Gi-tae (played by Lee Dong-hwi) hails from a fairly obscure rural region of South Korea and sought to come make his fortune in Seoul. Like so many thirty-somethings in South Korea, his plans didn't really work out. So as Gi-tae returns home, forced to take up employment in a weird old movie theater, he has to take stock of his life at a crossroads. Why did he want to go to Seoul anyway? And why does he feel like such a failure, when his fairly modest ambitions were just to get a normal job?
"Somewhere in Between" is oddly pleasant in its open acknowledgment of the meaninglessness of life. While Gi-tae in Seoul is evasive about his true ambitions in life, there's a kind of blunt sincerity in his conversations back home with theater proprietor Mr. Oh (played by Lee Han-wi) that's admirable just because it's a change of pace. As it turns out Mr. Oh doesn't even like old movies that much, and we get the impression that many of the titular movie theater's patrons are just tourists anyway.
In "Somewhere in Between", there's insecurity over South Korea's toxic employment culture in general, as well as insecurity over film specifically as a remedy for that. An aimless romantic subplot involving Yeong-eun (played by Lee Sang-hee), a woman who works at a local Chinese restaurant, typifies this. Both the allure of Seoul and the allure of film are often illusory distractions for an unsatisfying rural life outside the big city.
But why is it so awful to live outside a big city? It's interesting watching Gi-tae come back home under the assumption that he should feel ashamed and angry for failing to make it in Seoul, yet slowly struggling to come up with an explanation for why he should feel ashamed and angry in the first place. The nice part about being back home, and having a relatively non-intensive job, is that Gi-tae has a lot of time to think over these questions without having to worry about the answers.
Consequently, Gi-tae mellows a lot. Where he starts "Somewhere in Between" off in a needlessly confrontational stance with his family, with every passing smoke break Gi-tae unwinds just a little bit about how modern life is so thoroughly obnoxious that he really needs these smoke breaks. They're a form of meditation for him, with the movie theater's constantly changing murals themselves a metaphor for the passage of time, most bluntly characterized by the final one referencing "Peppermint Candy" in its most iconic pose.
The point being made by "Somewhere in Between" is that we really don't need a "Peppermint Candy" style moment of near suicide to seriously take stock of our lives. Indeed, thinking in such overly dramatic terms is counterproductive. It encourages us to believe that we have failed entirely by not being sufficiently dramatic. And that's just not the current life experience for men like Gi-tae, who make up an increasingly large portion of the population not just in South Korea but other capitalist nations as well.
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] "Somewhere in Between""
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