate to the main character and understand his shortcomings and initially confusing behaviour.
For example the script writer seems to imply that the main character is alone, because he says he has a partner who is age 35 in Germany, then at the end he tells a different person that he has a partner who is age 24 in Germany. And the way his vulnerability has left him with a kind of 'once bitten twice shy,' disposition towards people, and so struggles to show his inner conflicts and pain from the past events - he's quick to push the character with compassion for him away, until the end, when they develop a better kinship, and he stops doing so.
I saw this film at the Berlinale 2013, where it was part of the
Panaroma section. The story revolves around something that refuses to
become clear until halfway the running time. I had a vague idea what
was going on and what skeleton in the closet it was all about, because
I had read the synopsis beforehand. Failing that, the viewer is left
dangling and will probably miss the point completely.
All in all, I scored "ambivalent" for the audience award when leaving the theater. The constantly changing mood of Won-gyu is a dominant factor, complicating our grip on the story more than necessary. The plot deserves a better treatment.
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