The story of "Off Road" centers around a bank heist gone wrong. The overriding joke is that it's pretty obvious from the beginning that there's no correct way to do a bank heist. Yes, the movies tend to give us a lot of flash about the daring ne-er do wells who try to succeed through this kind of work but really, bank heists are the last resort of the desperate, They're for people who feel like they have nothing to lose, and lack the impulse control to more carefully consider their actions.
This puts main character Sang-hoon (played by Jo Han-chul) in a very awkward spot. He's generally a fairly calculated man with enough sense to not try and get himself killed unnecessarily. Unluckily for him, that's not how the situation works out. Still, given what we find out regarding Sang-hoon's formerly white collar backstory...well, there just weren't any real options available to him. That's what life is in the end- the illusion of control.
On one end "Off Road" is pretty grim. Exactly one named character manages to end on a note approximating a happy ending, and they don't accomplish this through sheer plucky grit. It's just that by the time we get around to the ending, only one character has any hope of actually using the money, because they're the only who isn't necessarily facing the inevitable specter of death and humiliation.
Yet there are some cheery spots. Most of the filming takes place in the Jeolla province, and as road trips go, "Off Road" is a pretty accurate look at the Korean countryside. It's also an unusually accurate summation of the road trip experience- Sang-hoon doesn't meet eccentric personalities and go on wacky adventures. Mostly he just engages in conversation, and ruminates on past life experience wondering how he got to this point.
"Off Road" is not an especially articulate film, though. The characters behave thuggishly, and even irrationally, but their lashing out is less a function of vindictiveness as it is a comment on their general hopelessness. A loaded gun makes for an essential plot point, just by its rarity. The gun can kill- it is a constant threat. Yet for people with no hope, who are willing to give it all up for the hope of enough money to start a new life- to such people, is death itself even that big of a deal?
There's a sweet sort of elegy in watching the characters of "Off Road" slip into an eternally hopeless yet optimistic state of mind, climbing up their Stairway to Heaven. Of course, it's obvious from the beginning that once the violence has cleared and everything has settled nothing about this situation can possibly end well. "Off Road" is both the first and last ride for its characters- unpleasant enough to not warrant repeating, yet probably better than the slow death that had been previously mapped out. Its moral choices don't come with serious introspection or guilt, but rather the feeling that, well, it's not like playing by the rule was going to work either.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Off Road" + DVD Giveaway"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads from the website (not for episode and movie videos) for US$0.99 monthly or US$7.99 yearly (you can cancel anytime). The first step is to be a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show up.