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'Wonder' Explores Nostalgic Realm of Teen Years

2007/06/14 | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

A small gem of a film with subdued charms, "The Wonder Years" portrays the peculiarities of adolescence with a keen eye. The family drama brings to life endearing characters as it intricately weaves together the mundane, comical and dramatic aspects of everyday life.

Sullen and silently rebellious, 13-year-old Su-ah (Lee Se-young) is about to enter junior high school. Her mother, Yeong-ju (Choo Sang-mi), widowed and desperately trying to make ends meet by running an eatery, does not have much time to tend to Su-ah's hushed dilemmas.

Each day is uneventful but life is otherwise good, until the two lose their restaurant which doubled as their house and are forced to move in with Yeong-ju's friend. Feeling misplaced and ostracized by her friends, Su-ah has nowhere to go -- except one place.

Her father'S Diary reveals that her idol, star singer Yun Seol-yeong (Kim Yoon-ah, lead vocal of rock band Jaurim) is her real mother. As Su-ah ventures off to reunite with Seol-yeong, she discovers the path to her home and heart.

`Wonder' is a classic coming of age drama in which a teenage protagonist comes to terms with herself and her loved ones. The film is quietly captivating in its realistic portrait of life in a small suburban city: the bustle of market places, hidden wonders of a junkyard and streets filled with political teenage gossip.

Director Kim Hee-jung, 37, won support from the 2005 Cannes Residence Program to create the film. She is the first Korean to be chosen by the prestigious French program, which gives up and coming filmmakers the chance to work on projects. A graduate of the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Kim has been noted for her short films. `Wonders' is her first full-length work.

Kim captures on-screen insightful details, believable characters and familiar emotional tensions. Lips chapped and counting each step while walking in an ill-fitting school uniform, Su-ah brings out the teen in you. Young actress Lee Se-young gives a moving performance as she sports a look of bemused indifference that blooms into a bright smile from time to time.

The bad student bullying younger children for pocket money, the prettiest girl in school and the cute soccer player are all there __ adult viewers will feel a pang of nostalgia while younger audiences will be able to relate. The film also offers some hearty laughter, like when Su-ah paints her face like a clown while playing make-up at a sleepover.

Spectacularly surreal scenes pleasantly disrupt the flow of the movie: rock diva Kim Yoon-ah dazzles the screen with glitter and glam. The film also features part of Kim's actual 2006 Christmas Eve concert, and Jaurim fans will thoroughly appreciate the singer's performance.

"Wonder" offers nothing groundbreaking nor anything hopelessly melodramatic, but pleasant laughs and truly tender moments embellish the film. Small miracles of everyday life sparkle all over, like the breathtakingly beautiful image of a bright yellow bus passing green fields down the road of life.

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