Seen in Jeonju

The Story of Mr. Sorry (2008)

15th November 2009

story of mr sorryIn October 2009, the Korean Academy of Film Arts released a box set containing four projects of their graduating class.  Among the films was one animated feature entitled The Story of Mr. Sorry.  While I may write fairly often about animated movies from earlier decades, most Korean animations from the last ten years or so, with the exception of Oseam, have left me cold.  I was unsure what to expect with Mr. Sorry, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The animation is relatively low-key and in a style that reminded me of Rene Laloux’s film The Fantastic Planet (1973).   Actually, this new movie shares more than just style with that classic movie.  Both contain quite a bit of surrealism and more than  a few symbolic images and characters which depict modern society in a rather critical light. And qhile The Fantastic Planet depicted a race of doll-sized humans revolting against their giant masters, The Story of Mr. Sorry involves a man shrunken against his will to serve the business aims of his boss.

The story begins on a strange note.  A bizarre gameshow is underway hosted by I. M. Heartless and panelled by various political figures and ‘experts’. The gameshow, To Kill or Not To Kill, is a trial of sorts where viewers call in to decide whether the defendant should be executed on air or set free. This is the programs first broadcast and the defendant in this case is a hideous spider which is accused of driving an important politician incurably insane.   The spider emerged from the politician’s nose and the only other person present at the time was Mr. Sorry who has mysteriously disappeared.

The movie then backtracks to give us Mr. Sorry’s story.  He is a lonely, timid young man who works as an Ear-Cleaner (a totally fictional career).  His company both gives assignments to its workers as well as sending them door-to-door to attract random customers. As the job implies, the ear-cleaners professionally scoops out earwax from his clients for money. As an ear-cleaner though he is not much of a success and most of his customers are very unsatisfied with his work. We learn that the only reason that he entered the field was because he older sister used to clean his ears for him when he was a child and it those times are the happiest memories Sorry holds. Sadly, Sorry’s sister disappeared years ago and he has no idea how to find her.

Then one day the company owner takes an interest in Sorry because of his timid nature.  He is called into the office and given a ‘vitamin’ package.  However, the pills he begins taking begin shrinking him.  For the first couple of days, Sorry doesn’t notice as his clothes become looser and more ill-fitting and he finds himself growing weaker and weakder.  When his shoes become to big for him to walk in though, he goes to the company doctor and is given the same vitamin pills his boss supplied him with. The result?  One day, Mr. Sorry finds himself rapidly shrinking to about half and inch tall and struggling for his life within the ear of his client.

Now able to crawl into people’s ears, Mr. Sorry becomes an instant celebrity and much-sought after ear-cleaner. He makes tons of money for his boss who keeps the tiny man in a dollhouse.  Mr. Sorry thinks that life cannot get any better until he accidently discovers that their is a door from the ear canal into the subconscious of people.  Learning how to cross the barrier, Sorry gains insights into each person he meets that seems to explain their actions in real life (such as the body builder’s secret well of tears or the accountant’s secret loss).  He cannot cure people’s psyches, but he understands them better.

Not everything he learns is pleasant however as he learns in the subconscious of a young girl who hold incestuous thoughts towards her father. This causes Sorry to question his own motives in finding his sister and his actions towards her in the past. He learns far more than he wants to however, when he enters the ear and subconscious of the handsome and powerful Highes T. Peak.  It is there that Sorry learns something about his sister and more than he ever wanted to know about himself.  And meanwhile, there is the fate of the spider and how it all connects.

The Story of Mr. Sorry is an enjoyable film and is available with English subtitles in the KAFA boxset.  It was written and directed by Kwak In-geun, Kim Il-hyeon, Ryu Ji-na, Lee Eun-mi and Lee Hye-yeong.  I look forward to seeing what these young filmmakers will come up with in the future.

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