Do-hyeon (played by Kim Jung-hyun) is a high school gymnast who has trouble getting along with people- he's got this bad habit of getting into fights. His problems are more teen angst than anything else. Do-hyeon's family life, while not miserable, has its problems. Do-hyeon's mother (played by Seo Young-hwa) is suffering from dementia, and his father has moved on to a background role. It's from this backdrop that Do-hyeon sneakily identifies a girl (played by Chae Seo-jin) as Se-yeong- a girl who checks out lots of books at the library where he's been forced to volunteer. These two then slowly progress from mild antipathy to friendship.
Not romance, even if that's what the situation might seem like at first. What makes the characters in "Overman" interesting is that they're teenagers who don't know what to make of life- and they know they don't know what to make of life. It's from this backdrop that the library takes on such prominence. It's filled with books, which are heavy with knowledge- knowledge that might hold the answers to life.
Well, not really. The more we learn about Se-yeong's backstory the more obvious it is that books didn't really do her a whole lot of good. But then it's not just books that are important. It's the sharing of ideas, fears, and intimacies. The film's title of "Overman" is a common translation of Nietszsche's übermensch- not the fascist ideal, but rather the notion that humans can transcend the suffering of their daily existence by aspiring to be the "Overman", the one who creates life and beauty.
"Overman" is in some ways unintentionally hilarious in that it's a movie which uses Nietzsche of all things as a framing device to tell an inspiring story of high school students motivating themselves to do better in life. And yet it also makes sense. Kids like Do-hyeon and Se-yeong have no context with which to view life in an explicitly cynical light except for their own negative life experiences. But this much can definitely be overcome.
It's the optimism that in many ways makes "Overman" so refreshing. Even when writer/director Seo Eun-young dips into dark material like suicide, there's simultaneously this very real sense that Do-hyeon does not have to stand back and let his fate be dictated like this. Yes life can be difficult and yes we might be forced to do things we don't want to do because of circumstances beyond our control. But there are still moments where choice is possible, and the teenage years are too early a time to give up on your dreams.
There are some mild problems with the greater construction of "Overman". The movie isn't really a teen romance even if it looks like one, and the epilogue drags on just a tad too long. For these issues, though, "Overman" is chiefly a film about determination, and how it's important do try to create life and beauty even if you're not totally sure how to pull it off just yet. Even for adults "Overman" has quite a bit of life philosophy work considering, and for that reason I can easily recommend it.
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.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Overman""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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