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[HanCinema's Film Review] "December"

2013/09/14 | 882 views | Permalink

A certain degree of optimism is pretty much required to start a romantic relationship. A person has to hope, in the first place, that the object of their amour is worthy of romantic aspirations. Additionally, it has to be assumed that, when the crucial moment comes to communicate the unambiguous statement of "I like you", there won't be a painful rejection to endure.

"December" is a careful detailing of the way people can hurt themselves if they let this optimism go too far. An extremely modern film, it details a daily life in which independence supposedly ennobles us in our love lives. If we have nothing to worry about in terms of disapproval from peers and society, and if any option is available to help us attain what we want, then that's good, right?

The trouble is that none of this can overcome that basic barrier of awkwardness. Something that is neither social or cultural, but is rather just the basic fear that maybe we won't really match up to our dreams and it's better to play it safe. To the protagonist in a romantic film, of course, all these rules go out the window. But "December" is no common romantic film. Those unimpressive, bashful moments make up the core of the movie, and we're left with normal, all-too-relatable people who aren't smart enough to engage in the witty banter and insights that would turn their lives into the romantic epic they all too desperately want to have.

This sense of feeling is excellently reflected in "December"s camerawork and backdrops as well. We are constantly placed in stifling, claustrophobic, dark and lonely environments. It's a tremendous contrast to the peppy, cheerful, typically cliched romantic narrative we and the characters expect to exist. This scenery is one of many clues to the story's ultimate direction.

And yet, most of the time, that's not enough. She wants to believe, and we want to believe with her, that this is an actual love story. There are numerous subplots, some on-screen and some only alluded to, that have tremendous relevance to the ongoing situation and lead clues to its inevitable resolution. And yet, to a person who thinks themselves a special snowflake, none of these points are important. The special person will believe themselves to be special, unique, and completely unlike all those other typical people right up until the moment when they are forced to acknowledge that deep down, they are not so different after all.

A great deal of deep thought is necessary to truly appreciate the movie, and its deliberate, steady pacing, in addition to accentuating the apparent eternity in a story that's not actually that complicated, does a lot to accentuate this. "December" invites us to think for ourselves, as the film goes on, what does this particular event mean? What were all those earlier scenes that don't seem clearly connected to any of the characters we see right now? When viewed as a mystery of how all these disparate pieces fit together, "December" is hugely engaging right up until the ending- a final, profound shot that exemplifies all about adolescent life that we truly wish we could forget. That moment when we discover that we are but mortals.

Review by William Schwartz

"December" is directed by Park Jeong-hoon-I and features Shin Myung-jin, Kim Dong-Won-Il and Yoon Shin. It will be screened with English subtitles at the Chuseok Film Festival on September 19th at the Art Nine theater in Seoul.

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