live by night, but it is far from romantic.
They are the marginalized human debris that washes up on Seoul’s mean streets.
A runaway Thai mail order bride and a would-be street criminal will find
temporary solace in each others’ arms, but the brief moments of respite never
last in Yoo Ji-tae’s Mai Ratima (trailer here), which screens
tonight during the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival.
Ratima Tanawat has not enjoyed her time in Korea. Sponsored by her brother-in-law to marry his
mentally challenged brother and to work in his factory, she has not received wages
for the last six months. Of course, his
sexual harassment continues unabated.
Unable to send money home to her sister and Alzheimer’s-stricken mother,
Tanawat finally confronts her brutish brother-in-law, who quickly turns
by their altercation, aspiring thug Soo-young intercedes on her behalf. Assuming her bridges are burned, Tanawat
agrees to accompany him to Seoul, where he thinks he has an illicit deal in the
works. Unfortunately, Soo-young’s
prospects quickly turn sour. For a
while, they share some comparative domestic bliss squatting together, but it is
clearly not sustainable. There is never
the illusion a happily-ever-after might be possible for these two. The real question is how bad will it get?
so good times for everyone. Old Boy actor Yoo (who started cutting
his director’s teeth with shorts like Out of My Intention) really pulls out the stops guilt-tripping his country for
its exploitative immigration policies and intolerant attitudes. He blends street level grit with periodic
flights of stylized fantasy, which do not always mesh well.
Park Ji-soo makes good on Yoo’s heart-and-mind changing program, almost
single-handedly. The Korean actress is
completely convincing as the Thai guest worker, from her tentative, soft-spoken
command of the language, to her heartrending fear and guilt. This ought to be a career-making star
turn. Bae Soo-bin does not quite pull
off Soo-young big, climatic emotional payoff, but he develops some touching
chemistry with Park in their quiet scenes together. While her subplot often feels like it was
lifted from another film, television star So Yoo-jin still scorches up the
screen as Young-jin, the manipulative party girl who recruits Soo-young for a
sordid boy-toy club gig.
Essentially, Yoo’s mistake comes when he divides
his two leads midway through the film.
As good as So Yoo-jin might be in a colorful supporting role, the time
spent away from Park Ji-soo’s title character just cannot compete with her poignancy
and sense of urgency. It is worth seeing
Mai Ratima solely for her work. Recommended for those who with a taste for
naturalistic cinema with a blistering point of view, Mai Ratima screens tonight (8/23), tomorrow (8/24), and Sunday
(8/25) as part of the 2013 World Film Festival in Montreal.
Labels: Korean Cinema, MWFF '13, Yoo Jin-tae