Regret is the driving emotion behind "Little Prince"
(Eorin wangja), director Choi Jong-hyeon
's debut feature, loosely inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupery's most famous novella known for the wise-cracking fox who says, "It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important". The Korean movie puts a reverse spin on the line: a sound-effects technician Jong-cheol (Tak Jae-hoon
) does NOT spend time with his family -- a fatal mistake that he deeply and constantly regrets.
The healing process begins when he comes across a pure-hearted child, modeled after the world-renowned French story. But it is a bit of a stretch to compare Jong-cheol's encounter with the boy with the one in the original "Little Prince"
. After all, the Korean movie does not feature the rose the Little Prince really truly loved or the fox he famously tamed. Jong-cheol is no pilot, either. But the overall plot -- an adult learning something from an innocent kid -- is roughly in the same category of a fable rich in symbolism.
In the movie to be released on Thursday, an urban fable begins with Jong-cheol's self-contradicting life. He makes a living producing various sound effects for movies; he juggles different gadgets and props to create sound that is more realistic than, well, natural sound. This requires a high level of auditory perception. Yet Jong-cheol is a tone-deaf -- not to sound for movies, but to the voices of his son and wife.
He rarely spends time around his family. When he does come home, he sleeps on the sofa, not in the bedroom. He does not care about vacationing with his own family; he does not go with his son and wife for a holiday visit her parents' house. Nor does he get a distress call from his wife seeking help.
Fast forward the plot a bit, and Jong-cheol meets Yeong-woong, a boy who cares about fish in general and a baby shark, named "Shakil", in particular. The two hit it off well not least because Jong-cheol sees his own deceased son in the boy who has sensitive ears and can identify his friends by the mere sound of their footstep.
Yeong-woong's gifted ears also help restore some warmth in the deeply depressed man, touching off a new " taming " process to which Saint-Exupery's fox points out as key to human relationships.
But the taming zigzags for a while as Jong-cheol keeps revisiting his failed relationship with his loved ones and blaming himself for a tragic incident. He had missed something essential in life, preoccupied with his "busy" career, evoking Saint-Exupery's grown-up characters. Like the Conceited Man, he wanted to be admired by everyone, but led a lonely life. Like the Drunkard, he drank heavily to forget. Like the Businessman, he was constantly busy counting the sounds he thinks he owns.
All with other earth-bound adults who see things with their eyes only, Jong-cheol failed to see his family's real needs for his affection. His belated realization that he could not reverse the clock to reunite with his son and wife generates searing guilt and regret.
Jong-cheol struggles to pull himself out of the emotional abyss by taking care of the boy who has a sick heart and yet keeps his warm heart open for Jong-cheol.
In the movie, singer-turned-actor Tak seems as serious as he can get, but he is still less than convincing as a complex character who supposedly embraces an internal transformation. In contrast, Kang Soo-han
, a promising eight-year-old actor who has already three TV dramas under his belt, seems to have a firm grip on his role, outclassing his adult counterparts. Children, after all, have the gift of seeing the invisible with their hearts, while grown-ups rely only on their eyes -- or ears in Jong-cheol's case.
By Yang Sung-jin