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[HanCinema's Busan International Film Festival Movie Review] "Half" by Kim Se-yeon

2014/10/13 | 954 views | Permalink

 

Our introduction to transgender woman Min-ah (played by Ahn Yong-joon) is quite literally an introspective one. The camera begins on her masculinely shaped face, and slowly pans out to the rest of her naked body. Min-ah looks like a woman, but doesn't really. The distinction is obvious both to us as viewers and to Min-ah personally, as is excellently reflected in the crestfallen look Ahn Yong-joon gives that quickly defines Min-ah's entire character.

"Half" is at its strongest when dealing with this sense of personal internal struggle. Min-ah knows that she's a woman but is obstructed from getting the surgery that will make this a physical reality. Even outside the transgender dynamic, Min-ah is a very submissive person who can barely muster up the willpower necessary to protect herself from danger. In many ways "Half" is the story of how she finds the strength to cope with awful tragedies.

This is most explicitly explored in the court case that makes up the film's central narrative dynamic. What's interesting about this circumstance is that the criminal justice system does not come off  as particularly transphobic. In fact, the prosecutor's theory of events that led to Min-ah's arrest is a perfectly reasonable one. The legal difficulties, consequently, have surprisingly little in the way of a persecution complex.

It is, as characters frequently say, the sense of isolation that's scary for Min-ah. Without frequent access to her friends, Min-ah feels all too obviously like a freak in the company of men, and the company of women is only an improvement in that she's not likely to face violent retribution for being different. As the legal case gets increasingly little focus, "Half" increasingly becomes a testament to Min-ah's new life of feeling extremely disjointed from her body.

"Half" often ends up being difficult to correctly quantify in terms of filmmaking technique, because there's little in the way of story and character arcs. Gi-joo (played by Jung Yoo-suk) is the only one who really changes throughout the film, and his growth is lackluster. It's not that he has some sort of special awakening, it's just that he treats Min-ah as a person rather than a freak.

On first watching the film I saw a lot of these points as weaknesses, but upon further reflection it's clear that the big dramatic events don't get much focus because in the long run they're not that important. The misery of life for Min-ah is all a direct consequence of her transgender identity. In that light it's no wonder she struggles with self-hatred. Still, there's always that dream, and it's never quite that impossible. For Min-ah, it's just a matter of fighting through the moment and hoping it gets better.

Review by William Schwartz

"Half" is directed by Kim Se-yeon and features Ahn Yong-joon, Jung Yoo-suk and Song Young-kyu.

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