Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
PSIFF ’14: Juvenile Offender
is it too late to turn your life around and stop being a screw-up? That point
seems to come awfully early for those caught up in South Korea’s juvenile
justice system. To be fair, the system is
not willing to cut many breaks for the main characters of Kang Yi-kwan’s Juvenile Offender (trailer here), one of many
official foreign language Oscar submissions screening as part of the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Buzz programming section.
Ji-gu has had to be responsible since an early age, but he never really got it
right. While taking care of his diabetic
invalid grandfather, he fell in with the wrong crowd and amassed quite a
record. His latest misadventure leads to
a long stretch in the juvenile detention center. While he is serving his time, his grandfather
dies and his girlfriend Kim Sae-rom disappears.
However, the mother he assumed was dead unexpectedly re-enters the
truth, Hyo-seung is not great maternal material. She could possibly pass for
the Korean Blanche Dubois, except she is practically still a child
herself. She has been sponging off her
boss and reluctant roommate, an old classmate who barely remembered her. Naturally,
taking in a surly teenager destabilizes the arrangements. Still, Hyo-seung tries to make it work as
best she can, but she and Jang cannot help sabotaging themselves.
a way, Juvy is like a more
realistically grounded and socially conscious alternative to Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta.
Despite all the crime involved, there is absolutely nothing lurid about
the film. It is resolutely naturalistic,
but also rather understated.
Young-joo (fourteen years old at the time, playing sixteen) has a quiet but
forceful presence as Jang. Viewers have
the uneasy sense he is giving himself an ulcer and could snap at any time. Jun Ye-jin’s work as Kim is also quite
moving. However, former techno-popstar
Lee Jung-hyun is the real revelation as Hyo-seung. The term hot mess perfectly applies to her,
but Jun is never overly showy, eschewing cheap theatrics. Instead, she shows the slipping façade of a
desperate but tragically immature woman trying to keep it together.
Subtlety might be Juvy’s greatest strength and weakness. Obviously, Kang and co-writer Park Joo-young
have a lot to say about the Korean juvenile rehabilitation system (or lack
there of), as well as society’s general attitude towards unwed mothers. On the other hand, all the time allowed for
quiet observation leads to a decidedly slack pace. It is fully loaded with good intentions and
strong performances, but it is still more of a sociological duty than a
pleasure to watch. Recommended for those
with a taste for street-level social drama, Juvenile
Offender screens this coming Saturday (1/4) and the following Monday (1/6)
as part of this year’s PSIFF.
Labels: Korean Cinema, PSIFF '14