A TIME WHEN HE MADLY LOVED SOMEONE BUT THINGS JUST DIDN’T GO HIS WAY
"I'm going to continue to see you"
Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong are both eighteen and in love. During winter break they go to the beach to celebrate their 100 days together as a couple. But once they come back from their trip, they are forced by their parents to never see each other until they become college students. Mi-jeong begins to avoid Tae-hoon afterwards. And Tae-hoon begins to wander around Mi-jeong. Winter turns to spring, and Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong both turn nineteen.
There was a time when the world was full of restrictions but you couldn’t do much about it. This film is dedicated to my high school years: a time when I madly loved someone, but things just didn’t go my way. I have finally come to terms with my past. Rest in peace, my teenage years.
2007 Seoul Film Commission Independent Film Production Support Program
2007 Gyeonggi Film Commission Independent Film Production Support Program
2007 KOFIC Independent Film Production Support Program
2008 KOFIC Subtitle Translation and Print Production Support Program
28th Vancouver International Film Festival - Dragons &Tigers Award (2009, Canada)
35th Seoul Independent Film Festival - Independent Star Award (2009, South Korea)
45th Pesaro International Film Festival - Nouvo Cinema Award (2010, Italy)
1st Anaheim International Film Festival - Best Feature Film (2010, USA)
4th The London Korean Film Festival (2009, UK)
39th International Film Festival Rotterdam (2010, Netherlands)
35th Hong Kong International Film Festival (2010, Hong Kong)
12th Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (2010, Argentina)
2nd CPH:PIX Film Festival (2010, Denmark)
28th Filmfest Muenchen (2010, German)
27th Jerusalem International Film Festival (2010, Israel)
MoMA(The Museum of Modern Art, NY) "Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today" (2010, USA)
12th Seoul International Youth Film Festival (2010, South Korea)
20th Focus on Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival (2010, Japan)
14th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (2010, Canada)
Korean Cultural Office, Australia "Cinema on the Park-Korean Film Night" (2013, Australia)
Korean title: 회오리바람
English title: Eighteen
Original language title: Hoeori-Baram
Country of production: South Korea
Year of completion: 2009
Color or B&W: Color
Running time: 95mins
Written and directed by Jang Kun-jae
Cast: Seo Jun-yeong, Lee Min-ji
Executive producer: Jang Kun-jae
Producers: Kim Sol, Kim Woo-ri
Cinematographer: Lee Hyung-bin
Location sound: Kim San-jeong
Editors: Lee Yeon-jeong, Jang Kun-jae
Music: Kim Tae-sung
Production, distribution & international sales: MOCUSHURA
Review / Interview
Lost count of the number of times this impressed me. The opening shot is stunning enough, and that cut to '3 months earlier...' even more so. But throughout, Jang Kun-Jae's uncommonly deft script and formal precision continued to move and disorient: a tossed off "They'll kill me" turns literal during a family meeting; a supposed last meeting between the lovers has Tae-hoon smoking and crying as Mi-jung sits, quietly asserting: "I'm going to continue to see you"; disorienting cuts and bathroom mirrors used for maximum impact during a beating; a routine delivery turned low-key motorcycle chase; and so on. Small detail that might have struck me as absurdist had it not been for personal experience: when Tae-hoon is told that Mi-jung has taken a trip to and from the Philippines (which is plausible given the noticeable, thought not sizable number of Koreans who traveled to the Philippines as I was growing up, often staying for short periods of time to learn English). Reserving more detailed comment for a second viewing, but this is the kind of film that both scares and excites me, since it's in danger of lapsing into obscurity, but also proof that there are endless troves of cinema to explore. In any case, an astonishing debut.
by Lawrence Garcia (August 30, 2016)
There are many objective things to say about Jang Kun-Jae’s phenomenal achievement in Hoeoribaram, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I frame this essay more subjectively. I’ve had three small (non-religious!) epiphanies with this film in the past year, and recalling them may say as much about the film as it does about me.
Before going on, though, we should note the irony that the making, the international festival screenings and the Korean release of Hoeoribaram all take place against the backdrop of yet another crisis in the Korean film industry. I say “yet another crisis” because anyone who can remember back more than three years knows that crises have recurred at regular intervals in Korea’s film business ever since it began to expand in the mid-1990s – mostly, I think, because of chronic mismanagement and lack of long-term planning in Korean film companies.
Will Hoeoribaram replicate the success at home and abroad of Yang Ik-June’s Breathless (Ddongpari)? Yang’s film clocked up around 130,000 ticket sales in Korea and distribution sales in all the most important international markets, including North America, Japan and France. Yang was able to repay his debts and has enough profit left over to start developing his next project. Hoeoribaram already has a distribution deal in Canada, which it picked up after winning a major prize in Vancouver Film Festival, and I hear that Dutch distributors are also interested after seeing the film recently at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Jang’s film is only now coming into distribution in Korea and it hasn’t yet been offered for sale in any of the major film markets, so we have no way of knowing how successful it may be in the coming year. But if it matches Ddongpari, it will be another film immune to the ‘crisis’ in the Korean film industry. I hope it is. The fact that both Jang Kun-Jae and his wife/co-producer Kim Woo-Ri worked with Yang Ik-June on his early short film Speechless might be a good omen.
Back to my own experiences with Hoeoribaram. I first saw it in the KOFIC office last summer when I came to Seoul to look for films for the Vancouver and London festivals. KOFIC’s international department had kindly announced my visit on its website, and many film-makers had sent in their films for me to watch. When I arrived, there were more than 200 films (both features and shorts) waiting for me, and more came in during my stay. My first small epiphany with Hoeoribaram came when I started watching it. The first shot made me sit up and pay full attention, cutting through the exhaustion that sets in when you spend whole days watching films.
On the face of it, there’s nothing unusual about the shot. It shows the empty forecourt of a gas station at night; a boy pulls in on his motor-scooter, buys some gas and drives off; the camera, unmoving until now, pulls back ahead of him in a reverse tracking-shot which shows the scooter accelerating along the night road. What made me sit up was the control of film language: it’s a well-planned and executed shot with no editing, which goes from a static position to a moving one. Better still, its pacing is perfectly judged. And it looks very beautiful: the shift from the gas-station forecourt bright with reflected city lights to the darkness of the road is very striking. In short, the shot takes a simple, everyday action and gives it slightly expressionist overtones; in this, it prefigures the way the film as a whole will work. Seeing this shot makes you feel that you’re in the hands of a director who really understands film language.
The second small epiphany occurred in Vancouver, when the film won the juried Dragons & Tigers Award. (It’s a cash prize given to “a film which has not yet won significant international recognition, made near the start of a director’s career”; past winners include Hong Sang-Soo and Lee Chang-Dong, in both cases for their debut features.) Jang Kun-Jae was there to receive it, together with Kim Woo-Ri and his lead actors Seo Jun-Yeong and Lee Min-Ji. My job in Vancouver includes curating the competition, and so I’m not allowed to have favorites; I liked all eight nominees, which included another Korean indie film, Kim Ji-Hyun’s excellent feminist feature Cats (Koyangideul). But I have to say that I was very pleased by Jang’s win, not least because of the way Jang had been treated by the Pusan Film Festival – “the hub of Asian cinema” as it nowadays calls itself.
A programmer from Pusan saw the film and offered to screen it in the festival – but only on condition that the screening would be the world premiere. Since Jang had already promised the film to Vancouver, he declined. The film was not shown in Pusan. Now, there are many reasons to like and respect PIFF, which has done wonderful work through PPP and the Asian Cinema Fund to support young indie directors. But when did PIFF become a festival which tries to bully directors and puts its own ‘status’ ahead of the quality of the films it shows? Something very wrong there. My epiphany in Vancouver was seeing Jang Kun-Jae’s very honorable behavior rewarded. The film’s success in Vancouver also led to the appearance of its first (highly positive) review in a western magazine: a piece by Filipino critic Noel Vera (a member of the jury for the award) in the Canadian magazine Cinema Scope.
The third small epiphany happened very recently, in early February, when I was asked to introduce Jang Kun-Jae to the audience at one of the film’s screenings in Rotterdam Film Festival. I was worried when I realized that the festival had scheduled the film on its biggest screen: how would this small indie film look on such a large screen? My fears were misplaced. It looked great. Lee Hyung-Bin’s excellent cinematography met the challenge of filling a very big screen. And the audience reaction in Rotterdam was no less warm than it was in Vancouver.
Of course I’m pleased that my own enthusiasm for Hoeoribaram has been echoed by audiences, critics and distributors in Canada and the Netherlands. But I’m not surprised. The film’s storyline is simple and universal. A couple of high-school seniors, Kim Tae-Hoon (played by Seo Jun-Yeong) and Park Mi-Jeong (played by Lee Min-Ji), have made an illicit overnight trip to the seaside together during their winter break. When they get back to Seoul, his parents are mildly concerned but her father goes through the roof: he becomes violent and forces the boy to sign a promise that he will not see the girl again until they have both graduated from university. The rebellious Tae-Hoon repeatedly tries to break the promise, but Mi-Jeong starts thinking twice about disobeying her parents. Despite Tae-Hoon’s heartfelt pleas and the gift of an expensive necklace, the relationship begins to break apart.
Anyone who has ever had an illicit high-school romance and suffered parental rage will recognize this story as well-observed and truthful. But it’s precisely because the story is so commonplace that Jang has sensibly shifted attention away from what happens to how and why it happens. He tells the story in flashback, to eliminate any element of suspense, and cunningly heightens reality in some scenes to suggest mindscapes which would be hard to present dramatically. None the less, the film is fundamentally naturalistic, and much of the pleasure of watching it springs from recognizing the accuracy of its social, psychological and sexual perceptions. There’s enough detail here in the behavior and dialogue to keep a team of sociologists and psychoanalysts busy for some time.
Jang says that the story is more-or-less autobiographical, at least in inspiration, and that explains why the film is primarily focused on the boy, Kim Tae-Hoon. His struggle to keep the relationship with Mi-Jeong going, against all odds, provides the film’s narrative drive. His refusal to accept her decision to break with him is counterpointed by his increasing difficulties with other social interactions, from a penny-pinching attempt to avoid paying in a video-game shop to evading criticism for spilling slops from the Chinese food he delivers part-time, and from his awkwardness visiting a hospital to see the man he knocked over while speeding on his motor-scooter to his resentful submission to the teacher who wakes him up, drags him to school and gives him corporal punishment. You could easily read the film as an account of a young man cracking up as he goes off the rails.
Unlike many other Korean films, though, this one goes out of its way to respect female points of view. The women characters are certainly less central, and given less screen time, but they are never less than credible people. Mi-Jeong turns to girlfriends and throws herself into schoolwork to help herself withstand what she comes to feel is sexual harassment from Tae-Hoon. Both mothers show greater strength of character than their husbands. Even the classmate who contrives to not give Mi-Jeong’s new cellphone number to Tae-Hoon is vividly sketched. And the unauthorized winter break which provokes the entire story survives at the end of the film in Mi-Jeong’s memories as she sits panting after a demanding exercise session in the school gym. (She’s also still wearing the necklace that Tae-Hoon gave her, we note.) This has an especial poignancy, because two earlier flashbacks-within-the-larger-flashback to scenes on the winter trip have been linked with Tae-Hoon’s memories, not hers.
Still, it’s ultimately Jang’s film language which makes Hoeoribaram so special. The control of color, the framing and pacing of the shots, the decisions about where and when to move the camera, the delicacy and subtlety of the non-realist elements (like the sea breeze which stirs Mi-Jeong’s hair as she sits in the school gym) – these all testify to the emergence of a formidable talent. If you need more evidence, compare the film’s two montages of Tae-Hoon riding his scooter along the freeways of Seoul and see how the first skillfully sets up the ruinous second. It’s a pleasure to welcome another fine director to Korea’s pantheon.
By Tony Rayns (March 4, 2010)
[특별기고] 영화언어에 능통한 감독을 발견하다
토니 레인즈, 과의 세번의 운명적 만남을 회상하며
장건재 감독의 이 거둔 괄목할 만한 성취에 대해 많은 객관적인 사실들을 나열할 수도 있지만, 이 글은 좀더 내 주관적인 관점에서 쓰려 한다. 지난 한해 동안 나는 이 영화와 세번의 작은(그러나 절대 비종교적인!) 현현의 순간을 겪었다. 그 순간들을 되돌아보면서 과 나에 대해 이야기해보겠다.
내가 이 영화를 처음 접한 것은 밴쿠버와 런던영화제에 상영할 영화를 선정하러 지난해 여름 서울에 들렀을 때다. 내가 도착했을 때는 이미 장편과 단편을 포함해 200편 이상의 영화가 기다리고 있었고, 서울 체류 기간 동안 더 많은 영화가 도착했다. 첫 번째 현현은 내가 을 보기 시작한 그 순간에 왔다. 영화의 첫 번째 장면은, 하루 종일 영화를 보고 나서 지쳐 있는 가운데서도 나로 하여금 벌떡 일어나 앉아 집중해서 보도록 만들었다.
그렇다고 그 장면에 아주 특별한 무언가가 있었던 것은 아니다. 그 장면은 어두운 주유소의 텅 빈 앞마당을 보여준다. 소년이 거기에 오토바이를 세우고 석유를 넣고 떠난다. 그 순간까지 멈춰 있던 카메라는 반전된 트래킹숏으로 그의 앞쪽으로 돌아가 밤길을 따라 속도를 내며 달려가는 오토바이를 보여준다. 내 정신을 번쩍 들게 한 것은 영화언어에 대한 정확한 통제와 조율이었다. 이 장면은 정지되었다가 움직임으로 전환되는, 편집없이 치밀하게 계획되고 잘 실행된 장면이다. 더 훌륭한 것은 타이밍에 대한 정확한 판단이다. 이 장면은 아름답다. 도시의 불빛을 반사하며 밝게 빛나는 주유소 정면에서 도로의 어두움으로 전환되는 순간은 숨이 막힌다. 짧게 말하자면, 이 장면은 단순한 일상적 움직임에 다소 표현주의적인 톤을 입혔다. 이 장면은 앞으로의 영화가 어떠할 것인가를 암시한다. 이 장면을 보는 것만으로도 이 영화를 만든 이가 영화언어를 제대로 이해하고 있다는 것을 느낄 수 있다.
밴쿠버와 로테르담에서 좋은 평가를 받다
두 번째 작은 현현의 순간은 이 영화가 용호상을 받은 밴쿠버에서였다. 이 상은 “감독의 초기작으로 현재까지 국제적인 명성을 얻지 않은 영화”에 상금을 수여한다. 홍상수 감독과 이창동 감독 모두 그들의 첫 번째 영화로 이 상을 수상한 바 있다. 나는 장건재의 수상에 대해 기뻐하지 않을 수 없었다. 특히 이른바 ‘아시아영화의 허브’라 자칭하는 부산영화제가 그 영화를 다룬 방식을 생각할 때 더욱 그러했다. 부산영화제 프로그래머도 을 상영하고자 했으나 월드 프리미어 상영이어야 한다는 조건하에서였다. 장건재 감독은 이미 밴쿠버에서 상영하기로 약속했기 때문에 부산의 초청을 거절했다. 따라서 이 영화는 부산영화제에서 상영되지 않았다. 물론 PPP와 아시아 영화펀드를 통해 젊은 독립영화감독들을 지지해온 부산영화제의 여러 업적은 존경받을 만하다. 그러나 언제부터 부산영화제가 감독들을 이처럼 골탕먹이면서 영화제에서 상영되는 영화의 질보다 자신의 ‘지위’를 앞세우는 그런 영화제가 되어버린 것인가? 무엇인가 크게 잘못되었다. 밴쿠버에서의 현현의 순간은 장건재 감독의 무척이나 명예스러운 행동이 보상받는 것을 지켜본 것이다.
세 번째 작은 현현의 순간은 아주 최근, 로테르담영화제의 상영에서 내가 장건재 감독을 관객에게 소개하도록 요청받은 2월 초였다. 영화제의 가장 큰 스크린에서 영화를 상영하게 되었다. 이 작은 독립영화가 그렇게 큰 스크린에서 과연 어떻게 보일 것인가 나는 은근히 걱정하지 않을 수 없었다. 내 걱정은 기우에 불과했다. 이형빈의 촬영은 커다란 스크린을 채우는 도전에 끄떡없었다. 로테르담에서의 관객 반응은 밴쿠버에서만큼 뜨거웠다.
물론 에 대한 나의 열정이 캐나다와 네덜란드의 관객, 비평가와 배급업자들에게도 통한 것에 대해 기쁘게 생각한다. 그러나 한편 이런 반응은 어느 정도 예측 가능한 것이었다. 영화의 이야기는 단순하고 보편적이다. 고등학교 상급생인 김태훈(서준영)과 박미정(이민지)은 겨울방학 동안 둘이서 몰래 바닷가로 하룻밤 여행을 갔다 온다. 그들이 서울에 돌아오자 태훈의 부모가 조금 걱정을 하는 데 반해, 미정의 아버지는 화가 머리끝까지 나서 폭력적이 된다. 그는 소년에게 둘 다 고등학교를 졸업할 때까지 다시는 만나지 않겠다는 약속을 하라고 강요한다. 반항적인 태훈은 계속해서 그 약속을 깨려 하지만 미정은 부모의 말을 따르지 않을 수 없다고 생각한다. 태훈의 진심어린 부탁과 값비싼 목걸이 선물에도 불구하고 그들의 관계는 금이 가기 시작한다.
고등학생 시절 몰래 연애를 하다 들켜 부모의 성화를 겪어본 사람이라면 누구나 이 이야기가 얼마나 잘 관찰된 진실어린 이야기인지 느낄 수 있을 것이다. 그러나 이야기가 이토록 평범하기에 장건재 감독은 무엇이 일어나는가보다 어떻게 왜 이런 일이 일어나는가에 초점을 맞춘다. 플래시백으로 전개되는 이야기에는 서스펜스가 없지만, 드라마로 표현하기 어려운 감정적인 상황을 보여주는 몇몇 장면에서 교묘하게 그 사실성을 고조시킨다. 그럼에도 불구하고 영화는 근본적으로 자연스럽고, 영화를 보는 또 다른 즐거움은 사회적, 심리적, 성적인 느낌의 정확성에서 온다. 여러 행동과 대화에는 일군의 사회학자와 심리학자들이 한동안 바쁘게 연구해도 충분할 만큼의 디테일이 있다.
자전적인 이야기를 영화적으로 재치있게
장건재는 영화의 이야기가 다소 자전적이라 한 바 있다. 이것은 왜 영화가 소년 김태훈에게 초점을 맞추는가를 설명해준다. 온갖 어려움을 무릅쓰고 미정과의 관계를 유지하기 위한 그의 노력이 영화의 내러티브를 이끌어간다. 그와의 관계를 끝내려는 미정의 결정을 받아들이려 하지 않는 그의 거부는 다른 사회적 상호작용들에서 그가 겪게 되는 어려움들과 맞물린다. 비디오 게임 가게에서 돈을 안 내려 한푼이라도 아끼려는 노력부터 그가 아르바이트로 배달하는 중국 음식의 국물이 흐른 것에 대한 비난을 회피하려는 노력. 오토바이를 타고 속력을 내다가 치게 된 사람의 병문안을 가야 하는 불편한 상황부터 그를 깨워서 학교로 끌고가 체벌을 가한 교사에게 화가 나면서도 복종해야 하는 상황까지. 영화는, 정도를 벗어나면서 여기저기서 깨지기만 하는 젊은이에 대한 이야기로 쉽게 관객에게 다가간다.
그러나 다른 많은 한국영화와 달리 이 영화는 여성의 관점을 존중한다. 여성 캐릭터들이 다소 주변적이고 영화는 상대적으로 적은 시간을 이들 캐릭터에 할애하지만, 그렇다고 이들이 믿지 못할 인간으로 그려지는 것은 아니다. 미정이 여자친구들에게로 돌아가 학교 공부에 집중하는 이유는 그녀가 성적 희롱이라고 느끼게 된 태훈의 행동으로부터 자신을 지키기 위해서다. 양쪽 어머니들은 아버지들보다 훨씬 더 강한 캐릭터를 보여준다. 태훈에게 미정의 새 휴대전화 번호를 알려주지 않으려 하는 반 친구마저 생생하게 묘사된다. 그리고 전체 이야기의 시작이 된, 허락받지 않고 떠난 그들만의 겨울 여행은 미정의 기억으로 영화의 끝에 살아남는다. 학교 체육시간에 힘든 운동을 끝내고 앉아서 가쁘게 숨을 내쉬면서 미정은 그때를 기억한다. 이때 미정은 여전히 태훈이 준 목걸이를 하고 있다. 전체 플래시백 안의 이전 플래시백에서 겨울 여행 장면은 태훈의 기억으로만 나타나기에 이 장면은 특히 통렬하게 다가온다.
을 특별한 영화로 만든 것은 궁극적으로 장건재의 영화언어다. 색의 통제, 숏들의 프레임과 페이스, 어디에서 언제 카메라를 움직일 것인가에 대한 정확한 결정, 비현실적 요소들을 다루는 섬세함과 예민함(미정이 체육관에 앉아 있을 때 미정의 머릿결을 흩어놓는 바닷바람처럼), 이 모두가 대단한 재능을 갖춘 감독의 부상을 증명해준다. 더 많은 증거를 원한다면, 영화에서 태훈이 서울의 도로를 따라 스쿠터를 타고 가는 두개의 몽타주를 비교해보라. 얼마나 완벽하게 첫 몽타부가 파괴적인 두 번째 몽타주로 이어지는지 확인해보라. 또 한 사람의 훌륭한 감독의 이름을 한국영화의 신전에 올리게 되어 더없이 기쁘다.
글 토니 레인즈 (2010년 3월 4일)
The beauty and innocence of young love might be the greatest hoax perpetuated by the mainstream media. A couple walking hand in hand together while surrounded on all sides by a bucolic setting, two lovers sitting in a warm cozy diner with a straw in each of their mouths while they share a milkshake, or the hustle and bustle of a crowded noisy street muted by two lovestruck individuals stealing a kiss or embrace. The young and not so young are fed these cliché images to the point that artists can’t help but regurgitate them back to their respective audiences. The romanticism that was first born from the mind of Goethe has mutated into the “Hallmark moment”, sappy, sentimental, and dangerous. At it’s most idealistic, young love offers a safe haven for youths who’ve experienced the joy and elation of caring and feeling protective over someone other than themselves, but at its worst it can be an easy excuse for self-absorbed and destructive behavior.
In Jang Kun-jae’s debut, Eighteen (Hwioribaram, 2009), these two distinctive poles are examined through a very familiar story of young love that ought not to be. Yet, unlike many Korean romantic melodramas this is not a linear narrative charting a relationship from meet-cute to break-up. In fact, it begins months after the break-up. It is a post-mortem love story told mainly through flashback, blending cinema-verite with splashes of magic realism. The young couple in the film are normal run-of-the mill Korean teenagers: they’re attached to their smartphones, they’ve got school and parents badgering them about college, and their idea of the future doesn’t stretch any further than a few months. There is nothing distinctive about their lives or personality.
The boy Tae-hoon is, like all young bucks, impulsive and emotional but it doesn’t take long to realize that he truly is in love with Mi-jeong (Lee Min-ji). When we first catch sight of the two he is busy playing the provider, begging random people he sees on the street for some money to buy train fare for both of them while Mi-jeong stands several yards away passively watching. This very un-masculine show of affection is funny but it also illustrates a very important theme throughout the story: the realities of modern day life are a constant threat to young love.
The couple’s return from their honeymoon vacation is the beginning of the end of their relationship. Mi-jeong’s father calls Tae-hoon’s parents for a meeting, but in reality a confrontation. Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong are forced, like criminals, to write down what they did together. They are both questioned and they both fail to give the correct answers. Irate, and with a belly full of whiskey to fuel him, the father attacks and the couple are forever split apart. They make promises to see each other on the sly, but it’s all wishful thinking. In a traditional narrative the young couple would commit suicide or run away, but Jang’s film is about the quiet tragedies of life.
For the rest of the movie we are witness to Tae-hoon’s seemingly bottomless descent and never-ending misfortune. Full of hope at the beginning of their forced break-up he texts and messages Mi-jeong constantly but her unresponsiveness propels him to quit school. He gets a job, but that doesn’t bring him any closer to Mi-jeong and he soon starts to make a series of blunders that cost him his employment. His actions: impulsive, erratic, and selfish, don’t help us empathize with him. In fact, watching the film I began to hate him. Tae-hoon’s immature juvenile angst at not being able to see Mi-jeong and non-stop spitting would have been grating if it were merely one-note, but Seo Jun-young is clever enough to blend those familiar annoying teenage tics with that of a boy trying to woo the girl of his dreams into liking him again. A perfect example being the scene when Tae-hoon goes to a jewelry store to purchase a necklace for Mi-jeong, finding the perfect gift for her he inspects the necklace he’s chosen. In long shot we watch as Tae-hoon cups the necklace in his hand and inspects it like a little boy. Next, we catch him at McDonalds writing a little note to give her along with his present. And finally a scene with him outside Mi-jeong’s after school academy waiting to catch her and give her his present. During these three scenes we are witness to the last embers of Tae-hoon’s love for Mi-jeong rekindled for a few brief moments and then extinguished.
As for Mi-jeong she is more of a mystery. Jang doesn’t devote a lot of screen time to her, and the majority of scenes that Lee Min-ji does have are centered on Mi-jeong reacting to another character. She rarely expresses her opinion and though seemingly in love with Tae-hoon she quickly calls the whole relationship off, scared of what the other man in her life, her father, would do if he caught the two together. The only time Mi-jeong allows her emotions to boil over is a telling scene between the only female characters we see her interact with throughout the film, her mother and her sister. In front of these two her rage cannot be contained and she lets out a flurry of slaps, jabs, and kicks. The milquetoast Mi-jeong finally fights back, but her rebellion is short lived. After this, Mi-jeong becomes like a zombie, the part of her that dreamed and felt happiness having either died or pushed so deep inside her that it's all but lost.
Interspersed in-between the dissolution of Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong’s relationship are snippets of their winter trip together. Jang visualizes these scenes mainly as choppy smartphone footage and shows us an alternate universe where the two lovebirds are together and happy. Yet by the end of the film Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong are no longer together. However, Jang doesn’t give us a typically sad ending as the two are seemingly healthy and their lives look to be back to normal. Their brief romance now just a happy, sad, painful series of events that live on in their memories.
By Rex Baylon (November 8, 2012)
The agonies and occasional ecstasies of high school infatuation are vividly recalled in “Eighteen,” the impressive debut feature of South Korean cinematographer-turned-director Jang Kun-jae. Exceptionally well-acted by Seo Jun-yeong and Lee Min-ji as young Seoul lovers separated by disapproving parents, the DV-shot pic won the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema at the Vancouver fest and deserves to travel far on the basis of Jang’s culturally specific yet widely accessible approach to near-universal themes.
Kim Tae-hoon (Seo) is a stubborn, volatile young man who delivers Chinese food on a motor scooter. His girlfriend, Park Mi-jeong (Lee), works hard in school and generally obeys her strict parents, but agrees to go away for the weekend with Tae-hoon during winter break.
The initial consequences of this impulsive decision are revealed in the film’s most indelible scene, as Mi-jeong’s parents, having gotten wind of the kids’ escapade, invite Tae-hoon and his folks to their home to discuss matters. In a sequence both hilarious and horrifying, Mi-jeong’s dad forces each lover to fill out an extensive questionnaire regarding his or her recent activities so the father can examine the two reports and check for discrepancies. Then Dad suddenly goes berserk, forbidding the young lovers from seeing each other again.
The film’s tone darkens significantly from here, as depressed Tae-hoon tries to borrow money at a local arcade and is beaten by young toughs, and later hits a pedestrian with his scooter. All the while, he refuses to accept the new terms of the relationship, tapping on Mi-jeong’s bedroom window at night and later contriving to stalk her during her sessions with a tutor. Such is Tae-hoon’s off-putting behavior — and the girl’s stated desire not to see him anymore — that the audience can’t help hoping against hope for the young man’s obsession to fade.
Jang’s many long takes contribute greatly to a languorous, melancholy mood that some viewers will recognize from their own teenager-in-love histories. Digital-video shooting is plenty rough around the edges, which suits the heartsick vibe as well. Alas, a couple of odd surreal touches near the end of the film obscure, more than enhance, Jang’s generally enthralling narrative. Other tech credits are appropriately raw.
By Rob Nelson (October 27, 2009)