Life Track

Bottom Line: First film by cinematographer looks great but needs polish.

Pusan International Film Festival

The winner of a grant from the Korean Film Commission for Korean filmmakers abroad, cinematographer-turned-writer/director Jin Guang-Ho's debut feature is a low-key character study of a man living with guilt and shame, determined to mete out punishment to himself. Slow, languid and nearly silent, "Life Track" has inspired moments tucked inside a pretty package, but not nearly enough to sustain interest at more than 90 minutes.

"Life" is somewhat obtuse and borders on pretentious, and there's little here that would warrant a second look. The esoteric drama's exposure will be limited to the festival circuit.

"Life" centers on the armless Zezhu (Chui Jing Hu) and his solitary life in the mountainous countryside. Zezhu has only minimal contact with anyone outside his small shack, speaking neither to the pharmacist or random tourists. He quietly goes about his business -- having dinner, smoking, dressing and picking herbs -- with his feet functioning in place of his hands. His life changes when runaway Xiangshu (Jang So-Yeon) stumbles upon his humble hutch and makes herself at home. The two develop a friendship based on mutual need and unaddressed loneliness.

The underlying motive for Zezhu's self-imposed exile is guilt he feels for neglecting his mother's wishes regarding her death. Zezhu's devotion to the punishment he believes he deserves borders on religiosity.
Chui and Jang, non-professional actors, turn in strong, naturalistic performances. What the duo lacks in nuance they make up for in understated intensity.

Zhu Jinze's bright, colorful cinematography is concise in its telegraphing of Zezhu's state of mind. The sharp images of the outside world are a strong visual counterpoint to his muted, murky home.

"Life" recalls Roh Gyeong-Tae's "The Last Dinner Table" in its minimalism but without the existential angst. Whereas Roh's film has multiple subjects and characters, the two here and their oppressive silence grow tiresome.

A Yanbian Broadcast, Beijing MeiRenSong Culture Center, Studio Nurimbo production
Director: Jin Guang-Ho
Screenwriter: Jin Guang-Ho
Producer: Zhang Liu, Goh Young-Jae
Director of photography: Zhu Jinze
Production designer: Sheng Nian
Editor: Jin Guang-Ho
Zezhu: Chui Jing Hu
Xiangshu: Jang So-Yeon

Running time -- 98 minutes
No MPAA rating