Cart (카트) – ★★★★☆

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

With only 3 months more service until she becomes a regular employee, supermarket cashier Seon-hee (Yeom Jeong-ah (염정아) works diligently for the position that will enable her to provide greater stability for her family. Despite the difficulties of raising wayward teenage son Tae-yeong (Do Kyeong-soo (도경수) and a young daughter (Kim Soo-an (김수안) alone, Seon-hee strives to make ends meet for them all. Yet when the supermarket officials decide to layoff all the workers in favor of cheaper labor, the mostly female staff – many of whom have worked with the company for years – are outraged. Led by fellow cashier Hye-mi (Moon Jeong-hee (문정희) and cleaner Soon-rye (Kim Yeong-ae (김영애), the women begin to unionize and issue demands for reinstatement. However when their efforts are ultimately ignored, the women decide that more drastic strike action is necessary for their voices to be heard.

Seon-hee witnesses abuse at work, yet her desire for job stability keeps her silent

Seon-hee witnesses abuse at work, yet her desire for job stability keeps her silent

Based on a true story, director Boo Ji-young’s (부지영) Cart (카트) premiered to high acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as later back home in native Korea at Busan. The drama is an incredibly impressive exploration of the issues plaguing the temporary workforce in contemporary Korea. From the very moment Cart begins director Boo effectively portrays the grueling monotony of menial labor, employing a brilliantly washed out colour palette in conjunction with fluid camerawork that depicts workers performing machine-like tasks under the watchful eyes of aggressive management, evoking the same sensibilities as Charlie Chaplin’s classic Modern Times. Rather than individuals, the workers are consistently framed as cogs in a machine hurriedly operating the factory-esque supermarket whilst robotically repeating phrases such as, “We love you, customer!” Director Boo wonderfully juxtaposes such hard work and empty slogans with the awful humiliations dealt by the customers and executives, while the workers themselves tolerate such human rights abuses simply in order to keep their jobs.

The contrast between such scenes and the representation of the characters personal lives offer a powerful, provocative glimpse at class and gender warfare as well as social injustice in modern Korea. As the vast majority of the workers are underprivileged women, the film depicts the daily struggles of the female workforce as they endure abusive employment in order to desperately stave off poverty, emphasising an array of feminist issues with potent insight. Director Boo has crafted an empowering social rights drama, one which is a true rarity in both current Korean and international cinema. The range of characters within the film, each with their own dilemmas, poignantly capture the challenges facing modern women in society. While Seon-hee and Hye-mi struggle to raise their children alone, Soon-rye exposes the plight of the elderly, while the inclusion of married protagonists as well as disaffected graduate Mi-jin (Cheon Woo-hee (천우희) convey the breadth and scale of discourses effecting contemporary women. Cart is a truly refreshing alternative to male-centered narratives, one that unequivocally portrays working class women as heroines in their own right.

The mostly female workers keep in good spirits as they demand reinstatement

The mostly female workers keep in good spirits as they demand reinstatement

The power of Cart lies in the conflict between the mostly female workers and the male executives, as the unfair dismissals result in unionization, and the ignorance of which in turn spurs strike action. Director Boo structures the escalation of hostilities between both sides with skill, as the workers who stage peaceful protests with colourful clothes and slogans are confronted by the dark bullying tactics of the company. In so blatantly portraying the corruption and underhand manner of the corporation, director Boo has produced a challenging and provocative film that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers amongst the conservative upper classes, who are depicted offering bribes, employing gangsters, and hurting innocents in the bid to continue profits and to save face. Yet director Boo also implicates government agencies in the scandal, particularly the police force and their unnecessary brutality, as the women peacefully demonstrate against injustice, making Cart not only an insightful film but a courageous one too.

Cart does however suffer from a case of over ambition as too many protagonists feature, which ultimately makes it difficult to invest in all of the narrative threads that arise. All the characters certainly add a perspective on the discourses through the film, yet as there are so many tangents it’s difficult to invest in every one. Screen time is mostly ascribed to Seon-hee and her family, and an impressive contrast is made between her and her difficult son Tae-yeong, implying the conditioning of the populace as automatons as one that begins from a young age. However Tae-young’s story line, in which he becomes attached to prospective girlfriend Soo-kyeong (Ji Woo (지우), is a little trite and appears to be a device to attract teenage audiences. Scenes such as these, and others that feature the quite cheesy musical score, sometimes threaten to put Cart in TV drama territory, yet director Boo never lets the story stagnate and consistently keeps the drama moving apace.

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

Verdict:

Cart is moving, provocative glimpse at class and gender warfare as well as social injustice in modern Korea. In depicting the unfair working conditions and the incredibly strong women attempting to stave off poverty, director Boo Ji-young has crafted an empowering social rights drama, one that examines the status of human rights and feminist issues with insight and sincerity. A powerful film, Cart is a real rarity in both contemporary Korean and international cinema.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014
I Saw You (너를 봤어)

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) – ★★★☆☆

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화)

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화)

Omnibus film MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) has the notable distinction of featuring not only three of Korea’s top name directors in the form of Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승) and Kim Tae-yong (김태용), but also for serving as the opening film for the 15th Jeonju International Film Festival. The collective work is quite a landmark for an opening film due to the use of 3D, which is, in part, used to emphasis the new vision and production role of KAFA+ (The Korean Academy of Film Arts).

The three segments are each designed to explore human relationships through a connection to a form of popular culture. Director Ryoo Seung-wan helms the first short titled Ghost (유령), about a boy who is addicted to his cell phone; director Han Ji-seung is responsible for I Saw You (너를 봤어), which is concerned with a futuristic zombie apocalypse; and finally director Kim Tae-yong explores the life of a young girl with an autistic brother in Picnic (피크닉).

In the interest of fairness, each short within the omnibus has been reviewed individually, in the order in which they appear onscreen.

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령) –  ★★★☆☆

Ghost depicts teenager Seung-ho (Lee David (이다윗) who is more concerned with the digital world of chat rooms, sms, and computer games rather than reality. When Woo-bi (Son Soo-hyeon (손수현), a girl from his chatroom, claims she is in danger from an abusive boyfriend, Seung-ho teams with Bi-jen (Park Jeong-min (박정민) to help her.

Based on a true story, Ghost is quite a departure from director Ryoo Seung-wan’s typically action-orientated projects, and he ably handles the focus on low-key personal drama. Scenes featuring Seung-ho’s bedroom are expertly filmed and wonderfully convey his fractured relationship with reality, while the social pressures from his school and father are competently expressed. However the tension that a film such as Ghost requires is curiously absent, particularly when Seung-ho and Bi-jen attempt to help Woo-bi. The use of 3D is also quite unnecessary  as the drama rarely features it effectively.

Luckily the ever-reliable Lee David holds everything together well, with his likeable ‘everyman’ charm again forcing audiences to empathise with his plight. That said, the actor is never pushed into new territory and as such his performance doesn’t contain the intensity of his prior work, yet Lee David does what he can with the material on offer. It’s Park Jeong-min, however, who gives a wonderful performance as the socially inept Bi-jen. Complete with thick-rimmed glasses, protruding jaw and nervous ticks, Park’s characterisation is a radical departure from his previous roles conveying angst and social-dislocation with aplomb.

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어) – ★★☆☆☆

In the not-too-distant future, zombies have emerged causing catastrophe in their wake. Yet the arrival of a cure for the affliction has allowed the undead to rejoin society. Factory manager Yeo-wool (Park Ki-woong (박기웅) presides over zombie laborers, pushing them to work harder and harder. When a zombie named Si-wa (Nam Gyoo-ri (남규리) attempts to communicate with him, Yeo-wool begins to understand their connection.

Director Han Ji-seung’s I Saw You is certainly the weakest within the omnibus. Poorly scripted, badly acted, and featuring precious little depth, the superficial rom-com-zom is a hollow experience. Director Han’s ambition is clearly bigger than his budget, yet instead of scaling down the film into a more focused piece he has constructed a poor imitation of a large production, one where the narrative veers wildly resulting in a lack of interest in the central couple. There is an attempt to emphasise the importance of memory as with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yet it becomes lost amongst the various narrative tangents and oddities.

Bizarrely, I Saw You also fails to use the 3D technology effectively. This is the one production within the omnibus where the genre lends itself to fun 3D antics, however the potential isn’t capitalised on, resulting in a rather bland offering.

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉) – ★★★★☆

Su-min (Kim Su-an (김수안) lives a humble life with her seamstress mother (Park Mi-hyeon (박미현) and autistic younger brother. Despite her young age Su-min is often forced to take responsibility for her sibling, and her only respite is to lose herself with the ages of a romantic comic book.

Picnic is a beautifully told, wonderfully charming story of youth and innocence, and is undoubtedly the most accomplished segment with the entirety of MAD SAD BAD. Screenwriter Min Ye-ji has constructed a poignant, sensitive and compelling story regarding those who live on the fringes of society, one which is elegantly depicted by director Kim Tae-yong. Director Kim ‘s uncanny ability to deeply understand and convey his characters motivations is once again apparent as he portrays a frustrated, overburdened young girl with an acute sense of subtly and artistry. Director Kim is also the only director in the omnibus to employ 3D effectively. Picnic features some truly sumptuous cinematography which the 3D technology vibrantly brings to life, particularly scenes of nature as with a pier at sunset and a mysterious forest.

The compulsion of the film rests on young actress Kim Su-an’s shoulders, and she delivers wonderfully. Her performance is continually captivating and displays a quality that belies her youth, proving that her prior films, including Berlinale winner Sprout, were no fluke. Kim’s charismatic performance conveys an adult sense of responsibility and independence alongside a youthful innocence and vitality, generating a deep sense of empathy and that never fails to entertain.

★★★☆☆

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Bory's expedition takes her through new and exciting landscapes

Sprout (콩나물) – ★★★★☆

Sprout (콩나물)

Sprout (콩나물)

Wonderfully charismatic and beautifully told, writer/director Yoon Ga-eun’s (유가은) short film Sprout (콩나물) is a lovely tale of childhood innocence and discovery. The film has proven to be a hit on the festival circuit, receiving the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film in Berlinale’s Generation Kplus competition in 2014, following a premiere in Busan a year earlier.

As a family gathers to prepare for an ancestral rites ceremony, the women in the family work hard to make enough food for all the members attending. Yet when the mother of the household realises she forgot to buy beansprouts, she becomes worried that the family – particularly the nit-picking uncle – will judge her for not preparing for the ceremony correctly. Taking it upon herself to fix the situation, youngster Bory (Kim Soo-an (김수안) collects her savings and sets out for market alone, encountering a world of new discoveries and experiences in her quest for the all-important beansprouts.

Sprout is a deceptively simple and delightful story, and one that is full of the kind of wonder only a child can experience. Director Yoon captures Bory’s tale and range of emotions masterfully as the youngster traverses the exciting-yet-scary landscape in her attempt to find beansprouts and end her mother’s suffering. In a sense the short film embodies the format of classic Greek myths with Bory as a young contemporary Ulysses on a crusade of her own, encountering challenges she must overcome to fulfill her expedition.

Bory meets a group of elderly residents that cause her to lose track of her quest

Bory meets a group of elderly residents that cause her to lose track of her quest

Moments when the tenacious youngster confronts obstacles in her path, meets strangers, and attempts to sneak past a frightening labrador contain a childlike epic sensibility and are constantly endearing and heartwarming, while Bory’s resourcefulness and determination never fail to inspire joy at witnessing her development.

Young actress Kim Soo-an is simply marvelous as Bory. It’s a tall order asking such a young child to carry an entire twenty minute film yet she does so with beguiling ease, performing an astonishing array of emotion during the short running time. As she encounters new experiences, confrontations and develops problem solving skills Kim Soo-an displays sincere curiosity and wonder throughout, conveying a charm beyond her years.

If criticism must be applied to Sprout, it is in the execution of the finale. After organically building Bory’s wonderful tale of exciting new experiences, director Yoon seems to be at a lose for how to end the story naturally. That is not to say the conclusion is bad as it still retains the charm embodied throughout the short film, yet it is an ending that would have benefited from an extra few minutes to conclude Bory’s story with more consistency.

Bory's expedition takes her through new and exciting landscapes

Bory’s expedition takes her through new and exciting landscapes

Sprout is a lovely and endearing tale of youthful innocence. Writer/director Yoon Ga-eun has crafted a very charming and deceptively simple story of a girl on a quest through her neighbourhood for beansprouts, with the new experiences she encounters constantly heartwarming. Young actress Kim Soo-an is marvelous as Bory, displaying sincerity throughout the twenty minutes running time with performance beyond her years, carrying the film with aplomb. In short, Sprout is a lovely, beautifully told story of discovery.

★★★★☆

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