Park Jung-bum seems to be on a roll, since, after the excellent "Height of the Wave" last year, he directs another impressive film that seems to follow on the contextual footsteps of Kim Ki-duk and especially "Address Unknown" and "Pieta", although without the intense depiction of violence.
Ji-soo is the daughter of a small-workshop owner, who has forcibly included her in his Sisyphean life of never ending production of a specific amount of pieces. Ji-soo has to produce 500 every day, a job that does not leave her time for further education or any kind of social life for that matter. Her only way out is rapping in a nearby square for her sole fan, Jeong-cheol, a rather strange man whose life mainly consists of collecting garbage and picking into other people's lives. The two of them strike a peculiar relationship, but when Ji-soo finds herself leaving her house, after another argument with her father, she steals all his money and presents them to an underboss of a local prostitution ring, where she, eventually, becomes the "leader" of the girls, who happen to be former schoolmates and friends. At the same time, her only friend her age, Won-ho, after getting fired from his delivery job, also enters the ring, and the two of them embark on a trip of self-destruction that leaves a number of victims on their path. At the same time, Jeong-cheol desperately tries to save them all, instigated by the ghost of his father, who seems to be with him at all times.
Much like "Address Unknown", Park Jung-bum directs a film about hopeless victims that roam around the world aimlessly, eventually succumbing to crime and paranoia as the only way out of a world that does not seem to either need or even want them. However, his look is not exactly a sympathetic one, since he creates a world that almost every person who inhabits it is cruel and/or violent. Ji-soo suffers a lot, but eventually becomes a true dictator of the prostitutes she commands, using violence to dominate them. However, one can hardly blame her, because these girls first "tortured" her themselves, actually contributing significantly to the person she eventually becomes.
Her friend also is a victim of violence from the members of the gang, but as soon as he joins, he becomes equally or even more violent himself, as he gradually succumbs to madness. The people who live close to the tents the gang uses as living grounds do nothing as bad in terms of their actions, but the fact that they think their money can make the people around them and particularly the young prostitutes, do anything they order them, even hitting each other, also makes them despicable. Ji-soo's father is a victim of the era, as the fact that the Chinese provide the same product for cheaper prices has put a strain on his line of business, but the fact that he has placed his daughter under the same strain, also detracts from the sympathy he could gain.
Through all these stories, the director seems to make a direct comment about the lack of parenting contemporary Korean youths have to face, and the consequences of this phenomenon. With the exception of Ji-soo's father, who barely treats her as his daughter, but more like his employee, the rest of the young protagonists' parents are nowhere to be found, with their absence being the main medium of Park's comment. Furthermore, the only decent person in the film seems to be Jeong-cheol, whose father is the only parent present, even if only in his imagination.
Lastly, Park makes a comment that states that for people, and particularly youths to change, they have to hit rock bottom first, and even then, they would need some help from people who care more about them than themselves (again parents).
The presentation of all these comments unfolds with some delay, and at times, the film seems to lag somewhat unnecessarily. However, Park does not allow it to do so to a point that becomes tiresome, and the many and different characters help the most in that regard. Furthermore, the fact that he did not allow the film to become another "8 Mile" (or "Gully Boy" if you prefer) is definitely a tick to the pros column, and adds to the already established originality of the production.
The focus of the movie is on realism (despite the imaginary father part) and this extends to all its aspects. The cinematography of Kim Jong-sun focuses in this aspect, in an effort to portray the world the protagonists inhabit as realistically as possible. His artfulness however, is also evident, and exemplified in the framing of the scenes where Jeong-cheol is "stalking" the married couple. The depiction of violence communicates the message, but is stripped of any shock elements, thus differing from Kim Ki-duk's approach of similar subjects. Cho Hyeon-ju's editing also moves along the same lines, allowing the story to unfold in a relatively slow pace.
Moon Ye-ji portrays Ji-soo's frustration that turns into anger and inevitably violence excellently, with her transformation being one of the best parts of the narrative. Park himself portrays Jeong-cheol in an almost timid manner that suits the Samaritan nature of the character perfectly, while it is also impressive that his character is beaten a number of times, in scenes that might as well be very real. Park Jong-young portrays Won-ho's transformation, which actually goes even further that Ji-soo's in equally convinving fashion
"Not in This World" may be a bit too long, but the context, the writing, the direction and the acting are top-notch and actually justify its duration.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Not In This World""
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