South Korea, 2010, 127 min
Jeong Seung-chul lives at the edge of a demolition pit in the sprawling outskirts of Seoul. Recently emerged from a resettlement program, the number “125” on his identity card brands him to employers and the authorities as a North Korean refugee—unwanted in South Korea. Winter, grim and gray, covers Seoul, and the only work he finds is poster-pasting for a sleazy promoter—a dangerous living beset by gangs and turf violence. Seung-chul’s bowl haircut and defensive posture stand in sharp contrast to his roommate, the cocksure Kyung-chul, whose easy adjustment to capitalism embraces Nikes, speeches for cash and money-transfer deals at steep commissions. “Through Seung-chul I wanted to show what a person needs to do to survive in this society,” says director Park Jung-bum, who plays the lead in his debut feature. Powerful visuals of gritty streets, yawning urban chasms and neon shopping malls underscore Seung-chul’s marginalization and his precarious struggle to survive with decency intact. A starkly rendered moment in which he protects a stray white puppy mirrors his own sincerity and bewilderment when attacked. Seung-chul finds comfort in a local church and is drawn to a pretty choir member, Sook-young. As they work together in her family’s karaoke bar, his incapacity for cynicism ignites trouble with customers and with Sook-young. Park’s ethical protagonist leads us to reflect on the complex world of modern Korea and pushes us to examine our own modern lives.
Presented in association with Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). New Directors Prize Contender.