Bobby (played by writer/director Bobby Choy) is an aspiring Korean American singer/songwriter in New York City who works as a moderately successful telemarketer by day. "Fiction and Other Realities" takes us through a low point in Bobby's life as he experiences existential dread at the apparent meaninglessness of his existence. It doesn't take much prodding from his more successfully musical friend Billy (played by Todd Goble) to get Bobby to take an impulsive trip to the homeland of his parents.
South Korea is not, to be emphasized, Bobby's own homeland. His spoken Korean is adorable, but clearly unaccustomed to daily use. Nevertheless, Bobby feels at ease in South Korea, fetishizing the country just a bit more than he should. But "Fiction and Other Realities" isn't really a movie about Koreans. It's a movie about being Korean, and how Bobby's apprehension about standing out too much in American culture is dissipated by being in a country where he can instead blend into a crowd.
It's highly ironic framing- Bobby is able to escape the stress of individuality and really blossom as a singer/songwriter largely by being able more effectively conform. Where Bobby is never taken seriously as a musician even by Billy in New York City, where Asians can't be rock stars, no one in the Hongdae district of Seoul thinks that it's odd for Bobby to introduce a slow sad song with trepidation. We see over time how Bobby even deals with explicit conflict better. It's easier to take rudeness in stride if you know someone's not being racist.
The concept of race-based alienation isn't an easy concept to get across...well, anywhere really. Remember microaggressions? Which is why I particularly appreciated the way Bobby Choy effectively communicates the idea of feeling oppressed without there being a particularly obvious oppressor. Like, Billy's pretty clearly a racist jerk. But he does at least mean well. And it's genuinely sweet how by the end of the movie Bobby can take Billy's off-color comments in stride, simply because he has a better developed sense of self-confidence.
I also liked how the budding love story with busking grad student I-na (played by Im Hwa-young) is less a proper romance as it is a chance for Bobby to learn to open up about himself. Bobby's a nice guy. He can be stupid, and he can say the wrong things, but I-na can tell that his love of music is real. I-na can also tell that Bobby doesn't have any ulterior motives, because Bobby doesn't really have any motives to begin with. That's kind of the entire conflict. His life is adrift.
The generally aimless nature of the story doesn't really help much when it comes to dynamic plotting. After a certain point all we're really doing is watching Bobby hang out with other characters, talk about identity, eat weird food, drink Korean alcohol, and play a song. Sometimes these are literal in-continuity songs. Other times we get montages. But whatever we do get, there's more going on with the subtext than the actual text.
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] "Fiction and Other Realities""
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