Director Park Jung-bum has an obsession with long, largely static shots that mainly emphasize the distressing monotonous state of life that characterizes the action in "Alive". If you're one of those people that dislike the apparent pointlessness of such dismal recessions, you will absolutely hate this movie. It's a huge exercise insofar as trying the patience of viewer, and a person not obsessed with capturing every individualistic cinematographic detail of melancholy will just sit in frustration waiting for something to actually happen.
Even I had trouble putting up with "Alive" and it's my job to pay attention to this stuff. Capable camerawork can only go so far, you know? Fortunately there is eventually a point to this film, and while I can't say for certain whether it was worth the effort, the ideas are certainly interesting enough. Jeong-cheol (played by Park Jung-bum) is a low wage worker, constantly struggling to make ends meet for his older sister Soo-yeon (played by Lee Seung-yeon-I) and her young daughter Ha-na (played by Shin Haet-bit).
Soo-yeon is particularly interesting, as she's a slut. Director Park Jung-bum makes no attempt to romanticize this- Soo-yeon sexually libertine attitude is merely a reflection of greater mental disturbances, but even beyond that Soo-yeon's simply a lousy person. She's impulsive, destructive, and only ever thinks of herself. It's an effort in exhaustion on Jeong-cheol's part trying to keep her alive without her sabotaging the latest best chance they have to escape crippling poverty.
Ha-na, for her part, is a product of one of Soo-yeon's liasons. Fortunately she doesn't appear to have inherited the mental problems that plague the other members of the family, and possesses Jeong-cheol's steadiness. Unfortunately, this has forced Ha-na to grow up too early, as she must work with Jeong-cheol to keep her own mother in check lest they all be hit by another disaster.
It's a bleak situation with no apparent escape path. We often see shades of Jeong-cheol's thoroughly repressed self and it's easy to see why he hides his passion- optimism just makes everything worse. His family is only able to achieve some means of a happy ending by just setting their standards down really low and hoping that other people don't retaliate.
The thematic idea here makes it easy to understand why Jeong-cheol insists that Ha-na go to church even when he doesn't believe in any of that stuff. Unconditional forgiveness is the only hope they can manage, living with Soo-yeon as they do. It's from this very weak position of strength that they are indeed "Alive" as the title suggests. I suppose it is some weak comfort that in the end, however much life besieges a person, they will most likely come out the situation still breathing. It also doubles as a nice explanation for why the film's so long- if you think those three hours were unpleasant, imagine what it's like for Jeong-cheol, who has to live it.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Busan International Film Festival Movie Review] "Alive" by Park Jung-bum"
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