Seo-yeong (played by Jang Liu) is being crushed under the weight of having to work miserable jobs in order to pay for her mother's medical expenses. Her physically handicapped older brother Yeong-joon (played by Jin Yong-wook) is capable of working, but business at the small sewing company where he works is not going well. The relationship between brother and sister is further strained by vile suggestions Seo-yeong pushes in order to deal with their poverty.
"A Blue Mouthed Face" is a pretty generally miserable movie. It is not a melodramatic movie, although there are plenty of melodramatic elements. The main thing Seo-yeong has going for her is the ability to maintain calm composure in the face of hardship or bullying. But even that really just isn't enough in the face of massive economic hardships, and systemic abuses which are incentivized by certain corrupt powers.
Take the Buddhist monk who Seo-yeong has to ask for recommendations. Nearly every single action or line of dialog is violating the tenets of his faith, and eventually we see that the guy can be just plain mean even when there's no personal benefit to acting in such a way. For all that the monk doesn't act particularly evil, so Seo-yeong never has any kind of falling out with him. Indeed, that Seo-yeong is getting such explicitly mercantile advice from a man who is supposed to be her hypothetical spiritual advisor demonstrates the kind of mental strain she's under.
What makes Seo-yeong an especially sad character is that she's not particularly interesting or sympathetic. Seo-yeong does not go out of her way to antagonize people, yet even in hesitation and under duress Seo-yeong doesn't have much of a moral compass. Seo-yeong is ethically bankrupt, having prioritized financial well-being over spiritual well-being, and so lacks any kind of meaningful authority. It's little wonder Yeong-joon does not listen to her.
But don't let the fact that Yeong-joon is handicapped trick you into thinking he's much better. Yeong-joon's lack of a mean streak is mostly a consequence of how he lacks opportunities to lash out. Given the chance Yeong-joon absolutely will demean other people, however unintentionally. Yet the whole world lashes out unintentionally at Yeong-joon by a pretty steady clip. It's kind of hard not to. He lives in a ramshackle neighborhood with little wheelchair access, and disgruntled co-workers have to physically carry Yeong-joon inside the sewing shop.
For all this bleakness there are a couple of moments of hope- both of which are short-sightedly dashed by Seo-yeong and Yeong-joon, for the same fundamentally selfish reasons. They lack faith in other human beings, and are overly proud of their own capabilities even as chronic failure has led them to their current low point. The irony being that they both consider begging for succor from a higher authority to be more dignified than joining their fortunes to persons who have suffered similar defeats in the game of life. Even if defeat is inevitable, better to fail together than to fail alone.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Blue Mouthed Face""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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