DIR: Sang-Soo Hon • WRI: Sang-Soo Hon • PRO: Kim Kyoung Hee • DOP: Hyung-Ku Kim, Hong-Yeol Park • CAST: Jeong-Eun Chae, Seon- gyun Lee, Jane Birkin
This curious film revolves around the escapades of a free-spirited but troubled girl in her early twenties, Haewon. At the beginning of the film we witness her spending time with her mother, who is soon to be departing to Canada. The emotionally fragile Haewon then re-engages in an unhealthy long-term, sporadic, and secret relationship she has with her college professor Seongjun.
The film is punctuated by frequent fantasies and dream sequences. This becomes apparent early on in a scene in which Haewon has a conversation with Jane Birkin (in one of the strangest cameos seen in some time). The film attempts to blur the lines between fantasy and reality with the spectator uncertain of whether given scenes are dreams of the protagonist or real-life encounters. In fact, the whole film could be interpreted as to be taking place in the mind of our protagonist. While this all sounds quite interesting, the finished film is rather underwhelming.
The major problem with the film is just how mundane it all is. Whereas something such as Belle de Jour blurs fantasy and reality so as to make a commentary on the integral role of the subjective fantasy in a person’s perception of reality, this film appears to be saying that there is no difference between fantasy and reality – that both are as dull as each other! Perhaps, given problems that Haewon appears to have (it is hinted that she has a drink problem), the point is that she cannot even escape the mundaneness of her everyday life through fantasy.
Aesthetically, the film has an amateurish quality to it. While the zoom may be a somewhat under-used and unfairly maligned technique in modern cinema, its pervasive use here does give the film an undesirable cheap quality to aesthetic. Stuck somewhere between the observational zooms of Robert Altman and the intense, faux-documentary zooms of Lars von Trier circa The Idiots, Sang-Soo Hon’s utilisation of the this technique comes across as mis-judged and uninspired.
The acting is often hard to judge given the frequent stodginess of the dialogue that the actors are forced to engage with. However, it would be unfair not to award some praise toward Jeong-Eun Chae. While initially a somewhat irritating presence, as the film progresses she appears to grow in the role and ultimately her performance is one of the more impressive aspects of the film.
Ultimately, the film can be viewed as something of a missed opportunity. The film frequently touches upon what seem like interesting ideas but never really expands on them. Its surrealistic touches are distressingly dull. It’s a film that manages the strange achievement of being both predictable and impenetrable. It’s not completely without interest, but rarely inspires and stimulates as it could and should’ve done.
Nobody’s Daughter is released on 11th October 2013