Our Fantastic 21st Century -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Korea's fraudulent and cash-obsessed youth are at the heart of this dead serious, ironically titled drama "Our Fantastic 21st Century," about the so-called 880 Generation, referring to the demographic whose average monthly wage hovers at just about that much.

Set in what looks to be a depressed and depressing Seoul, two scammers come together briefly before being separated by violence. With twenty-something angst always a hot topic at festivals, first time feature director Ryu Hyung-ki's slow, detached style will fit in easily with Korean and Mainland Chinese films like it. Other outlets at home or abroad seem like a long shot.

Su-young (the blank and monotone Han Su-yun) is an aimless woman in her early 20s living with her boyfriend Sang-il (Shin Hyun-ho). She works at a box-type department store loading stock and he sells unwanted ladies wear on the street. They have boring, chatty sex and seem to lead dead-end lives.

When Sang-il up and steals the hard-stolen money Su-young intended for some kind of plastic surgery -- it's never explained what procedure she wants or really why -- her desperate pilfering kicks into high gear. Naturally, she's caught. Along for the ride is Jae-beom (Lee Hwan), a loan shark of sorts who's taken a shine to Su-young and who is just as dissatisfied with his "job" as she is with hers.

Not an awful lot happens in "Century," which is reflective of the generation Su-young and Jae-beom are meant to represent.

Su-young is so emotionally dead that the consequences of her actions mean little to her, and her personal desires are equally diaphanous.

Her seemingly never ending quest to earn a quick buck (which includes pharmaceutical testing) blinds her to inevitable direction she's heading; she only sees the end destination. How she can't realize her trajectory, though, is a question that does occur to the audience, and one's tolerance for poor decision-making will guide how Su-young is perceived by viewers.

Too often Su-young comes across as cold and willfully ignorant, making the character difficult to like, or more important, empathize with. Jae-beom, until he settles down in the film's second half, is simply the kind of pest most women would get a bigger brother or boyfriend to deal with.

The modern focus on material wealth and beauty to the exclusion of all else is a point that's fairly well made by Ryu, but it's also one that's been made before.

Pusan International Film Festival -- Korean Cinema Today

Sales: CJ Entertainment
Production companies: Korean Academy of Film Arts, Kafa Films
Cast: Han Su-yun, Lee Hwan, Shin Hyun-ho, Choi So-eun
Director: Ryu Hyung-ki
Screenwriter: Ryu Hyung-ki
Producer: Kafa Films
Director of photography: Kim Hyun-ok
Production designer: Kim Min-jung
Music: Jelly Boy
Editor: Hahm Sung-won, Ryu Hyung-ki
No rating, 82 minutes ?????????