In the sleepy outskirts of Gangreung, eleven year old Bori (played by Kim Ah-song) lives happily with her family. We see from the first that Bori has some mild resentment of her younger brother Jeong-woo (played by Lee Rin-ha), but this mostly seems to just be because he's the baby of the family. "Bori" transitions softly into familial relations, with a big cuddle-in between family members masking the inevitable revelation that, though Bori herself can hear, the rest of her family is deaf.
Yet writer/director Kim Jinyu wisely avoids unnecessarily overwrought drama, presenting the deaf family as a family first. Their deafness deceptively seems like an afterthought. This is particularly intriguing because as we see, there does not appear to be any deaf community to speak of in Gangreung. All of Bori's outbound friends and family members hear. This helps explain the particular closeness of Bori with her younger brother and parents. They're all locked away in their own world.
Interestingly enough Bori herself doesn't see matters that way. What I interpreted as simple sibling rivalry Bori ultimately concludes is actually a matter of her always permanently being at a distance from her parents because she is not deaf, though her brother is. "Bori" deals a lot with subtle communication. We see how what to us is obviously a happy functional family is, to Bori, permanently flawed, because she can recognize the passionate nuances of sign language and how they're missing from her own filial communications.
Though this is a critical element of the film it's very easy to miss, in part because I don't sign. But "Bori" writ large is quite proud of its status as being a movie firmly entrenched in the deaf community, with the Korean language version I saw featuring Korean subtitles for all the speaking portions. Yet the coming of age story is quite simple and appropriately childlike in construction. Stripped of sensational elements, "Bori"'s own message is simply that the deaf lifestyle is different, containing remarkable nuance.
Indeed, Bori's attempts to make sense of this nuance are the main central point of the conflict that does eventually manage to pop up. Bori is growing up. She's finally starting to notice things that weren't so obvious to her before, asking questions to better understand them. And then, equally appropriately, Bori simply repeats her questions when she dislikes the implications of what she has been told. Bori is sneaky but not very good at it, since she's been raised in a loving household where sharing is warmly encouraged.
It's all enough to make one very envious, honestly. Take the beautiful backdrop of the beach town where Bori lives. There's an easygoing atmosphere that is contradicted yet emphasized by the big festival which takes place early on. Discussion of this festival makes clear, once more in truly effectively subtle fashion, that deaf people too enjoy fireworks. Likewise, we learn how Bori herself is a mess of contradictions, and slowly see the arc forming of how Bori must grow up by making sense of these contradictions.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Bori""
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