Seen in Jeonju

Themselves (2011)

2nd March 2012

themselvesAlthough Themselves was released just last year, chances are that you have not heard of it.  It is a low-budget film that received a very limited release. I was interested in seeing it because of actress Ko Soo-hee.  You may remember her as the woman who cooked and ate her husband in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and more recently in a supporting role in the film Sunny.  Her performances have always been memorable and her characters are interesting, even when just playing bit parts. I looked forward to seeing her in a leading role.  I was far less familar with her co-stars..The first is Jeon Ji-hwan aka Jay who plays the blind Tae-seong in this film.  “Jay” is a singer in a struggling boy band, The Boys of Super Space (DaeGuk Nama) that has been around for a while and has released two albums, but has not yet made it big. This is his first film. The other main character is played by Kim Jin-yi whose last film was Rush back in 1999– a film I owned on VHS at one point but for the life of me I can remember nothing about it…   I was not familiar with director Yoon Tae-shik either as he had only two short films to his name prior to Themselves.  So the presence of Ms Ko was really the only reason I was interested in this film.  Unfortunately, while her acting is as excellent as always, it was her character that was the only problematic area of an otherwise satisfying film.

Oh– before I continue, I should warn you that this review will contain spoilers. However, as the DVD does not contain English subtitles, I do not think the majority of the readers of this site will have the opportunity to be exposed to this film and will need to worry about them.

The movie begins when Jin-yi reaches a breaking point and steals a car belonging to the lover of her two-timing boyfriend who has left her pregnant and alone.  It was not a premeditated crime and she really has no idea where she is headed when she accidently runs into a blind young man who was crossing the street in the middle of the night. Shocked at what she has done, Jin-yi offers to take Tae-seong to the nearest hospital to treat his injuries, but his reaction is one of fear, followed by a strange trance-like state that she gives in to his pleas not to go and treats him herself with bandages. Out of guilt, she agrees to take him where he wants to go… but he keeps extending the length of their journey until they are well out of the city.

Due to Jin-yi’s chronic problem of not watching the road while driving, we are introduced to Soo-hee who, like Tae-seong, is struck by the stolen vehicle. Soo-hee is a boxer who has fallen in love with her handsome coach.  However, because of her appearance and the fact that her trainer does not really think of her as a woman, she is afraid to confess her feelings. Her emotional state has become so depressed over the belief that she may never find love, that she has decided suicide is her only option.  She travels with Jin-yi and Tae-seong for a day and after a night of drinking, attempts to kill herself, but she is found by her new friends and revived.

From this point, the three begin to trust and open up to each other and realize that none of them are what they appear to be on the surface. All except Tae-seong. They learn that his older brother is after him with some unsavory character and are attempting to take him to the hospital against his will. Jin-yi and Soo-hee never question why, they just do their best to protect their new friend… and in one of their cases, her new lover… from the threat Tae-seong’s brother seems to present. 

That fact that Tae-seong never trusts them or is completely honest is one minor fault I had with the screenplay as the other characters reveal themselves as the English title of the films implies they should, but as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I had a larger concern. It concerns how Soo-hee was depicted by the script and camera work. The theme of this movie asks us to look beyond what we see on the surface to see the true characters of the people onscreen. Jin-yi is not simply a bar girl who has been knocked up. Tae-seong, in one surprising moment (I literally caught my breath when it happend) indicates he might not be completely visually impaired. And Soo-hee is more than a massive athlete and is at heart a scared, lonely woman.  However, her size is where the film reaches for the rare laugh and it is misplaced.  Her fight scenes against gangsters and Jin-yi’s cheating boyfriend are slowed down with her ’comically’ slow, deep roars of anger sounding like a bellowing bull than an angry human.  The point of this film was to humanize the characters and I felt she was not treated with the same respect at points in the film as the other two leads were.

However, that is not to say it is a bad film.  It is in fact, quite good and I enjoyed watching it. I especially liked how the script gave such depth to each of the characters and the director was able to pull layered performances out of the actors.  I look forward to what Yoon Tae-shik has in store for us in the future.  He has shown the potential to be a great, dramatic director who possesses the skill to create character-driven films.  It is just too bad that the lack of subtitles will limit the number of people who can see and understand this film.

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