This Week in South Korean Film - 1/13/2021

Loops, Losers, and Laborers

This week is another weak one for new releases, with only three new South Korean films opening at the box office, none of which are expected to make any kind of mainstream impact. The most eclectic of these is Loop Dreams, a documentary about a yo-yo troupe from ten years ago. I’m still kind of shocked that this movie even exists. It’s quite common for South Korean film documentaries to be based on old footage that’s taken a long time to put together into a finished product. But ten years is an awful long time for such an offbeat subject, and eight years relative to its premiere at the Seoul Independent Film Festival isn’t much better.

In all fairness lots of movies like this appear at the Seoul Independent Film Festival, and often have no real hope of a domestic release after that point due to the obscurity of the subjects. One time I reviewed such a documentary that was quite literally about a stray dog. In general I try to avoid reviewing movies that I’m reasonably confident no one will ever actually be able to watch, even though ironically such films almost always have English subtitles because they’re intended chiefly for distribution on the international festival circuit. Loop Dreams, however, is a weird enough property that evidently someone thinks it can make back production costs on the domestic streaming market.

Cute Man is the best distributed new release this week. It’s currently slated to appear at more theaters than the other two put together. The comedy film likely owes its release to having been based on a script by Lee Byung-heon. Not the famous actor, but the famous director who made Extreme Job last year, the second highest domestic grossing South Korean film of all time. Not having seen Cute Man, but being somewhat familiar with the work of lead actor Shin Min-jae, I would expect the humor in Cute Man is more similar to that of Twenty, also written by Lee Byung-heon, which was more about endearing social awkwardness than the situation comedy setups that made Extreme Job popular.

Lastly, Sword of Sarasen rounds out this week of releases. It’s a working class drama- by which I mean it dramatizes the life of relatively low class people working in a factory. Such titles are always interesting, despite their inevitably low reach, because they deal with class issues in a way that’s relatable to actual laborers in this country, as opposed to office workers. One obvious way Sword of Sarasen addresses this is by casting a foreign actor in the leading role. Foreign laborers in South Korea aren’t so unusual as you might think, but they’re even more invisible than native laborers in South Korean media at large because their working conditions, as this movie notes, are not very good. Still, they are willing to do work that many Koreans consider to be beneath them as citizens of a developed country.

It reminds me of some drainage work I did a few months back. I was unsurprisingly not very good at it. Film critics aren’t the best shovelers, though I think I managed the taking bags of rocks out of the truck part all right. I have renewed and powerful respect for the Africans who keeps the sanitation systems in this country running soundly.