Review: The World of Us (London East Asian Film Festival)

The politics of the playground …

the-world-of-us

“Savour this moment while you can, Jia. If we were in America, this film would be remade as Mean Girls 3 …”

Director: Yoon Ga-Eun

Writer: Yoon Ga-Eun

Cast: Choi Soo-In, Seoul Hye-In, Lee Seo-Yeon

Synopsis

Sun (Choi Soon-In), a shy girl from a poor background, befriends new girl at school, Jia (Seoul Hye-In) whose family is much richer. The girls initially get on like a house on fire, but their different upbringings makes their friendship awkward. Furthermore, Sun is not happy when Jai chooses to befriend Bo-Ra (Lee Set-Yeon), a girl who bullies Sun at school …

Main review

There’s something strangely unassuming about The World of Us that actually makes it quite compelling. The plot itself is quite insular; the ebbs and flows of a friendship between two South Korean girls, over a summer. It’s not a particularly profound story, or one with any overt message. However, The World of Us doesn’t need to be any of these things. It’s just honest about its subject matter.

There’s a real sense of the audience being a fly-on-the wall to the friendship between Jia and Sun, rather than the narrative itself telling the audience what to think. Most scenes are shot as wides, from across roads, or in doorways. There’s hardly any music. It’s a deliberate choice by the director, Yoon Ga-Eun, to just let the story happen. After all, what happens between Sun and Jai might seem trivial to adults, but clearly it’s life and death for these girls at this particular age.

This essence is sold particularly well by the two young leads, played by Choi Soon-In and Seoul Hye-In. Their friendship feels quite no-nonsense, with some very real emotion, but very little melodrama. These two girls had never acted before, so they acted as they would in real life, given the circumstances. It pays off dividends, for the film itself.

Still, the problem with going completely naturalistic is that a sense of the cinematic can be lost, and sometimes story pacing can be uneven. There are a couple of times where The World of Us slows to crawl, which can be a bit frustrating. Furthermore, to get out of those slow moments, the characters suddenly have to act in more inorganic ways, to service the plot.

Nevertheless, those faults are reasonably minor flaws, in what is a surpassingly powerful debut feature film from Yoon Ga-Eun, given that The World of Us doesn’t go out of its way to be loud, or preachy. The World of Us leaves an impact in the mind, for one simple reason. It feels true to life as a child. Petty fights between friends and all.

Pros

  • The two young leads, who had never acted before, are extremely well cast.
  • Yoon Ga-Eun’s directorial technique is almost documentarian, watching the action at  a distance in many case, which works for adults trying to view a child’s world.
  • The lack of music in the film (except in one scene), is deliberate and adds to the realist feel.
  • The script may not be tightly focused, but it catches the internal mechanics of childhood friendships with honesty.
  • The food looks delicious. Everyone seems to be eating ALL THE TIME.

Cons

  • The pacing is deliberately slow, which can be frustating.
  • In a few rare moments, the kids feel like they are acting inorganically for the sake of plot, rather than character.

In a nutshell …

Unassuming and naturalistically directed, The World of Us is about something so trivial to adults, but in the world of a child, is so important. There’s a real ‘truth’ to everything that occurs, particularly because the young cast, who had never acted before, feel real and tangible.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Review: The World of Us (London East Asian Film Festival)

  1. Pingback: Film: The World of Us (South Korea, 2016) – written and directed by Yoon Ga-eun | Suliram – some ideas on arts

  2. A shortish reply because it seems impolite for a reply to be longer than the original article.

    I’ve been intermittently feeling very guilty for not writing something about “The World of Us because during and after the screening I very much wanted to try to say why this was such a special film. But you and Sara Hayden and Sanja Struna have made that a much less important failure.

    I have two disagreements with your review:
    * The pacing is slow, but I didn’t find it in any way frustrating: I was completely held throughout the film.
    * “In a few rare moments, the kids feel like they are acting inorganically for the sake of plot, rather than character.” – That’s not something I noticed, possibly because I was empathising and identifying so much with Sun.

    Much more positively:

    * “There’s something strangely unassuming about The World of Us that actually makes it quite compelling.” – A particularly perceptive comment. My similar thought immediately after the screening was that a very great strength of the film is in what it doesn’t do. For example: no tricksy camera movements, and almost no use of music. I’m not using that as a general artistic criterion (there are superb films which use one or both of those), but here it absolutely reinforces what the film does. And I suspect it’s more difficult to make a compelling work of art by not doing things than by doing things?

    * “The politics of the playground” – After seeing the film I too thought of using the word “politics” to describe the changing relationships between all the young girls in the film.

    * “what happens between Sun and Jai might seem trivial to adults, but clearly it’s life and death for these girls at this particular age“. True, but also one thing that struck me was that with little (or even no!) changes the film also serves as a metaphor (or even as a very direct model) for changing relationships between adults, both in social relationships which are “political” and in “purely political” machinations.

    * “The two young leads, who had never acted before, are extremely well cast.” – They gave superb performances, as did the rest of the cast, adults and children: I was very strongly reminded of a 2008 South Korean film which I admire very much: Treeless Mountain. There are some differences: for example, “Treeless Mountain” was made for children but also has a strong appeal for adults; by contrast, I think “The World of Us” is a film for adults. (And maybe also for older children: I’d be very interested to know how children the same age as Sun and Jia would react to this film.) After the screening I said to Yoon Ga-eun (though the excellent translator at the Q&A) that I’d been reminded in a good way of “Treeless Mountain” and she replied that it was a film she liked very much.

    * Bearing in mind what I said above about my empathy for Sun, during the screening I was thinking this is one of the best films I have ever seen, and – since I was comparing it with films like Sopyonje by Im Kwon-taek (for me one of the two best films ever made) – I was also thinking is it really that good, or is my personal history clouding my judgment? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I would very much love this film to have more UK (and worldwide!) screenings, and that I’d be doing my best to persuade people to see it.

    There’s a longer version of my thoughts on “The World of Us“, with links to several films I was reminded of after seeing it, on my blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s