Kap-suk SeoJin-ah KimDae-woong Choi
Bongja
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Cheol-su Park
Writer: Jeon-han Kim
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea
Actor: Kap-suk Seo, Jin-ah Kim, Il-woo Kim, Dae-woong Choi, Kyeong-jin Min, Young-yi Lee, Yun-mi Kim, Ju-ryong Kim
Format: 92 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0261581/
Website category: Asian
Review date: 3 October 2012
It's a South Korean film that I had to fight to keep watching. It's a quiet little slice-of-life movie, except that the characters seem pointless, childish and/or wilfully stupid. It eventually has a body count, but even that's not what it sounds like.
The title character, Bongja, is played by Kap-suk Seo. She's nearly forty, but she lives on her own, supports herself by making sushi and is a member of a religious cult whose leader keeps her behind for solo naked chanting sessions. "Do you have the patience to wait?" "I believe, I believe!" This preacher calls himself UFO31 and claims that Jesus will take his believers to a UFO.
I didn't feel as if I understood the film's first half-hour. I couldn't see where it thought it was going and I found it slightly disturbing. Kap-suk Seo is pleasant in her unambitious, gullible way, but I wanted to get the hell away from her life. Who's that policeman who wants to drive her home? Who's that naked girl (Jin-ah Kim) in her bed? She gets sacked from her sushi-making job and I had no faith that she wasn't going to starve to death and/or end up living in a gutter.
You can't even blame her simple-mindedness on stupidity. She's well-spoken and well-educated. I also liked her taste for Japanese sushi and sake.
Things pick up when Kap-suk Seo and Jin-ah Kim establish a relationship. The shoe-throwing is funny, even if it's soon also kind of painful as it gets ever more childish. My opinion of Seo was still going down, despite its initially low base, but those two made the film more palatable. I liked their friendship. The nudity didn't hurt either.
Then people quietly started dying. Don't get me wrong, though. This isn't a revenge film or anything and it doesn't really have gore. It's just modest, everyday murder that happens out of sight, committed by various different people in the everyday way of things. Nothing unusual about it. Mother-in-law's a pain in the neck? Heh heh. Look at the bereaved daughter-in-law, selling the flat so quickly! Seo and Kim go on with their lives, but there's a Korean filter on things and it doesn't feel particularly out of place when the film ends up going somewhere with an elderly cop, his gun and a roll of duct tape. There are also occasional fantasy hallucinations, e.g. the truck of naked people who in a subsequent shot are really pigs. Kim also dances around a lot in a T-shirt and knickers.
There isn't much more to talk about, really. The story's theoretically going into unpredictable psycho territory, but its protagonist is a gentle, somewhat immature lady on the cusp of middle age. It's at once sweet and faintly abrasive. It's telling a very Korean story, but in such a low-key, laid-back way that it's like watching children.
Well, apart from the fellatio swap. That bit surprised me.
I didn't like this film, but the last half-hour dragged it back from pointlessness (as I saw it) into a admission that there was something here worth watching. Now, I'm glad I've seen it. I think I'd also handle it better on a rewatch. The actors do a decent job, while the director (Cheol-su Park) makes it seem realistic despite some potentially broad material. Incidentally I note that Park has released on average more than a film a year since 1978... with the exception of the decade that followed this one, in which his only release was Green Chair in 2005. How odd. I wonder if there's any connection?
I can't believe this film did well at the box office, but I'd also be surprised if its production team had been expecting that. The characters are sympathetic, but they're also regularly pushing you away. The knife scene, for instance. I wanted them to stop it. Overall, it's a curiosity, at least.
"It's painful. I can't take it. Just let me die."