The rather arresting poster for "Alice In Earnestland" features lead character Soo-nam (played by Lee Jung-hyun) wearing a classic Alice-style pinafore holding a mop with the yarns coated in red while smiling in the midst of an ominous looking flower patch. Neither the pinafore, nor the mop, nor the flowers make any on-screen appearance comparable to the aplomb we see on the theatrical poster. This is a bit of a disappointment- the image suggests a film of intriguing weirdness. Whereas in actuality "Alice In Earnestland" is just a film of confusing weirdness.
Really. I've been struggling trying to answer the question of what exactly "Alice In Earnestland" is actually about and I just...can't find anything. Is the movie supposed to be class commentary on how Soo-nam was poorly prepared to succeed, yet fails even in the face of hard work because society is just that cruel? A dark comedy about the struggles involved in loving a deaf person? A macabre gorefest of accidental and not-so-accidental death and disfigurement?
Those probably don't sound like themes that all belong in the same movie and yet that's exactly the film director Ahn Gook-jin decided to make. I had no trouble understanding the literal story underpinning "Alice In Earnestland" but I'm at a complete loss as to what the commentary is actually supposed to be saying. The movie's never all that funny and besides, the humorous bits never last all that long anyway. So there must be some sort of deep message in here. "Alice In Earnestland" did manage to win the Korean competition at Jeonju.
Yet the more intently I try to decipher what this movie is about the less I understand it. Take Soo-nam's husband Gyoo-jeong (played by Lee Hae-young-I). Director Ahn Gook-jin acts like the love between Soo-nam and Gyoo-jeong is supposed to be very deep and meaningful, and yet they have almost no chemistry. The closest Lee Jung-hyun and Lee Hae-young-I get to repartee are a few amusing scenes involving Soo-nam taking dictation to get around the barriers imposed by Gyoo-jeong's deafness.
...Perhaps that's the point? That all Soo-nam really wanted was a normal boring life, and she's cheated out of this by economic reality- some of it accidental, some of it the deliberate result of a cruel system? I guess, sure. But take that notion and try to reconcile it with the the very strange opening segment which involves bondage imagery and uncooked meat. Does "Alice In Earnestland" take place in an inherently weird world, or a normal one where weird stuff happens when the system breaks down?
These kinds of vague riddles abound "Alice In Earnestland". What kind of story is this anyway? A fairy tale? A satire? A story about revenge? What kind of point is it trying to make? That life is difficult? That people are jerks? That money can't make people happy, only love / hatred? I honestly have no idea. "Alice In Earnestland" defies meaningful interpretation. Any insight beyond that is out of my grasp.
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] "Alice in Earnestland""
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