A Film a Week - Beyond You / Geudae noemeoe

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

The indie movie scene in South Korea is alive and productive and Park Hong-min is a part of it. After some modest success with his previous works “A Fish” (2011) and “Alone” (2015), he is back with a metaphysical melodrama “Beyond You”. It premiered at last year’s edition of Busan and was selected for the competition of Osaka Asian Film Festival where we had the chance to see it.

The plot of the film runs on some standard tropes like broken family ties. The career-obsessed filmmaker Kyung-ho (Kim Kwan-hoo) meets a young woman named Ji-yeon (Yoon Hye-ri) in the park. She drops a bombshell on him: she is the daughter of his college ex-girlfriend In-sook and he might even be her father. He rejects the sheer possibility of that kind of prospect and the trouble is that In-sook (Oh Mine) suffers from a progressing Alzheimer’s. Intrigued, he follows Ji-yeon to meet In-sook and to try to solve the mystery.

The plot gets messier from there, as it starts moving in circles and creating time loops where all three characters are driven by the senses of loss and regret to some extent. Same scenes play out again to different outcomes and characters appear in one another’s vicinity seemingly for no reason. There are two additional layers of reality in the film, the first clearly being a metaphor using ants as Kyung-ho’s long-standing obsession and the face of his recent fear, while the second one is Kyung-ho’s work on a new script that depicts the situations and relations from his life. A philosophical dilemma rises and remains unanswered until the very end: whether Kyung-ho works on the script based on autobiographical elements or the whole film is an adaptation of Kyung-ho’s fictional script.

The plot seems convoluted to a point that it is not clear what Park and his co-screenwriter Cha Hye-jin are trying to communicate, which becomes extremely tiresome in the film’s runtime of nearly two hours. Luckily, Park, working as a production designer and editor along his screenwriting and directing work, has some interesting ideas. Firstly, he uses the locations of Seoul’s back alleys to perfection, reflecting the metaphorical maze the characters are in to the physical world. Secondly, his directing style, resembling Hong Sang-soo’s poetics of extended, dynamic takes with zooms and camera movements serving as the means of the internal montage, leaves him less extra work in the editing room and style-wise makes up for the lack of substance in the script. For that, the cinematographer Kim Byeong-jung should also be commended.

The lack of clarity of Park’s vision also reflects on the acting. It remains unclear if Kyung-ho is actually troubled by the fact that he forgot his first love or he is just a jerk that wants to make sure that he is not a Ji-yeon’s father, and if it is impossible, to use the situation as the source of artistic inspiration. Kim Kwan-hoo goes for the only solution he has on his disposal: acting in a constantly elevated emotional register, which does not work well at times. Oh Mine also has to play a one-note character, so her performance is, well, one-note. Yoon Hye-ri does the best of the trio, finding a balance between overdoing and under-doing, but her character is also more of a sketch. The attempt of coding emotions by the music in loops on piano, synth and acoustic guitar written by Kim Cheol-hwan also seems half-baked.

In the end, “Beyond You” does not live up to its ambitions, as it is unclear and uncommunicative. For the extreme enthusiasts only!

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