In rustic Korea, a band of students celebrate their final winter vacation. Then something bad happens, and the remainder of the runtime is devoted to the basic moral conflict about how these young people fell into a bad situation and didn't exactly act particularly noble in the immediate aftermath. There's nothing too extreme or vicious here- technically speaking the moral moment of truth is caused by inaction, not a deliberate effort. Still, that doesn't make the characters themselves feel any better about the situation, so they just wallow.
Wallow really is the best word to describe "Mot". There's nothing especially bad about it, but for all the film's obsessive detail about the miserable lives of its guilty-stricken characters, there's surprisingly little that strikes a particularly unique cord. While these young men are all basically angry, and understandably so, there's not really much of a payoff to that. Even the final violent act of the narrative comes off surprisingly subdued.
I imagine that writer / director Seo Ho-bin was, in fact, attempting to pull off a tone of subdued desolation. Certainly that much is obvious from the cinematography. The title is just Korean for pond, and while the characters themselves have a clear emotional investment in the body of water, that's all the object is. Just a body of water. Unfeeling, uncaring, and actually mildly dangerous. The mostly barren landscape is similarly generally unpleasant to look at, even if it has its moments of beauty.
Oftentimes the visuals are reminiscent of "Splendid but Sad Days", of all things. Not entirely surprising given that the two films take place in the same general part of Korea. But it does tend to say a lot about the power of perspective that whereas the documentary had a mostly peaceful vantage point regarding its elderly subjects, the characters in "Mot" wander about vacantly looking for stuff they can do, even if in the end they're ultimately not able to accomplish a whole lot.
As a whole "Mot" is really just sort of there. I know what's going on in the story, the personal torment the characters are going through, and can appreciate the general tone of the imagery. It's more difficult, though to come up with a particularly good reason why this movie really needed to exist. There's just nothing all that special about it. In some sense the focus is good- last year's similar-looking "Steel Cold Winter" ultimately ruined itself by getting too over-elaborate with its metaphors and social commentary rather than just trying to do a few things well.
And that's really the best compliment I can give to "Mot". What it tries to do, it does well. If you want to become entrenched in a world where a bunch of teenagers get emotionally scarred, then try mostly unsuccessfully to drag themselves back into one piece again, "Mot" will get you there. Just be warned that there aren't any particularly deep and lasting insights about the nature of the human condition to be found here. Sometimes life just really stinks and is unfair. Not the most inspiring message, but it's something.
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 Film Review] "Mot""
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