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[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Weight"

2013/09/22

Jung (played by Cho Jae-hyun) is a hunchback mortician with a very strange problem. It seems like everywhere he goes, weird sexual stuff happens. Sometimes people directly engage him with the sexual stuff. Other times they do it right in front of him, apparently oblivious or indifferent to the fact that he can see them. I like to imagine that every time this happens, Jung takes a look inside himself and wonders, what exactly went wrong with my life that I can't just be a normal mortician?

"The Weight" is a film primarily about shock value. In case you couldn't guess, yeah, there's necrophilia involved. It's actually not that big of a component, compared to all the other weird sexual stuff that's going on. It's just the one particular bit that tends to resonate most strongly in the mind because it's about the only thing that happens in this movie that a normal mortician has probably actually seen.

Maybe I shouldn't harp about Jung being such a strange mortician. After all, movies seldom get made about normal people, morticians included. The trouble is, if the film isn't about Jung's life as a mortician, then what exactly is it supposed to be about? The imagery is incredibly distinct and deliberately structured beyond the presence of mere shock value, but try as I might I can't guess what the purpose of it is supposed to be.

Perhaps it's that life is supposed to be an inherently miserable, soul-crushing journey through pain? It's certainly possible- I don't think there's a single happy person in this entire movie. But I didn't particularly care about or identify with any of them. "The Weight" is so determined on providing as much bizarre imagery as possible that not much time is left over to explore why or how they're in pain. Sometimes it even confuses its own morals, and I found myself sympathizing with the character who is quite obviously supposed to be the villainous one.

This style works some in the beginning- the story of the man in the helmet is sufficiently grim and depressing even though he has no actual dialogue. But then the film goes too far by overloading its audience with these stories, and the overall effect is tiring. I just kept thinking to myself, come on, let's go already, let's have something happen. Something actually meaningful this time. I'm sick of all this stupid symbolism.

It's a shame that "The Weight" turns into such a disappointment, because director Jeon Kyu-hwan clearly has some talent as far as arranging visuals go. The film's final shot, is actually quite beautiful, appropriate, and even ties up the film's greater themes quite well. The problem is that getting to this point was such an obnoxious trial that I tried to prevent myself from appreciating the moment- this is a film that deliberately tries its viewer's patience, and in my case, it went too far. If you're willing to stomach a lot of gratuitous, bizarre, unpleasant, and rather pointless sexual frustrations to reach some kind of narrative catharsis, this might be a tolerable movie. For everyone else stay far, far away.

This review was written by William Schwartz as a part of HanCinema's Chuseok Film Festival coverage.

"The Weight" is directed by Jeon Kyu-hwan and features Cho Jae-hyun, Park Ji-ah and Ahn Ji-hye.

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