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A lonely young man’s quest to kill himself is sidetracked by one unlikely misadventure after another in The Noises, an aggressively arty but ultimately engaging chamber piece that shirks answering the obvious questions in favor of watching its subject come back from the brink. Multi-tasking firsttime director Min Je-hong — who also wrote, shot and edited the pic — is blessed with an appealing lead in unknown actor Kim Joon-ho for his spare, ambiguous story, which saves it from teetering into abject pretension. Nonetheless, The Noises is indeed the kind of movie festivals were made for (and films like this are made for festivals) and its modest charms are sure to find a place on the circuit. The film is nigh well unsellable anywhere else.
We begin with handsome twentysomething Junho (Kim) in his bedroom, double-checking on a noose dangling from his ceiling for his imminent suicide. Shot in soft black-and-white, there are no hard edges or sharp contrast to lend the scene an ominous tone; it’s all very prosaic. All seems to be going well until Junho is interrupted by a phone call from his mother in California, which he answers before brushing her off with an “I’m in the middle of something.” Then it’s the wobbly table that won’t support his weight. Then it’s the doorbell. Upon answering he finds Scarlett (Kim Min-ji), a prostitute she claims Junho called the night before. Though he doesn’t recall, he takes her word for it and invites her in. Eventually they strike a bargain: no sex, but Scarlett will hang out with Junho for three days for a cool two million won (about $1,700). He gets the companionship he so desperately craves, she gets rich.
From there things take a turn for the increasingly absurd, as Junho and Scarlett chatter away without ever revealing too much about themselves (the noose always hanging between them), and more freak events put Junho’s suicide on the back burner. The highlight (or low point for Junho) comes when EMS workers looking for a pregnant woman barge into the house while he’s on the phone with his frantic mother (his dad is missing) — and then commandeer his rope. Scarlett, however, has ulterior motives, which play out when her “pimp” shows up demanding more cash.
The Noises is vaguely reminiscent of Lee Seung-won’s New Currents Netpac-winner Communication & Lies from 2015: a low-budget indie, shot in black-and-white and pivoting on two lonely people trying to make a connection (one more pic like it and it’s officially a trend). Essentially a two-hander unfolding in one location, The Noises, however, has a dark comic streak running through it, and is less interested in explaining the root causes of Junho’s desire to end his life. It’s enough for Min to watch Junho react to his environment and puzzle out what makes him take the noose down for good.
By its very nature, the film relies on the back and forth between the two leads, and they do have their moments, chiefly an impromptu dance that unfortunately brings their budding friendship to a screeching halt. They’re a bit creaky at the outset but soon rise above awkward community theater-type acting to settle into a comfortable rhythm. Kim Min-ji keeps pace with her co-star regardless of the fact she has less to work with: Scarlett’s motivations are even less defined than Junho’s, and Min puts her this close to “hooker with a heart of gold” territory. Technically, The Noises is acceptable, even if it’s stylistically unremarkable.
Venue: Busan International Film Festival
Cast: Kim Joon-ho, Kim Min-ji
Director-screenwriter: Min Je-hong
Producer: Ji Jae-hwan
Director of photography: Min Je-hong
Production designer: Lee Mi-so
Editor: Min Je-hong
Not rated, 77 minutes
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