The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소) – ★★★☆☆

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소)

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소)

After circling the Earth for years transmitting data, satellite Il-ho (Jeong Yu-mi (정유미) intercepts the sound of a beautiful song. Nearly at the end of its lifespan, Il-ho decides to return home and find the source of the song before its power is drained completely. Upon arriving however, Il-ho discovers a walking, talking milk cow being pursued by a giant incinerator, and upon impact with the metal creature Il-ho is transformed into the form of a girl. With the help of magical toilet paper Merlin the wizard, they discover that the milk cow is actually musician Kyeong-cheon (Yoo Ah-in (유아인), and the group try to set him free of the curse while fighting against those who would steal his liver.

Satellitle Il-ho learns that musician Kyeong-cheon has been transformed into a milk cow

Satellitle Il-ho learns that musician Kyeong-cheon has been transformed into a milk cow

Upon release, The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소) had certain critics comparing it with Japanese animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli output, which is both huge praise as well as a disservice. Writer/director Jang Hyeong-yoon’s (장형윤) feature length is a charming animation that features wonderfully quirky and lovable characters who traverse different realms, which is undoubtedly the source of such comparisons, yet the film is also a uniquely Korean blend of sci-fi and fantasy that ultimately lacks the grace and polish of Miyazaki’s work.

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is certainly one of the most entertaining and wacky family-orientated Korean animations in quite some time. Director Jang has impressively combined the conventions of science-fiction with magical fantasy and the results are consistently enjoyable and fun, particularly due to the wonderfully eccentric cast of characters. Kyeong-cheon is front and center in this regard as the visually comedic milk cow, with the obstacles he endures to become human forming the crux of the narrative. The gags often come at his expense and are often really enjoyable, especially scenes in which he has difficulties with his human ‘suit’ made of toilet paper and his attempts to continue living as he did before his transformation. Other jokes tend to come out of left field, such as literally being milked in order to pay the rent, which are quite odd yet are still amusing. Kyeong-cheon’s melodramatic character works well when playing off robotic satellite girl Il-ho and bizarre tissue magician Merlin. Their conversations and conflicts are by far the most entertaining and engaging feature of the film and drive the story forward.

The conflicts that arise between Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon are charming and fun

The conflicts that arise between Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon are charming and fun

Yet while the animation is fluid and the characters charming, The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow comes undone due to the haphazard narrative. The screenplay really requires several more rewrites as the film is mostly comprised of a series of sketches rather than an overarching story, and while such vignettes are enjoyable there really isn’t a sense of a greater story being told.  As Kyeong-cheon attempts to continue his life as a milk cow and Il-ho seeks to understand her purpose of existence, a variety of tangents enter the fray that stop both of them from exploring such desires, serving as fun yet distracting moments from the greater quests at hand. Such events rarely contribute to the story and often create a greater number of sub-stories that never achieve fruition.

As the story tends to jump between various events further supporting characters are also introduced, including an old witch in the form of a boar as well as a shadow organisation that harvests the livers of citizens-turned-animals. Each inception holds a new and interesting concept yet they are never explored or capitalised on, and have very little impact on the overall story. A prime example is the giant incinerator, which exists solely as a central threat in the film without rhyme or reason, appearing when the story has no other place to maneuver and needs a sense of urgency. There are so many unresolved elements within the film that, combined with the unfocused central story, serve to make The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow an enjoyable but not particularly magical viewing experience.

Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon develop feelings for each other against the odds

Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon develop feelings for each other

Verdict:

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is one of the most entertaining family-orientated animations to come from Korea in quite some time. It’s a charming effort by writer/director Jang Hyeong-yoon who blends the worlds of magic and sci-fi well, but it’s let down by a haphazard script and too many characters and tangents that go unresolved, making the film an enjoyable experience rather than a magical one.

★★★☆☆

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Our Sunhi (우리 선희)

‘Our Sunhi’ (우리 순희) gets a Trailer and Invitation to Locarno Film Festival

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Director Hong Sang-soo’s (홍상수) latest film Our Sunhi (우리 순희) has been invited to Switzerland’s prestigious Locarno International Film Festival, which is due to commence on the 7th of August.

The film tells the story of Sunhi (Jeong Yu-mi (정유미) who, after graduating with a degree in film, returns to university seeking a letter of recommendation from a professor in order to continue her studies in America. Yet Professor Choi (Kim Sang-joong (김상중) is not simply content to give the letter as he likes her, and attempts to give advice for Sunhi’s future. Complicating matters further, Sunhi meets two other men from her past – film director Moon-soo (Lee Seon-gyoon (이선균) and veteran filmmaker Jae-hak (Jeong Jae-yeong (정재영). As they enter her life once more all three men seemingly can’t control their liking of the young woman, and continue to hang around her acting as mentors.

Our Sunhi  is director Hong’s 15th film, and will feature within the ‘Concorso Internazionale’ program of the festival, where it will also receive its world premiere. Please see below for the trailer, which also has English subtitles.

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Teacher In-ho attempts to communicate through sign and art

Silenced (The Crucible) (도가니) – ★★★☆☆

Silenced (The Crucible) (도가니)

Silenced (The Crucible) (도가니)

It is incredibly rare for a film to have such potency that the national fervor generated changes law. Silenced (The Crucible) (도가니), based on the true story of the sexual abuses of hearing impaired children in 2000, sparked outrage upon release not only for the subject matter but also for the extremely lenient punishments dealt to the offenders, as well as the corruption seemingly inherent within the judiciary system.

While critics bemoaned the public furor as hypocrisy, due to the indifference displayed to the television programme and book produced years prior on the subject, politicians were keen to introduce legislation which was shockingly absent to protect children from sexual predators – and raise their own political profile in the process.

As such, Silenced is an incredibly powerful film conveying an array of social discourses. Helmed by highly competent director Hwang Dong-hyeok (황동혁), Silenced is a tense and gripping drama during the discovery of the abuses and impending trial, yet loses momentum in the inevitable court hearing.

Art teacher and sign language practitioner Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo (공유) endures several hardships in life. His wife has died; his daughter is very sick; and finding employment is extremely difficult. Through the recommendation of his professor, In-ho is accepted as a teacher at Inhwa school for the hearing impaired in Gwangju. Yet upon arrival in the foggy village, he is involved in a car accident with social worker Seo Yoo-jin (Jeong Yu-mi (정유미), exchanging insurance details. Settling in at the school, In-ho finds the behaviour of the students strange; they are quiet and nervous, often sporting bruises and cuts, and are reluctant to communicate. Worse still, he hears screams at night and witnesses the beatings and water torture used against the students. Learning of the sexual abuses In-ho casts aside his career and gathers the abused children, working together with Yoo-jin to launch a legal campaign against the injustice caused by the perpetrators – including the headmaster.

Teacher In-ho attempts to communicate through sign and art

Teacher In-ho attempts to communicate through sign and art

Due to the subject nature of the film, Silenced cannot help but be an incredibly emotive viewing experience. Director Hwang Dong-hyeok deserves credit for employing a variety of methods in conveying the horror of child abuse, from the cries of deaf children echoing in darkened corridors, long takes of appalling physical violence, to Kubrickian-esque shots of stairwells  that descend into horror. The use of sign language is also well utilised as the children are forced to reenact events rather than speak of them, adding a chilling dimension to the abuse. Hwang Dong-hyeok is keenly aware of the necessity to shock, and his decision to depict controversial scenes including a teacher washing young boys in a bath and the headmaster undressing himself and young girls against their will, add a level of repulsion that is difficult to describe. While certain critics have questioned the extent to which such scenes should exist, there is no denying the shocking reconstruction of events forces audiences from apathy and indifference. The suspense and tension are wonderfully created within the school, almost making the building a sinister character in itself.

Yet Silenced tends to stall outside of the environment, with the impending court case and the hearing itself competent but relatively low-key. This generally due to focusing on protagonists other than the children, and in doing so the narrative loses traction and immediacy. However such tangents do allow for additional social commentary, focusing on the corruption of virtually every professional involved in the case as a microcosm for the Korean justice system. Christians are also held accountable within the film for vehemently supporting the child abusers and bribing officials, as well as spitting at and intimidating those pressing charges. Silenced reasserts itself when focusing on the testimonies of the children, who bravely give evidence against the perpetrators despite the pressure against them. In doing so the film finds its emotional core, making the final decision bestowed by the presiding judge all the more heartfelt.

In-ho and social worker Yoo-jin document the abuse for television

In-ho and social worker Yoo-jin document the abuse for television

As the heart and soul of Silenced, child actors Kim Hyeon-soo (김현수), Jeong In-seo (정인서) and Baek Seung-hwan (백승환) as protagonists Kim Yeon-doo (김연두), Jin Yoo-ri (진유리) and Jeon Min-soo (전민수) respectively, are exceptional. Their performances are incredibly powerful and compelling, all three utterly convincing as victims of abuse desperate for justice and affection. Kim Hyeon-soo is wonderful as Yeon-doo, particularly during the court room scenes as she describes her abuse and outsmarts the adults in the room. Jeong In-seo is also compelling as Yoo-ri, the youngest victim, ably shifting between acute nervousness when describing the assaults and moments of sheer joy when shown affection. As the only male victim, Baek Seung-hwan is shockingly convincing as Min-soo, displaying an intensity in his performance that belies his age. Whether suffering various abuses, recapturing his childhood or breaking down through stress, Baek Seung-hwan conveys gripping poignacy and emotional distress.

The same cannot be applied to lead actor Gong Yoo as teacher In-ho. His performance is generally bland and stoic even in the face of horrific scenes of violence, more of a phantom than a troubled man confronted with child abuse. In fairness to the actor, the character is rather underdeveloped with select few scenes informing his history or relationships, resulting in a lack of empathy. The few occasions in which In-ho’s character is conveyed is usually through beratement by his mother, more of an annoyance than informative. Absence of development is also applicable to social worker Yoo-jin, played by Jeong Yu-mi. Initially quite unlikeable, Yoo-jin becomes much more compelling than her male counterpart due to the range of emotions conveyed through Jeong Yu-mi’s performance. As devices through which the abused children seek justice the central roles of In-ho and Yoo-jin require substantiality as they function as the conduits for the audience. Yet as it stands, they fall rather flat.

Yeon-do and the other children face grueling questions in court

Yeon-do and the other children face grueling questions in court

Verdict:

Silenced is an incredibly powerful film that expresses the horrors of child abuse and conveys the corruption of members of Korean society with skill. The resulting public outrage is wholly understandable as the stark brutality of the events are performed with exceptional child actors and the injustice against such innocence is impossible to remain detached from. While the film loses momentum and its emotional core when outside the school and away from the victims, Silenced  is a challenging film and – even if merely to have an opinion – required viewing.

★★★☆☆

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