I’m worried about South Korea. No, not in that global, realpolitik way. I’m worried about South Koreans. I don’t think they’re happy.
Okay, it’s not fair to judge an entire society based on two movies, but I can’t help but see similarities between the last South Korean movie I reviewed (“My Scary Girl“), and yesterday’s movie, “Castaway on the Moon.” I recommend “Castaway…”. I thought it was an excellent movie, but it just makes me wonder.
Both movies are listed as comedies, which at their essence, they are. Both have moments—many, in fact—of humor and laughter, and even though “My Scary Girl” has a body count close to a Shakespearean tragedy, it’s undeniably funny. But the humor in that film is born of surprise and twists, where in “Castaway…”, the humor is more revelatory, as the two main characters unveil themselves to us and to each other.
But both movies also have this underlying, almost foundational sense of sadness and near-despair, and it makes me wonder how endemic this sadness, this sense of futility is to the people of South Korea. Is it just their cinema? I mean, if I were to judge China by its films during the 90s, I’d have expected everyone in the nation had killed themselves by the end of the 19th century, but no, it was just a new set of artists exploring new freedoms. So I get that this may just be a coincidence, or it may be that South Korean society in the last decade was a little preoccupied with how modern life forces us to retreat into ourselves, but Damn, Sam!
Well, as to the movie itself, I have only two negative comments…and only somewhat negative.
First, there was a scene which was disturbingly graphic as regards bodily functions. I do not find toilet humor funny. At all. That’s just how I roll. But I forced myself through the scene because within it was a truly tender and insightful moment for the main character (and one hell of a job of acting, too).
Second, the movie, at 2 hours, is at times glacially slow. Tectonic-plates slow. However, I will ameliorate this comment by saying that I just didn’t mind, and in fact, I think it is perfectly paced to its story and the events as they unfold. The slow, almost measured pace reflects the content of the story, as the two characters who dominate this film evolve through interaction and introspection. I don’t know the literal translation of the movie’s title, but these two people are indeed “cast away.” Though they are the ones who have consigned themselves to the trash bin, this decision is based on the weight of modern life. Each has retreated, cut themselves off from that life, and only finds a path out of their despair through an improbable but definitely plausible connection.
So, my two complaints are, in fact, strong points. The acting of both main characters is superb; filled with the complexity of their emotions, we can see the tragic underpinnings of their backstory through the reactions of events that befall them. And if you watch this film, you will never, ever, think about black-bean noodles the same way.
Ultimately, this movie is about hope amid despair, about finding a path out of the dark places to which we retreat when life is too much. It is a lovely, almost meditative story filled with sudden insight, tenderness, and humor.