Seen in Jeonju

Don’t Look Back (2006)

8th November 2011

74920This past weekend, my friend suggested that we watch one of my DVDs. He mentioned that he hates horror films but anything else was ok except that he was not in the mood for anything depressing. After browsing through the movies I have, he pulled out this film. I was a little surprised and asked why he wanted to see this.. It contains no action, has no famous performers and is basically an unknown, arthouse film which I thought he would have no interest in as, in the past, he has raved about such movies as Avatar and the Transformer series. “Why” I asked, “did you pick this?” “Because everyone looks so happy on the cover,” came the answer.  Ah, Gi-wook…haven’t you learned to read the back of the DVD box?  Tweaking the old adage a little, ‘never judge a DVD by its cover.’  True, the people on the cover look happy and every poster made to advertise the film at the time of its release shows the three main characters smiling brightly. However, that is only the cover. The movie, an omnibus made up of three short stories, contains a suicide, a character considering suicide, a stagnant life, a failed romance, a crushed dream, a dead marriage and the lead up to a probable double murder.  

The first story is about twenty-one year old Jeong-hee who lives with her older sister.   They were abandoned by their father fifteen years earlier and the sacrifices that the pair have had to make in order to survive left them with very different characters. The sister is a little on the mousy side and has turned to religion to find her strength. In contrast, Jeong-hee has developed a very tough exterior and could be considered rather selfish. When her sister wants to move to a better apartment, Jeong-hee whines, drags her feet and ultimately forces her sister to take the one and only place they look at with disasterous results. She also lashes out at her father when he reappears at her sister’s request with tragic results.

In the second story, we spend time with poor, likable Geun-woo who is having trouble at work. His place of employment is caught up in a labor dispute, but that is a little beyond his ability to comprehend. In fact, that barely holds his interest. He is far more interested in the girl in the pink dress whom he has been eavesdropping on with telephone testing equipment. He has been listening and watching her romance with another man as if it were a televised soap opera and he can barely stand it when when she is told by her lover that he wants to break up. After beating up the other man in a singing room, he summons up the nerve to introduce himself to the girl in pink. It is the most awkward intro ever and becomes even more uncomfortable as we realize the woman of his dreams is nothing like he imagines her to be.

The final story is about In-ho, a man who has joined the army later than most. After two years doing his mandatory military service, In-ho is now on the verge of re-entering society. However, it seems society did not wait for him. People have grown and changed while he was gone. His wife is now a professor as is another acquaintance he new in grad school. One friend jokingly states that it seems everyone is a professor now except In-ho which leaves a bitter taste in In-ho’s mouth.  Worse, his suspicions about his wife meeting another man are confirmed when she confesses to him. She strongly implies that she will not be there when he is finally discharged. In-ho’s sullen expression and underdog demeanor hid a growing frustration and resentment that seems about to explode.

When watching this movie it is extremely important to listen to the radio announcer. She often is filling in events that we did not see in other stories such as the fire Jeong-hee sets, a certain person’s suicide and a strange incident that police are uncertain was an accident or a double suicide. We know better..but it is helpful to realize that Naejeong Mountain is in Jeongeub. 

In the last story, I pointed out to Gi-wook about the radio news and how it was linking the story and he made me pause the DVD as he excitedly processed the information and was able to guess how the characters’ stories conclude, particularly In-ho’s story,  even though we never see it on film. It turns out that he loved a film that made him think to find the answers rather than just being able to turn off his brain and watching the action unfold on the screen. “Now I know why you like indie films,” he said and wanted a list of other movies I could recommend.

Don’t Look Back is that kind of eye-opening film and is a great way to spend two hours. Just don’t be fooled by the happy posters or DVD slip-cover. I don’t think there was a happy character in the entire film…

Comments are closed.