성실한 나의 앨리스 (Alice in Earnestland)

A KAFA Production
Distribution: CGV Arthouse
Rating: 18 and Over
Genre: Black Comedy
Running Time: 90 Min
Shooting Time: 2013/Nov/06~2014/Feb/10
Release: 2015/Aug/13

WITH 이정현 (Lee Jung-Hyun) as Soo-Nam; 이해영 (Lee Hae-Young) as Gyu-Jung; 서영화 (Seo Young-Hwa) as Gyeong-Sook; 명계남 (Myung Gye-Nam) as Do-Cheol; 이준혁 (Lee Joon-Hyeok) as Hyeong-Seok; 배제기 (Bae Je-Gi) as Detective Jo; 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon) as Chief; 지대한 (Ji Dae-Han) as Detective Park;

CREW Director 안국진 (Ahn Guk-Jin) Executive Producer 유영식 (Yoo Young-Shik) 최익환 (Choi Ik-Hwan) | Screenplay 안국진 (Ahn Guk-Jin) | Director of Photography 이석준 (Lee Seok-Joon) Lighting 이형중 (Lee Hyung-Joong) Editor 김우일 (Kim Woo-Il) Music 장영규 (Jang Young-Gyu) Art Direction 손소일 (Son So-Il) Action Choreography 임왕섭 (Im Wang-Seop)

BOX OFFICE
KOFIC Nationwide
TOTAL REVENUE: 333,410,000 Won
TOTAL ADMISSIONS: 41,679
BUDGET: 200,000,000 Won

REVIEW

Lee Jung-Hyun has always been different.

No, not because she's the rare case of a singer-turned-actress who can actually make a mark with her acting and not just subject us to years of listless star posturing – although, truth to be told, she actually started as an actress. TV has never really taken advantage of her unique verve, something she might be partially responsible for with her choice of projects. But Chungmuro tends to be more in tune with her mystique, from her early steps in Jang Sun-Woo's crazy ode to the Gwangju Massacre, 꽃잎 (A Petal), to eclectic collaborations with Park Chan-Wook and solid supporting work in films like 범죄소년 (Juvenile Offender) and 명량 (Roaring Currents). She's not a great actress, but she definitely possesses a great aura -- the kind of screen presence you can't teach.

The idea that someone of her stature (more so in China, where she is still quite a big name) would star in a debut film by a promising KAFA student named Ahn Guk-Jin sounded interesting to begin with, but when you learn that it was only through Park Chan-Wook's interjection that her management allowed the deal, it's even more intriguing. Particularly because while marketing suggested that we could possibly have gotten something not unlike what Jang Joon-Hwan did with his glorious, absurdist debut 지구를 지켜라! (Save the Green Planet), the finished product reminds a lot more of Park's early days – as a sort of mix of 3인조 (Trio)'s irreverent black humor and 복수는 나의 것 (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance)'s pungent, brutal satire.

The satire is as topical now as it was in Park's seminal 2002 work, suggesting that much hasn't changed in the Land of the Morning Calm, particularly when it comes to labor struggles and the housing market. What's even more charming is that I can see a little Park Gwang-Soo and Lee Myung-Se as well in what Ahn does – the former in terms of the subtle pervasiveness of the aforementioned social satire, which punctuates almost every scene, even the most ordinary ones, with a reinvigorated focus, making us see them in a different light; the latter in how Ahn manages to make absurdist, deadpan humor work as an integral part of a wonderfully free-flowing narrative that never stops a moment.

The idea of an “earnest Alice” wandering the wonderland that is this myth of first world affluence created by years of military dictatorship (which bulldozed its way to those results by castrating individual freedom) is deliriously ingenious, particularly because Ahn seems suggesting that the woes of the past have turned today's Korean “earnestland” in an equally brutal dictatorship, this time corporate. While the young director isn't a strong a visual artist as he is a storyteller, the lack of style is compensated for by a keen ability to get the most out of the most meager of means: this film was shot for only 200 million won, but its quality over quantity approach to editing and cinematography (which, coupled with lighting, is top notch) pays dividends when it comes to delivering a strong, overarching message. It's obvious that the entire story was written with Lee in mind, and she lives up to her end of the bargain with a riveting performance – arguably her best since her eye-catching debut in 1996. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but the film would not make the impact it did without her vibrant acting.

I also like the idea of people like her acting as an occasional attraction, with carefully planned choices in very eclectic films. That is probably why she has managed not to fall for the easy allure of over-saturation and has remained relevant for twenty years despite having little in the way of accolades to her name. If that's not “earnest,” I don't know what is…

ACTING GRADES

88 이정현 (Lee Jung-Hyun)
75 서영화 (Seo Young-Hwa)
74 이준혁 (Lee Joon-Hyeok)
72 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon)
72 명계남 (Myung Gye-Nam)
71 이해영 (Lee Hae-Young)
70 배제기 (Bae Je-Gi)
70 지대한 (Ji Dae-Han)

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