The story starts with So-hyeon, who starts writing letter that is presented in the form of narration, about her missing boyfriend Jung-ho, whom has been waiting in a motel. As soon as she realizes that he is not coming back, she slits her wrists in the bathtub, but before she is dead, Jane, a transvestite, enters the room also searching for Jung-ho and saves her. Furthermore, Jane takes So-hyeon under her wing, and introduces her to a number of other misfits, who function as a family under Jane's matriarchic care: Ji-soo, Dae-po and Jong-goo. So-hyeon starts feeling comfortable in this " family " (actually parents are never present in the film, which occasionally looks like a dystopia where only 20-something individuals without actual families and transvestites have remained) and even idolizes Jane, particularly when he watches her perform in a club. However, Jane also has suicidal tendencies and eventually dies, and her family is split up. So-hyeon is once more alone, but eventually ends up in another family, where Dae-po, Jong-gu and eventually Ji-soo are also present. This one, though, is headed by a young man everybody calls "dad", who is kind of a bully, particularly towards the girls. Eventually, Ji-soo, Dae-po and Jong-gu reappear, with the relationship among the members taking a whole new other turn, much more brutal.
Despite this being her debut, Cho Hyun-hoon decided to implement an intricate and rather unusual narrative, where the story moves in circles, the surrealism is permeating, and the borders between reality and fantasy are extremely thin. Regarding the last aspect, she makes clear from the beginning that So-hyeon, according to her own words, is a liar from birth, and thus, since the story is actually narrated by her, we are never sure what is reality and what a figment of her imagination. By the end of the film, my sentiment was that the first family, the good one, was not real, but just a thought So-hyeon kept in order to avoid thinking of the hardship of her actual family, and the cruelty of the dad. One can never be sure though.
The sense of surrealism is heightened by the fact that the reason all these youths are living together in one house is never revealed, neither the whereabouts of their parents. There is only one scene they are actually mentioned, when "dad" talks about his, in a rather traumatic story. In that fashion, Cho Hyun-hoon, although evidently speaking about the consequences of loneliness and solitude on young people, seems not to care about presenting the reasons that lead to this problem.
The film retains a distinctively indie feeling, which is implemented by the dreamy, subtle (as indicated by all but one scenes where there is violence), but relatively fast pace and the few dialogues. Considering the type of narrative and the permeating surrealism of the movie, Sanja Sturna's editing is absolutely fitting, but does not do much to ease the confusion the story produces. Cho Young-jik retains the radically different atmospheres of the two families, with the one where Jane is in charge being filled with color, and the one where dad is, being bleak and somewhat gloomy. This difference is particularly visible in the burial scenes, with Jane's being rather motley and the other ones very unimpressive.
The acting in the film is on a very high lever, Lee Min-ji portraying the ambiguous, but subtle character of So-hyeon with elaborateness, and despite the laconic nature of the role. Lee Joo-young is quite good in an opposite role, as she is quite vocal in her role. However, the one who definitely steals the show is Koo Gyo-hwan as Jane, who presents a transgender woman that manages to appear as a mother figure, a mentor, and a deeply wounded to the point of being suicidal human being. His key role is exemplified in two monologues, which actually synopsize the meaning of the film. "Life ain't much fun at all. Your misfortune begins at birth and lasts forever. Happiness comes only in bits and pieces. Life is so shitty, so why live alone?" And near the end of the film, "You love someone to have him love you, that's why". Both Koo Gyo-hwan and Lee Min-ji won awards for their performances at the 21th Busan International Film Festival, which were more than justified.
"Jane" has its faults, but it is quite good for a debut, while the performances of the two aforementioned definitely place it on a higher level than the majority of S. Korean Indie films.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "Jane""
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