Although working hard to achieve his dream of becoming a TV producer, Kang Ho-chan (Baek Jong-hwan (백종환) takes an intern position at a company to help alleviate his family’s difficult financial situation. With his retired father refusing to work and with mounting debts threatening to leave his family homeless, Ho-chan works diligently at the company quickly becoming well-liked, and it’s not long before he’s offered a full-time position at the government-run organisation. Struggling between choosing his dream or filial responsibility, Ho-chan makes the ultimate sacrifice yet is shocked to discover the position he was promised has been given to someone else.
10 Minutes (10분) is a fascinating exploration of the contemporary Korean workplace, highlighting many of the incredibly frustrating issues that employees are forced to endure in order to secure a stable livelihood. Capably helmed by director Lee Yong-seung who focuses on constructing realism with skill, it is screenwriter Kim Da-hyeon’s insightful script that is simply excellent in bringing office politics to life, drawing attention to problems both big and small in gradually building Ho-chan’s angst to a palpably tense crescendo.
While 10 Minutes begins rather slowly, the often ridiculous nature of company work is captured superbly ranging from the director’s displeasure at the quality of cakes (rather than the content of the presentation) and the conflicting tasks Ho-chan is required to undertake, through to more serious fare of lies and slander, denial of responsibility, and corruption. Yet Kim also impressively manages to balance such workplace ire with an examination of family poverty in Seoul, and the reliance on loans as a form of paradoxical debt relief. Just as tension in the office grows so to does it develop in the household, as the burden placed on Ho-chan’s shoulders as the eldest in the family to save them from destitution becomes intolerable. The narrative consistently and boldly challenges the problems young adults face as the product of patriarchal entitlement and, underscored with Ho-chan’s dilemma between following his dream or committing to the life of a salaryman, provocatively addresses the fundamental causes behind the disillusionment and frustration of contemporary youth. With 10 Minutes, Kim Da-hyeon emerges as an exciting new talent to watch.
Such a well-balanced narrative would be of little consequence were it not ably performed, and in that sense 10 Minutes also does not disappoint. As Ho-chan, actor Baek Jong-hwan is particularly impressive. For much of the initial running time Beak’s stoicism belies his talent, yet as stress increasingly generates in both his professional and private life his silent internalised fury is captivating, as if a powder keg waiting to explode, and is genuinely suspenseful. Actress Lee Si-won is a joy to hate in her supporting role as Song Eun-hye, exacerbating Ho-chan’s anger with wry smiles and snide acts of kindness that are anything but. She wonderfully conveys a snarky superiority through gestures, tone and ‘aegyo’ (performance of cuteness) and, combined with her ability to manipulate the office, embodies many of things that makes Korean workplaces so difficult to navigate.
With 10 Minutes so focused on the problems created by patriarchy, it’s a great relief to say that the actors involved deftly rise to the occasion. As the director of the company Kim Jong-goo is delightfully cowardly, bowing to the whims of his superior and berating his subordinates even while aware of the truth, making his faux smiles and promises ever more frustrating. Yet it is Jeong Hee-tae as the head of the labor union who steals the show. Jeong’s turn as the friendly yet deceptive union leader is brilliant and a real highlight of the film, perfectly encapsulating the issues of entitlement and selfishness so often ascribed to middle aged men.
10 Minutes is an impressive indie film exploring the frustrations involved in the contemporary Korean workplace. Director Lee Yeong-song helms the events well, yet it is Kim Da-hyeon’s insightful script that steals the spotlight and presents her as a talent to watch. With penetrative awareness of office culture, family dynamics and disillusioned youth, 10 Minutes is a refreshingly frank and timely drama.