4 user 2 critic

Public Toilet (2002)

Hwajangshil eodieyo? (original title)
The story of Dong Dong, the God of Public Toilets - so called because he was born and abandoned by his mother in a public toilet and later rescued out of the sewage by his grandmother.


Fruit Chan


Fruit Chan, Kee-To Lam (as To Kee)
3 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »




Credited cast:
Tsuyoshi Abe Tsuyoshi Abe ... Dong Dong
Zhe Ma Zhe Ma ... Tony
Jang Hyuk ... Kim
In-Sung Jo ... Cho (as In-seong Jo)
Yang-hie Kim Yang-hie Kim ... Ocean Girl
Jo Kuk ... Jo
Sam Lee ... Sam
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Se-jeong Oh Se-jeong Oh
Hailu Qin


The story of Dong Dong, the God of Public Toilets - so called because he was born and abandoned by his mother in a public toilet and later rescued out of the sewage by his grandmother.

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Voyage of the Quantum Turd
24 September 2006 | by tedgSee all my reviews

This isn't really successful cinematically in the conventional sense. Usually one thinks that the cinematic values of the thing have to be stronger than the narrative values. That's so the body of what we get has blood. But sometimes the fractionated nature of how the thing is stitched together cinematically helps the narrative being. In other words, if the thing is broken in some areas, it becomes a stronger whole in others. I think that's what happens here.

Regular readers of my comments know I harp on and on about narrative folding, techniques which are the basic tools of enriching narrative in general. I'm particularly interested when this is done in ways that can only be done in film, like certain ways that identities can be blended or that the images that denote certain narrative milestones can be overlapped visually.

What strikes me about this project is how formal it is. Oh, it looks sloppy and accidental. And the apparent subject matter is literally the discarded parts of life. But the ideas behind it are pretty cerebral indeed. When the French did this — made philosophical essays about the nature of life and perception — and coded it in narrative, it got pretty tiresome. And I suppose the ideas in this would be too if I saw them again. But this seems fresh. In my mind, I think of it as "Tampopo," but without the humor (any humor at all) and dealing with the other end of food.

The ideas are those of quantum narrative. Nothing we see has clear edges, bones. Everything we see has already had the nourishment taken from it and is given to us as a sort of residue of life instead of life.

There's the literal notion of excrement of course. And of health not as wholeness but as a sort of moving the incomplete parts to the right places. Also of trails of cause. The literal stream is that the cast off, the residue of one life being that which nourishes, even heals another in various ways. This is given to us here as ambiguity about matters of life and death. The metaphors themselves aren't sophisticated, and I suppose the crudeness of them in matter and form is something of the point, a bodily version of beautiful violence we see in other films.

I'd like to point your attention to the most clever thing, what I'll call the Quantum Mechanics of the story. Actions are often accomplished by doing the opposite of what is intended. Identities overlap and scintillate. Matters of time jump, reverse and overlap. There are huge shifts that occur when you observe, and there is one segment (the core) where we watch a video of someone making a video and then watching it.

The video becomes residue, a turd and is flushed away, only to be recovered in the way that (and because of the way?) Hindu dead are flushed into a river in a manner that the water becomes cleansing. This video, of an event which is one of several life-death scenarios set in public toilets... using one of several gun-like things associated with toilets... and referencing the Jesus-Moses story in a few ways too...

This video is presented to us in an amazing compendium of ways. Focus on that if you have trouble getting a foothold here. The quantum mechanical idea is that things shift, they jump and the key driver is how and when you look at it, or if you do and how you sneak up on that barrier between being in the story (literally in the toilet) or outside, or using it or casting it off. And even that QM idea jumps about itself before you can apply it.

So look at the video here, something that appears as found (in ordinary commercial videos) and as made. Look at how we see it, the actual footage of a murder where the murderer is murdered. Where the eye jumps from one camera to the next in the most inexplicable ways (but which makes sense afterward).

This isn't just clever editing of the type that different perspectives encircle the story. It uses the same vocabulary, but the jumping about is more arbitrary, broken. And so becomes stronger. The octopus-mermaid jumps tanks. The casting off becomes the eating.

You'll like this, you will.

The ending is one of the most striking images you will see in any film, ever. A driving, Andean flute over a pulsing spacemusic guitar line. A terrain that incongruously is beach, desert and fertile plain. Is that water or sky? Is this where mountains start or where land ends? Is that forest or cloud on the left there where we desperately grasp for something to anchor our eye and give us permission to be here.

Sheep — I suppose — occupying the entire frame, then moving to left with growing but calm urgency. Why? An endless line of men appears from the right. Then we shift to align with them horizontal instead of diagonal. Instead of men in a place we have men arrayed, defining a place. Wait. Are they men? No they are walking like children aren't they, arms swinging as if striding into life.

Its worthy of Herzog but so much more deftly set up, and may be the most engaging single image you will see all year. Years. The gentle way we leave it is almost as precious. This, my friends is what you come to see and the hour and forty minutes beforehand is mere stretching for the race.

Please see it. Perhaps we have a new Kar-Wai Wong entering our lives.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.

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South Korea | Hong Kong | Japan


Korean | Cantonese

Release Date:

29 November 2002 (South Korea) See more »

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Public Toilet See more »

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