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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Hunger"

2020/09/26

Maybe it is a bit too early with just 4-5 films, but it seems that S. Korea is experiencing its own "weird wave" (as Greece did some years ago) with titles like "Maggie", "Fallen" and "The Interviewees" falling under this category. The same applies to "Hunger", Kang Dayeon's debut, that uses the sci-fi basis to speak about social issues through a mash up of genres that is disorienting as it is interesting.

The story takes place in a world divided in two parts: The Building City, where the rich live, and the Hachon, where the poor live. Yoo-ji is a teenage girl living with her parents in the former, but her life is anything but content. Her best friend, Seo-jin has disappeared from the building and her parents do not seem to care for her or her siblings, frequently leaving her to take care of them while they stay away for days. Yoo-ji desperately tries to find a sense of purpose in life, since her status and the constant search for wealth and "prosperity" her parents consider their sole goal does not satisfy her. When a disastrous tornado hits both the city and the countryside, the girl finds an opportunity to escape her mundane life, although the trip she undertakes is not exactly what she imagined.

The first thing one notices in "Hunger" is the excellent cinematography and set design. From the extremely polished setting of the Building City (where the frame of the stairs definitely stays on mind), to the woods, the roads, the image of the tornado and the finale in the dark that is much reminiscent of a stage play, everything is presented with undeniable artistry.

Regarding the narrative, Kang Dayeon directs a film that uses the differences between the haves and the have-nots to make a number of social and philosophical comments, particularly regarding how a young girl is experiencing and shaped by such a setting. The fact that Yoo-ji seems completely unsatisfied with her life states that riches and a comfortable life may not be enough, as the sense of companionship, belonging and the search of a purpose in life emerge as much more important values. At the same time, Kang criticizes parents for their lack of parenthood and guidance towards the new generation, as both of them are presented as completely focus on retaining their status, wealth and on the perpetual search for riches, thus neglecting their own family. The cynicism with which they leave a teenage girl to care about her younger siblings is shocking, and a distinct sample of their attitude that actually justifies the way Yoo-ji feels.

The way Kim Yu-na portrays all the aforementioned is excellent, with her highlighting both her detachment and her various needs in the best way, while the apogee of her performance comes during the one-on-one finale.

The combination of narrative and visuals also allows Kang to build a world that is sci-fi as it is surrealistic, creating an atmosphere of disorientation that may alienate the more mainstream viewers, but is actually quite intriguing if one takes a closer look at the whole way the film is set up. The adding of a rather lengthy road-movie part adds even more elements to both narrative and visuals, while it also gives a dystopian sense to the movie that also benefits the overall atmosphere.

Weird, experimental, unusual are definitely words that characterize "Hunger" but at the same time so do beautiful, intriguing, interesting and original. Kang Dayeon seems like a director that will keep us busy in the future.

Review by Panos Kotzathanasis

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"Hunger" is directed by Kang Dayeon, and features Kim Yu-na, Choi Yoon-woo, Ha Si-yeon. Release date in Korea:  No release date in Korea yet.

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