Min-sik (played by Jinyoung) is a teenager from a religious family that has recently relocated their ministry from the southeastern quarter of South Korea to Suwon. As an outsider, and not as religious a one as his parents, Min-sik soon falls in with the wrong crowd. Mutually, they all torment Ye-joo (played by Ji Woo), another outsider who, thanks to certain rumors, is unable to find any succor from her classmates.
The tension of just how badly this situation is going to pan out is quite strong. The essential question is not how evil the various high school students are, but more on the limits of their imagination. They all act like petty hoodlums, yet absent the prospect of being actively malicious they're all content to amuse themselevs by just kicking a soccer ball around. It's pathetic, really, watching them swear and drink and pretending to be adults while completely lacking any notion that actions have consequences.
In all fairness the adults in "A Stray Goat" are just as bad, ranging from clueless at best to sociopathic at worst. The extent to which some of these characters are involved in religious institutions is also a fairly obvious irony. Everyone has some very set ideas about how they should go about conducting their lives but little to no comprehension as to why. Almost no effort is made on the part of the characters to actually connect with one another.
With one exception- the first we see of Ye-joo is hopelessly sad and bitter, and this gives the illusion of maturity. She has seen some discouraging stuff, after all. But as time goes by and Ye-joo finds a focus by which to improve herself, we can see Ye-joo blossom and find true happiness. Ye-joo achieves this by genuinely realizing that it is possible to put the needs of another before onself, and that quite a bit of pain can become bearable provided there is at least this actual purpose.
Min-sik doesn't get that- he only sees that the proper end is different rather than the means. This creates another curious contradiction. On one end I was rooting for Min-sik when he proactively took the fight back against persons who so richly deserve whatever they get. But on the other Min-sik is still behaving in a very non-reflective mean-spirited way in the name of that purpose. Indeed, the climax only goes the way it does because Min-sik was trying to accomplish his noble goal in the easiest, quickest way possible.
"A Stray Goat" is rich with thematic interpretation like this- and of course, that also leaves the obvious question. What does the "A Stray Goat" itself represent? While the backdrop may make it seem like writer/director Jo Jae-min has an anti-religious bent, it's hard to shake the fundamentally Christ-like allegory of the final scenes. Ye-joo was willing to sacrifice herself in the name of her noble goal. Min-sik was willing to sacrifice other people. The former was humiliating. The latter was gratifying. But which feeling most truly represents the Lamb of God?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Stray Goat""
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