A Mere Life
PROD/SCR Park Sanghun
CAM/ED Lee Suyu
MUS Kim Doosoo
PROD CO IDAG Pictures
Park Sanghun’s devastating debut feature is what the Germans call a Trauerarbeit: a work born of infinite sadness. It has characteristics in common with films by Bela Tarr and Fred Kelemen, but still seems quintessentially Korean. It tells what seems like an extreme hard-luck story, but leaves open the question how much the central character is the author of his own misfortunes.
Park Ilrae (whose name ironically means “change”) has a family but no prospects. He and his wife Han Yurim are both estranged from their parents, so they have no-one to turn to for help with cash or with minding their son Yeongsu. Han has a job in a crummy convenience store, which Park seems to resent; he regularly drinks too much. The camel’s back breaks when Park is swindled out of all the money he’s saved and borrowed; from there, there’s nowhere to go but down.
In meticulous images and sounds which acknowledge a Buddhist perspective, the film explores Park’s karmic downfall. Plays with: Oh! Wonderful Korea
— Tony Rayns