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[MOVIE REVIEW] Zooming in on the hidden side of youth

2008/04/22 Source

Director Ahn Seul-gi has a discerning eye for Korean youth and their wanderings. As a teacher, Ahn has observed how they struggle to figure out their roles in society where the outlook remains gloomy for many poverty-stricken students.

"My Song Is... " (Korean title: "Na-ui norae-neun") is a small-budget film that Ahn shot and produced during a school vacation period. Though the movie's overall scale is small, the challenges facing key characters are profoundly intense and realistic.

On a cold day, Hee-cheol (Shin Hyun-ho) wakes up to find out he is missing a crucial college entrance exam. His indifferent grandmother has apparently turned off his alarm clock. Frustrated at her carelessness, Hee-cheol vents his anger at his grandmother, but she simply shrugs it off as if nothing important has happened.

In fact, the grandmother's gesture is telling in many respects. Hee-cheol lives with his aloof grandmother at a shabby house in an obscure area of Seoul. His father, a foul-mouthed drunkard, sometimes comes home, but he's never of any help in terms of money and emotional support.

With the hope of entering a college completely gone, Hee-cheol works as a delivery boy for a small eatery shop - a situation that he vaguely senses offers few changes or improvement.

A change in momentum comes when Hee-cheol encounters two college students that are his age, working on a film production project. Yeon-ju (Min Se-yeon), a manipulative female college student and self-styled film director, recruits Hee-cheol as an actor. But his role does not require spectacular talents. After all, what Yeon-ju wants from Hee-cheol is merely the mundane image of him as an obscure delivery boy on a bike.

What's interesting is Hee-cheol's emotional change - and a slight hint of mental growth. At first, Hee-cheol finds the part-time job as a fun activity. But he finds himself comparing his own life with those of relatively well-to-do students. In the eyes of Hee-cheol, the college students equipped with expensive video cameras are living in a different world: schools, identity, money and homes. In contrast, Hee-cheol is not a student, his identity is murky at best. He's also penniless for the most part, and he hates coming back to his home where there is no comfort at all.

Director Ahn puts a spin on the dreadful reality of Korean youth by shooting the picture in mostly black and white. All the images related to the real-life situations in the movie are black and white, while the full colors are used only for the video images where Hee-cheol plays a central character for the college student project. Symbolism abounds when the two contrasting worlds - the dark reality in black and white, and the fictional world in full colors - are intertwined in a way that accentuates the travails of Hee-cheol and the wandering youth generation he represents.

As in Ahn's previous film project, "My Song Is... " has been produced at his own costs, and even staff members have pitched in for the movie to hit a couple of screens. IndieSpace and select theaters in Seoul will show director Ahn's second feature film from April 25.

By Yang Sung-jin

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