Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 16 News List

Seoul bearers

After co-directing the 2006 hit comedy ‘Like a Virgin,’ South Korean Lee Hey-jun shows off strong directorial skills in his solo debut, a clever look into the lives of two social misfits

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

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South Korean writer and director Lee Hey-jun’s Castaway on the Moon begins with an immediately gripping premise: A would-be suicide becomes a modern-day Robinson Crusoe on a deserted island in the middle of one of the world’s most densely populated metropolises. His story then intersects with that of an oddball female shut-in who prefers the confines of her own room to the world outside.

Using little more than these two characters, Lee ingeniously spins an original yarn that is part survivalist adventure and part refreshingly intelligent romantic comedy. Suit-wearing salary man Kim (Jung Jae-young), jobless, in debt, and dumped by his girlfriend, becomes convinced that death is the only way out of his dreary position in life. He jumps off a bridge into Seoul’s Han River, but awakens to find himself washed upon the shore of Bam Island, an uninhabited natural sanctuary in the middle of the river.

Unable to swim or attract the attention of potential rescuers, Kim is left with no choice but to stay on the island and learn to feed and shelter himself in isolation, against the backdrop of Seoul’s metropolitan skyline.

His new life on the island — one without bosses, credit cards and cell phones — seems to suit Kim and he gradually settles in, learning how to catch fish from the river, planting a vegetable garden and putting the city’s flotsam to good use.

Ms Kim (Jung Ryeo-won) hasn’t left her bedroom in three years and spends most of her time online or taking photographs of the moon. Then she spots Mr Kim on the island. The two begin a tentative exchange that involves writing words in the sand and sending messages in a bottle — delivered in an amusingly unconventional way. As time goes by, a bizarre romantic relationship develops between the two, begging the question: Can they really find happiness together?

FILM NOTES

Castaway on the Moon

Directed by: Lee Hey-jun

Starring: Jung Jae-young (Mr Kim), Jung Ryeo-won (Ms Kim)

Language: in Korean with Chinese subtitles

Running time: 116 minutes

Taiwan release: Today


With the Korean title that literally means “Castaway Kims,” the film makes observations on the modern way of life through its portraits of these two misfits. Their social isolation is arrestingly accentuated by background images of Seoul’s towering skyscrapers and bright city lights, all so close yet so far away, capturing the essence of modern alienation: The overwhelming loneliness people can feel even while living in such close proximity to each other.

Yet the film’s biggest strength lies in its seemingly effortless blending of weighty social commentary with humor and romance. The ample supply of clever lines, physical humor and sparkling fantasy sequences keep the narrative’s momentum alive and kicking throughout the film, and Lee’s neatly polished script manages to tell a tale of irresistible attraction without drifting into the realm of sappy love stories.

The small but winning cast contributes significantly to the movie’s wit and charm. Veteran thespian Jung Jae-young strikes a fine balance between lunacy and despair, and pop singer-turned-actress Jung Ryeo-won also delivers a solid performance, flexing enough acting muscle to propel the story through its second half.

Though the film flounders a bit toward the end with a less-than-original conclusion, director Lee’s Castaway on the Moon proves that one doesn’t have to sacrifice intelligence for the sake of entertainment, or vice versa.

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