Land of Scarecrows



Pusan International Film Festival, New Currents

If Pusan's New Currents section is trying to cultivate a reputation as a hotbed of pretension then it's made an excellent choice in selecting "Land of Scarecrows," an obtuse and cowardly film about that most tired of subjects: identity. It's a film that says nothing really new about personal self-awareness or self-determination and grows wearying at an astonishing pace.

Based on director Roh Gyeong-tae's track record (the superior "The Last Dining Table"), a wide variety of festivals will be lining up to program "Scarecrows," which has even less of a chance at wide distribution as Roh's first film. Even in its native Korea, it has little potential for even moderate success.

Set in what must be South Korea's most miserable city, the story -- such as it is -- revolves around would-be transgender Ji-suk (Kim Sunyoung), his accidentally brokered Filippina bride Rain (Bich Phuong Thi) and Loi-Tan (Jung Duwon), a young man who might or might not have been adopted from the Philippines. All three mope and angst their way through sexual, gender, and national identity crises inspired by questions of how they fit in the world as women, men and Koreans. The three characters finally begin to converge when Rain discovers her husband is a biological woman, and she meets Loi-Tan in the park, where he has lunch everyday and near where she's squatting in an abandoned bus.

Although the film is impeccably composed and set in an ideally suited wasteland reflective of the central characters' personal morasses, everyone speaks in the kind of abstracts that are unclear as opposed to ambiguous -- if they speak at all. It doesn't help that almost the entire film keeps the characters at a palpable physical distance. That might work among them, but it does little to draw the viewer into their world and understand their dilemmas. And chalking up complex transgender sexuality issues to growing up near a toxic landfill is disrespectful in a cinema that needs more tolerance of differing sexualities period, not safe excuses.

By the time the story resolves itself, the characters have long since tipped over into the land of irritating indecision.

Cast: Kim Sunyoung, Jung Duwon, Bich Phuong Thi.
Director-screenwriter: Roh Gyeong-tae.
Producers: Roh Gyeong-tae, Antonin Dedet, Kim Jae-Chung.
Director of photography: Choi Jung-soon.
Production designer: Eum Jin-sun.
Costume designer: Choo Jung-hee.
Music: Lee Jaesin.
Editor: Choi Hyun-suk.
Sales agent: Studio 2.0.
No rating, 90 minutes.
Production: Teddy Bear Films, Neon Prods.