Han Gong-ju (2013) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Hangonju02 She is the one who should be helped and protected, but she is left in pain and confusion instead, and she does not even know how to deal with her gloomy situation while not wholly understanding it in her helpless position. Through its close, intimate observation of its ill-fated heroine, South Korean film “Han Gong-ju” slowly lets us get to know about what is behind her detached face, and it is really devastating to watch at times as we are watching her silent suffering. While there are some glimmers of hope around the story, this is ultimately a sad, harrowing drama about a girl trying to cope alone with what happened to her, and it shakes us hard with her deep emotional pain as we sympathize with her.

For some vague reason not explained enough in the beginning, Han Gong-ju(Cheon Woo-hee) is transferred to the other high school through the help from a teacher of her former high school. She has parents, but neither of them can take care of her at present, so the teacher takes Gong-ju to his mother’s house. Ms. Lee(Lee Yeong-lan) is not so pleased about letting a stranger into her house, but she agrees to provide a shelter for Gong-ju, who stays in an old room which once belonged to the teacher.

She goes to her new school, and she soon gets a friend even though she is not much interested in socializing with others. Eun-hee(Jeong In-seon), one of her new classmates, openly offers her friendship to Gong-ju, and they get a little closer to each other even though Gong-ju does not tell much about herself to Eun-hee and other classmates. When they happen to find on one day that Gong-ju has a natural talent in music, they manage to make her join their music activity, but Gong-ju still maintains her guarded attitude, which certainly confounds and frustrates Eun-hee and others every time.

Hangonju04 As the series of the flashback scenes are unfolded one by one along the main plot, we gradually learn what happened to Gong-ju before being transferred to her new school. I will not describe her secret in details for not spoiling your experience, but I can say that the director/writer Lee Su-jin did an admirable job of avoiding sensationalism which is usually associated with the subject of his story. There are a couple of scenes which may be emotionally grueling to watch for some of you, but they are handled with commendable restraint and tactfulness, and we can clearly sense what is going on even though we do not see a lot on the screen during these gut-wrenching moments.

While we know more about Gong-ju, we naturally feel pity to her, but Lee Su-jin’s screenplay presents her not as a mere object to be pitied but as a vivid character we come to deeply care about. As revealed through the flashbacks scenes, she was a lively teenager girl with hope and dream, but her bright spirit was cruelly trampled by an unspeakable act during that fateful night, and she has been feeling hurt, confused, and embarrassed about it. She has no one to talk with about it, and she does not want to even think about it.

Getting a little accustomed to her new environment day by day, Gong-ju tries to move forward at least. She begins to learn swimming probably because it makes her feel a little better. There is still a considerable gap between her and Eun-hee, but Gong-ju becomes a little more opened to Eun-hee and other classmates as getting along with them. Ms. Lee initially looks like an ungenerous middle-aged lady when Gong-ju spends her first day at Ms. Lee’s house, but she turns out to have a good heart inside her jaded appearance. While not asking anything about Gong-ju’s situation, Ms. Lee begins to care about her, and there is a small brief moment in the bathroom which reveals how much they have gotten close to each other although they do not directly show it.

Hangonju01 However, as some of you have already feared, things get pretty bad for Gong-ju later in the story, and we cannot help but feel angry about the ordeal she does not deserve at all from the very beginning. The cops handling the case were incompetent and inconsiderate while ignoring how much devastated she was at that time, and her father or her mother was no great help to her either when she was desperately in the need of help and support – and they later break her heart again while disregarding her pain.

And there are a truly despicable bunch of people whom you should see for yourself. Although they only appear in the opening scene and the other important scene later in the film, they surely make a striking impression on us through their blatant ignorance of what happened to Gong-ju, and we witness how heartless ordinary people can be in the name of family. I guess they may have their own pain resulted by that incident, but they let themselves be oblivious to the far bigger pain of a girl who needs to be consoled and supported after enduring a horrible experience, and that makes them as monstrous as the perpetrators. The movie is loosely inspired by a real-life incident which shocked the South Korean society and ignited following discussions several years ago, and it is chilling to think that some of the perpetrators managed to get away with their crime and have lived freely while the victim is still suffering from the injustice even at this point.

Lee Su-jin, who made a directorial debut with this film, handles his story with care and confidence while steadily maintaining his low-key approach to story and characters. Although it is a little confusing to us at first, we never get lost in its emotional narrative thanks to his skillful handling of images and sounds, and he also draws good performances from his cast. Cheon Woo-hee, a young South Korean actress who previously appeared in “Sunny”(2011) and “Elegant Lies”(2013), deserves praises for her beautifully nuanced performance which is crucial in making Gong-ju into a three-dimensional character at the center of the story; even when she is silent, she effortlessly conveys us the thoughts and emotions churning inside her character, and her performance is always believable and engaging while never reaching for our attention.

Cheon is supported well by her co-performers. While Jeong In-seon is amiable as a kind girl trying to accept a friend she cannot understand well, Kim So-yeong plays Gong-ju’s close friend in the flashback scenes, and Lee Young-lan is colorful as a woman who is kinder to Gong-ju than most of other adults in the movie despite her flaws and limits. The movie is not entirely without humor, and there is an awkward scene where her son and Gong-ju have a dinner with Ms. Lee and her boyfriend at a Chinese restaurant; while her son feels rather embarrassed about it, she does not feel any shame about pursuing her desire, and this active lady surely knows how to handle her man.

Hangonju03 Since it was shown at the Busan International Film Festival in last year, the movie has been continuously praised and admired by many people who watched it. It has recently garnered top prizes at several international film festivals, and it also received good reactions from such prominent figures as Martin Scorsese(“I have a lot to learn from this movie and I can’t wait to see Lee Su-jin’s next film”) and Marion Cortillard(“So much detail and the actress was amazing.”).

Thanks to the increased public interest by word of mouth, the movie luckily gets a wider theatrical release than expected in South Korea, so I and other audiences got an opportunity to watch it at the local movie theater on its release date. As horrified by what she went through, I felt lots of sympathy and concern toward Gong-ju even when she was withdrawn into her tormented mind, and I noticed that a woman sitting next to me was crying as the movie approaching to its inevitable point.

“Han Gong-ju” is a small but powerful work which is also one of the best South Korean films of this year. The movie induces us to have immense empathy toward its heroine through its sensitive and thoughtful portrayal of her emotional scars she wants to hide, and its haunting finale makes us think about how unfairly she is treated by the harsh society which stigmatizes her rather than protecting her. Her confused reply to a minor supporting character during one scene is still lingering on my mind: “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Sidenote: As my acquaintance Pierce Conran pointed out in his review, the full name of the heroine means “one princess” when it is phonetically translated in Korean. What a sadly ironic title it is.

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Grand Piano (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A deadly comeback concert

small_grandpiano03 While many thriller movies try to play audiences like piano, “Grand Piano” tries to play not only its audiences but also a real piano at the center of its plot. Its premise is preposterous to say the least, but this is a tense thriller with style and gusto flourishing within its limited space, and I enjoyed it for that in spite of its relatively unsatisfying ending. Once it begins its performance, it grabs us with mounting suspense to tighten our heartstrings, and we willingly go along with it as long as it plays us well.

The piano in question belongs to a respected composer who was the mentor of Tom Selznick(Elijah Wood), a wunderkind pianist who has never played in public since he suffered a bout of mental breakdown on the stage. At that time, Selznick was playing his teacher’s infamous concerto “La Cinquette”, which was nicknamed “the unplayable piece” because it requires tremendous techniques to its player like, say, Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto No. 3. It is said that only very few talented pianists in the world can play it perfectly without missing a note, and Selznick was one of them until that unfortunate incident happened five years ago.

Now, with the caring help of his actress wife Emma(Kerry Bishé), he is about to make a comeback at the concert hall in Chicago, but the circumstance is not that ideal, and he is already nervous about the possibility of another public disgrace even before his plane lands at the airport. As soon as he gets off the plane, he has to go to the concert hall immediately while changing his clothes in the limousine, and he also has to endure a brief radio interview which painfully reminds him of his last concert performance. His mentor died a year ago, but his presence is felt around the concert hall through his big photo in the poster -and his beloved grand piano sent from Switzerland to be played for this special occasion.

grandpiano04 Still feeling pressured despite the support from the people around him, Selznick manages to climb onto the stage without having stage fright, and everything seems to be going well as he plays the first piece for the concert, but he suddenly finds himself in a serious trouble. In the middle of the performance, he comes across an ominous message written in bright red on his sheet music: “Play one wrong note and you die.”

As I think more about it, this is not a very practical warning to a pianist who is very, very nervous from the beginning, but Selznick manages to hold himself while not drawing any particular attention from his audiences as demanded, and he gradually realizes how dangerous this threat is as talking with some mysterious guy through an earpiece given to him. Hiding somewhere inside the building, this guy is ready to shoot Selznick with his rifle if Selznick does not follow his demand, and Selznick is driven into more panic because his dear wife can also be killed if he is not careful about his demeanor as well as his performance.

The movie stays inside the concert hall building during most of its short running time, and the director Eugenio Mira keeps the tension being accumulated while bringing some nice stylish touches to his film. With the orchestra vigorously performing on the stage, the camera sometimes makes sweeping movement as looking around the fabulous interiors of the concert hall, and the music on the soundtrack is as well-played as you can expect from a first-rate symphony concert. There is also a smooth split screen sequence reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s thriller films, and I like the way Mira effortlessly initiates this sequence without distracting our attention.

small_grandpiano05 Such a thriller movie like this always need a good performance we can hold onto, and Elijah Wood does a solid job as required as the hero struggling to survive a deadly circumstance forced upon him. Looking believable during the performance scenes thanks to his rigorous preparation before the shooting, Wood is terrific to watch as his character continues to sweat and tremble more and more under increasing mental pressure. While the other actors around Wood are mostly stuck with thankless roles, John Cusack has a small fun with his villain character; taunting and goading Wood’s character like a cat playing with a mouse, Cusack imbues vicious menace into his voice performance, and that is another crucial element for the suspense in the film.

As I said earlier, the movie is not entirely without flaws. As approaching to its third act, the movie begins to lose its tension after a hidden motive is eventually revealed, and it also goes a little too long after the climactic moment in which Selznick has no choice but to play “La Cinquette”. Its last scene is a letdown compared to the other parts, and you may notice several implausible things in Damien Chazelle’ screenplay as you look back on it.

Anyway, the movie is a solid thriller good enough to compensate for its visible weaknesses which could be far more glaring if it were not for the filmmakers’ skill and passion put behind the film. The dynamic interactions between Wood and Cusack are tightly handled on the screen to captivate our attention from the beginning to the end, and the composer Victor Reyes provides a concerto piece which is played as dramatically and thrillingly as the Storm Cloud Cantata in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(1934) and its 1956 remake version(and it really sounds like a very difficult piece which would overwhelm any talented pianist). The movie is not a perfect performance, but it is an entertaining one which deserves some applause in the end.

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A Touch of Sin (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : Anger and despair below rapid social change

atouchofsin01 Through its sad, bleak stories, Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch Sin” shows anger and despair below a rapid social change China has been going through. While their society is certainly changing, the main characters in the movie hardly receive any benefit from that progress, and they are at the bottom of the harsh world where survival of the wealthiest is mercilessly applied on most people. Some of them inevitably explode with their anger in the end, but nothing is changed for them or others, and the wheels of their society keep turning on as before.

After the opening scene coupled with an unexpected violent moment, the movie begins its first story with Dahai(Jiang Wu), a rural coal miner with no bright future. The coal mine in his town is recently sold to a wealthy business man who was once his schoolmate, but it seems the head of the town and his few associates are only the ones receiving the benefit from that big deal, and Dahai has been pretty pissed about it.

That business man visits to the town on one day, and we get a dryly amusing sight of the town people welcoming him at the airport as if he were a high-ranking government official. Dahai tries to protest to him as soon as his old schoolmate gets off his private jet, but he is only reminded of how helpless he is in front of a man with money and influence. He is savagely beaten by several goons right on the spot, and he is paid for his injury later on the condition that he will keep his mouth shut.

After getting out of the hospital, Dahai visits her sister’s home, and then something clicks in his mind. As calmy observing how his impulsive decision is ultimately led to a very dark outcome, the movie strikes us with the series of shocking violence reminiscent of Takeshi Kitano’s films. This violent sequence is surely cringe-inducing, but it has a certain sense of futility further enhanced by its detached but meditative mood.

atouchofsin03 The second story is about another compelling case of violence. San Zhou(Wang Baoqiang) is a migrant worker who has been drifting around the country since he left his hometown and family, and we see him returning to his hometown for his aging mother’s birthday party. While welcomed by his other brothers, he also meets his wife and young son, but he does not know how to reconnect with them. It has been long years since their separation, and all he can do for them is giving them the money he earned.

He later gets a chance to spend some time with his young son during the evening full of firecracker noises around them. He casually shows his kid a gun he acquired from somewhere, and then he shoots toward the sky just for entertaining him. We already know this is not the first time he uses it, and what he eventually commits with this gun is presented in a tense, gut-chilling sequence at the end of his story.

After that, the movie changes its course and then places its focus on the hard life of Xiao Yu(Jia Zhanke’s wife Zhao Tao), a young woman who works as a receptionist at some massage/sauna shop in an urban area and is not very happy with her job and life. Her private relationship with a married guy has been a small consolation to her, but we can see that this guy will never leave his wife no matter how sincerely he talks to Xiao Yu.

Unfortunately, things get pretty bad for Xiao Yu. The relationship with her lover is shattered when his wife learns about that, and this furious woman cruelly punishes her with two guys who come along with her. While she is trying to recover from this hurtful moment, she comes across a couple of very rude customers, and that results in a brutal moment of violence bitterly followed by its irreversible aftermath.

atouchofsin04 The fourth story follows another young worker who is also not very fortunate. After an unlucky accident happened to his co-worker, Xiao Hui(Luo Lanshan) runs from his factory because his boss demands him to fill the injured guy’s place with no payment for him. He moves to the south region, and he quickly finds a new job at the place where wealthy middle-aged guys are entertained by young female employees every evening. During one scene, girls are marching in uniform in front of their clients, and they all are ready to be called after their show(each one is numbered on their uniform).

While getting comfortable with his new job, Xiao Hui begins to like one of these girls, but his innocent love is soon crushed when he realizes how jaded this nice girl actually is. To her or any other female employees, prostitution is an daily work they willingly put themselves into for earning money, and the scene involved with her latest client is handled with cold objectivity even though it looks a little funny due to their silly roleplaying(She plays a train attendant, and he plays the chairman to be, uh, served by her).

These four stories, which are partially inspired by recent real-life incidents in China, are barely connected with each other, but the director/writer Jia Zhangke, who received Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in last year, lets us realize the common themes shared between them and muse on what they reflect. In any human society, injustice and inequality always generate anger and resentment inside their victims, and, as shown in the film, these desperate people are sometimes driven or pushed toward violence. They are left with far more misery and far less hope as a consequence, and we feel sad to see that there are not any other options in their despairing circumstance.

atouchofsin02 The movie demands you some patience for its slow pace, and some of its parts do not work well(its symbolic scene with a abused horse feels too obvious, for instance), but, like Jia’s previous films “Still Life”(2006) and “24 City”(2008), the movie is interesting to watch as a contemplative observation on the modern Chinese society which has been stuck in its contradictory state between communism and capitalism since its first step toward modernization and globalization. I am not as enthusiastic as other critics praising it, but I did not lose interest during my viewing, and I think it is a recommendable experience to talk and discuss about.

By the way, the title of the movie was inspired by Taiwanese martial arts film “A Touch of Zen”(1971). After his movie was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, Jia Zhangke was asked about what kind of sin the title of his movie refers to, and he replied, “It’s about how we tolerate injustice, the gap between the rich and the poor. More than anything I think silence is a sin.” As far as I can see from his films, he is certainly not silent about what he saw from his society as a voice of conscience, and I admire him for that.

Sidenote:
In spite of its critical attitude, the movie was not banned by the Chinese government – and it was actually co-produced by a production company backed the government. I guess that is a small sign of change, though the movie has not yet gotten a full approval for domestic release.

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The Lunch box (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : An accidental romance through lunch delivery

thelunchbox02 While it is a pretty familiar story we have encountered before, “The Lunchbox” is mixed with enough spices to give it a distinctive flavor to appreciate. Vividly bringing us into its local background, it comes to us as a heartfelt tale about two people who happen to be connected with each other in an unexpected way, and it is touching to see how their respective lives are changed through their mutual relationship which may not last long.

The opening scene shows a young housewife named Ila(Nimrat Kaur) going through her mundane morning routine. Her husband has already left for work, and her young daughter is soon going to leave for school, and now she has to prepare the lunch for her husband. We see each component of the lunch being prepared and then put into a stainless steel lunchbox, which is then put into a green lunch bag ready to be collected by a delivery man.

While reading several articles on the movie, I came to learn that lots of lunchboxes are delivered like that in Mumbai, and it was interesting for me to get some direct glimpses on how this delivery system works. A delivery man, “dabbawala”, collects a bunch of lunch bags along with the one from Ila’s house in her neighbourhood, and then he joins other dabbawalas at the train station, who also carry many lunch bags to be delivered. After they are sent to the downtown area by train, these lunch bags immediately go through another transaction process, and they all are delivered to their respective recipients around the lunchtime.

Considering the average number of lunchboxes transacted everyday in Mumbai is more than 100,000, it is not surprising that Ila’s lunchbox is delivered to a wrong person by mistake. Saajan Fernandes(Irrfan Khan), a middle-aged man who is about to retire from his company where he has worked for 35 years. He is confounded to see that the lunch he receives is quite different from the ones he ordered from his usual restaurant, but, after having tasting a little of it, he quickly eats it all with satisfaction.

thelunchbox01When the lunchbox is returned to her home, Ila is happy to see its empty state, but she soon realizes there was a mistake. Her husband Rajeev(Nakul Vaid), who received Saajan’s lunchbox instead, does not talk much about it when he comes home in the evening, and Ila quickly infers from his brief remark that the lunchbox was sent to a wrong person. When she prepares another lunch, she puts a note for appreciation in the lunchbox, and that is the beginning of her relationship with Saajan. It is just a small exchange of notes at first, but then they begin to write long letters to each other, and they become closer to each other as the lunchbox goes back and forth between them everyday.

This is surely a common romantic promise we have seen from other films(“Charing Cross Road 84”(1987) came into my mind as I was watching the movie), the director/writer Ritesh Batra makes his story work even though his two main characters are mostly separated from each other in the movie. While the interactions between them are confined within the written words read by the actors, we get to know more about them as they respectively go through their daily lives, and we come to slowly sense how their lives are affected by their relationship. Frustrated with her estranged relationship with her husband, Illa is grateful to know that someone is appreciating her cooking efforts, and Saajan becomes more aware of how lonely and barren his life has been since his dear wife’s death. He has lived alone in his house for years, and he felt no problem with that, but now he feels something missing in his house as interacting with a nice woman he has not yet met in person.

The movie eventually leads its main characters to a certain point expected right from the budding of their relationship. Ila learns that her husband does not love her anymore, and she and Saajan see the possibility of living together somewhere as talking more with each other, but both of them are not quite sure about whether that can be possible. They have certainly felt good as sharing thoughts and feelings through their letters, but will that feeling last long even after they meet each other for the first time?

thelunchbox06 Batra’s screenplay wisely sidesteps melodramatic clichés during its last act, and it also provides us warm, humorous moments as handling its two likable main characters with respect and care. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays a young employee who will replace Saajan after working with him for a while, is one of the major sources of humor in the movie; he initially looks like an ingratiating puppy trying too hard to get approval, but you cannot help but like this overly eager guy as getting to know a bit more about him and his life. I also enjoyed the conversation scenes between Ila and an old neighbour living upstairs; we never see that old lady while they talk through windows, but she becomes a sort of endearing presence as she gives Ila some help and advice for cooking.

The success of the movie depends a lot on its two lead actors, and their separate performances work along well with each other despite the constant physical gap between them on the screen. Irrfan Khan, a veteran Indian actor I happened to notice for the first time in Mira Nair’s “The Namesake”(2006), conveys a slow, gradual change inside his character through his quiet, soulful performance, and Nimrat Kaur, a young lovely Indian stage actress at the beginning of her film career, is also convincing as a woman opening her eyes to another potential in her life through the accidental friendship with a stranger.

“The Lunchbox” received the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award at the Cannes Film Festival in last year, and it deserves the award as a warm, sensitive crowd-pleasing film. As a guy who enjoyed several recent visits to an Indian chain restaurant in my town, I was a bit disappointed to see that the movie did not show its dishes a lot, but its drama works thanks to thoughtful direction and good performances, and I enjoyed it despite the uncomfortable screening condition I had to endure during last Sunday afternoon. I am mildly satisfied with it at present, but it may deserve a second chance like its good characters.

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Saturday Afternoon (2014/04/13)

                           

While Geese were looking for something eat, cats did not have to – because many of us fed them with no hesitation.

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In the Family (2011) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : A simple story about one family matter

inthefamily05 Slowly and delicately drawing attention and care from the audiences, “In the Family”(2011) comes to us as a simple story about one family matter. Never disrupting its slow but steady pace throughout its long running time(169-minute), it gives us a real slice of life through its intimate human drama filled with realistic characters, and there are many scenes deeply resonating with empathy and understanding behind its composed but caring attitude.

In the beginning, we observe the daily life of a family residing in Martin, Tennessee. Joey Williams(Patrick Wang), a Chinese-American man who works as a contractor, has been living with Cody Hines(Trevor St. John) for several years, and he and Cody have been good dads to Chip(Sebastain Brodziak), Cody’s young son from his previous marriage(his wife died in childbirth not long before he fell in love with Joey). Yes, they are exactly not a conventional family, but, as watching them beginning another usual day in the kitchen, we can see through their warm interactions that they are happy to be together as your average American family.

Sadly, their happy time is suddenly terminated due to an unfortunate incident. Cody is sent to the hospital after some unspecified accident, and Joey is notified of Cody’s death not long after he hurriedly comes to the hospital with Chip. Still feeling devastated by his life partner’s death even after the following funeral, Joey slowly begins to move on with the remains of their life. He sorts out the matters to be taken care of after the funeral. He takes Chip to the school as Cody usually did. He continues to work with his co-workers as usual. He also does an extra bookbinding job when he sees his client in the need of it.

inthefamily02 So it seems life goes on as before, but then he comes across a serious family matter as handling Cody’s financial matters. Cody somehow forgot to modify his will which was written before he began to live with Joey, and the will appoints his sister Eileen(Kelly McAndrew) as not only the sole recipient of Cody’s estate but also Chip’s legal guardian. Although Eileen has been on good terms with Joey like Cody’s other family members, she insists that she take care of Chip, and Joey is naturally flabbergasted by this. After the short argument between them, Chip is soon taken away from him, and Joey only comes to see more about how legally disadvantageous he is in this family crisis. As told to him by a lawyer at one point, he has no child custody case because Cody’s will cannot be easily contested – and the Tennessee state law does not recognize him as Cody’s family member, let alone as his spouse.

Rather than underlining the issues inside the story, the movie simply presents its story and characters as themselves, and it gradually grows on us on emotional level while seldom raising its voice. The rhythm of the mundane daily life on the screen is established well thanks to its concise low-key approach, and the camera attentively observes the characters without feeling obtrusive; it engages our attention through thoughtful scene compositions and interesting camera angles to notice, and we come to be curious about what is happening on the screen. Through their natural performances, the actors in the film feel like people we may encounter in real life, and you may be surprised to know that the movie was actually shot in New York State instead of Tennessee.

The director/producer/writer Patrick Wang, who also played the lead character in his film, subtly presents his character’s social status as an outsider while never directly pointing it out. Cody’s family members were nice to Joey when Cody came with him to the family Thanksgiving dinner, but, probably because of his race, they misguidedly assumed that Joey did not know about Thanksgiving Day. When Cody’s family members are allowed to see unconscious Cody at the hospital, a nurse curtly reminds Joey that he is not allowed to see Cody, and everyone in the room clearly knows why. Eileen and other family members might be sympathetic to Joey at that time, but it can be said that they also show their own prejudice as hiding behind legal procedures to separate Chip from Joey.

inthefamily04 The camera frequently shows the back of Joey’s head in many scenes. Sometimes we sense the invisible gap between him and others, and sometimes we wonder about what is going on inside him as observing others around him, In case of one long-take scene, the camera keeps staying behind Joey as he is talking with the other character in that scene, and its depiction of emotional tumult surrounding them is convincing although we do not see Joey’s face at all. When Joey hears the news of Cody’s death at the hospital, the camera looks at him from the behind with considerable distance, but the emotional impact beneath the surface is palpable even though we do not hear much from him.

As the humble center of the movie, Patrick Wang gives an unaffected performance which will linger on your mind through its embodiment of benign humanity. You may think Joey is too good to be real, but Wang convincingly presents his character as a real person with flesh and blood, and other actors in the film are as believable as Wang in their scenes with him. Trevor St. John, who mostly appears in flashback scenes after his character’s death, has a good scene where his character and Joey unexpectedly discover the mutual feeling between them. Regardless of whether they were previously aware of their sexuality, things just click between them, and, like any other couples, that’s enough for them – and they don’t need any explanation for that(and neither do we, by the way).

Along with young actor Sebastian Brodziak, Wang and St. John make their household scenes genuinely warm and spontaneously lively. Cody, who works as a school teacher, has encouraged and stimulated his son’s curiosity(Chip is fascinated with dragon stories like most of us were fascinated with dinosaurs during our childhood), and Joey gladly helps that learning process with the wooden boxes crafted by himself. Even when he is prevented from contacting Chip, Joey finds a way to reach to his son, and that leads to a restrained but undeniably poignant scene in which the camera quietly focuses on what is happening behind the door along with a certain supporting character. The scene is almost wordless in its restraint except Joey’s recorded voice telling Chip a story, but the emotional bond between them resonates through his voice brimming with fatherly care.

inthefamily03 When the circumstance still looks hopeless to him despite the support and help from others close to him, Joey gets an unexpected help from his client Paul Hawks, a retired lawyer who is impressed by Joey’s good jobs on his library and books. Hawks(Brian Murray) volunteers to handle Joey’s case simply because he sees from Joey a good man in the need of help, and this wise, sensible old man gives a number of good practical advices to Joey, who attentively listens to Hawks during their long but meaningful conversation and immediately follows his advices as a good client.

The drama eventually culminates to a long but memorable scene unfolded within a conference room where Joey gives legal depositions to both sides. The lawyer representing Eileen and her husband throws a couple of pretty nasty questions to him at the start, but Joey calmly and reasonably answers to them, and then he talks about several things in his life: his unhappy childhood, his foster parents, his short but happy life with Cody, and, above all, Chip. As listening to his sincere and honest words, we more realize how much the family means to him – and how much he is willing to give up anything for what’s the most important to him.

inthefamily01 As Joey was talking about his foster parents, I was reminded of a small human moment in “Short Term 12”(2013), another small independent film you should not miss. In that scene, one of its main characters gives a short but heartfelt speech to his foster parents as an act of deep appreciation, and we see this old couple being surrounded by many of their former foster children, who are still grateful about the love and care they received during their early years.

We only hear about Joey’s foster parents, but I can say that they were people as good as that loving old couple in “Short Term 12”. They taught him many things including parental love and several crafts useful for his living, and, Joey, who changed his name to remember them after their death, surely learned a lot to be a good person like them – and we never doubt about his ability to raise Chip by himself.

The movie is Patrick Wang’s debut film, and he shows remarkable confidence in his direction; he trusts us to follow his story for more than 2.5 hours, and he keeps us involved and interested as steadily building emotional momentum behind his scenes. I must confess that I was a bit concerned before playing the Blu-ray disc, but it turned out that I did not need any extra patience during my viewing; I was absorbed by its assured storytelling, and I was frequently touched a lot by its small but moving gestures of human decency. It is indeed a fiction, but it feels real through its universal family drama we can relate to, and it gently tells us through its good, decent hero that we can do better than expected to others in our life, as reflected in its powerful final shot.

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Weekend Vacation(2014/04/04-06)

                                                                                    

With other lab members, I went to a summer house belonging to my adviser professor’s friend. We had a fairly good time there – and I took some photos.

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