Sneaking into the cinema in Newtown is regularly going to bring you to a world away from the bustle of King St, especially on a Friday night. This time however more so than ever the does the contrast show itself as the movie in question is not the fast paced and polished cinema one associates with films out of Korea but the gentle and reflective low budget, and yet heavily acclaimed, Planet of Snail at this year’s Antenna Documentary Film Festival.
Just as the darkness of the cinema envelopes you, so too does Planet of Snail take you over with its show of the human spirit and enduring love. The protagonists, the deaf and blind Young-chan and Soon-ho, who suffers from a spinal condition, work harder than most on their relationship helping each other with everyday tasks. Each using their strengths to help the other’s ailment, is no better shown than in a 9-minute long light bulb changing scene.
As a snail reaches out its feelers, so too does Young-chan reach out his hands, and yet he does not retract them. Rather, he meets Soon-ho’s fingers to communicate by a form of tactile sign language, touching each other's fingers resembling the act of playing the piano. It also, in Young-chan’s words, provides the seemingly off beat sci-fi title and some of this film's most memorable moments.
We’re told that love is something we all need, but you may still seem surprised watching as this truth unfolds before you in this unexpected relationship. Hints of this as a marriage of convenience, both from the helping sequences and the jealousy of friends towards Young-chan and Soon-ho, are openly shut down. The longing and the joking of looking for a marriage partner amongst their friends is of course the most normal of conversations, yet as one watches, you may sheepishly think “what else did I expect?” Director Yi Seung-jun seems to be playing on this, as we read our own perspectives and open our minds to understand all people in our community without labels.
Fans of Lee Chang-dong's Oasis (2002) may be disappointed if they expect any similar hard-hitting social commentary of their family or the community’s attitudes to this couple’s relationship. Instead, the film concentrates on the delicate interactions in the everyday lives of Young-chan and Soon-ho, giving up the chance for broader exploration of the sentiments of those around them and the broader Korean attitudes absent in favour of the direct introspection of the viewer. Wonderful at what the film presents however, these questions loom large. If you want to examine Korea through this lens, you simply can't and it’s no coincidence that the setting is not focused on; this could be happening anywhere.
And yet in the moments that pass, you gradually understand Yi’s intent. Returning to Newtown and the ever increasing crowd of revellers welcoming the weekend, it’s in the quiet lapses that you remember this remarkable but simple story of Young-chan and Soon-ho.
Gerard's interest in Korean cinema derives from his interest in cross-cultural communication. It all started coming from a dual cultural background and his former life as a student of anthropology and psychology. He is convinced that it all started when a friend of his encouraged him to listen to 1TYM by 1TYM. Thankfully, since then, Gerard has found some better examples of Korean entertainment and culture, such as film. He is currently learning Korean and plans to travel and work there in 2013.