Miss the Train (Miseongnyeon): Jeonju Review

Miss the Train Film Still - H 2014
Jeonju International Film Festival

Miss the Train Film Still - H 2014

A poised debut mixing arthouse visuals and a time-travel plot from a promising first-time filmmaker.

Korean first-time filmmaker Lee Kyung-sub's Jeonju festival competition entry revolves around the struggle of a shaman's daughter with her pre-destined paranormal fate.

Boasting poised mise-en-scene, a well-designed staggered-timeline narrative and-- perhaps most remarkably-- a clever deployment of the now hackneyed I-Can-See-Ghosts ruse, Lee Kyung-sub's feature-length debut is an engaging piece with hardly a misstep. Anchored by an understated performance from Park Joo-hee, Miss the Train arrives with style and content very much in sync, while not exactly loud enough to secure crossover commercial success like the current indie hit Han Gong-ju, bookings at indie showcases beyond its Jeonju International Film Festival world premiere are certainly viable.

In what is her first top-billed role, Park plays So-jin, a high-school student living with her shaman mother (Park So-hyeon) in a rundown cottage in a village in some far-flung hinterland in South Korea. The film begins with the mother asking So-jin to take up her mantle, commenting on how the youngster "could see more than I ever could"; baffled, So-jin rebuffs the offer and asks whether they could actually move away to start anew instead.

So-jin is given the chance to do exactly that, as the next scene shows the mother having already passed away and the youngster in so destitute a state (she couldn't afford a niche to place the ashes) that she decides to move to Seoul to earn a living. Arriving at the railway station to find the next train slated to come in more than seven hours later, she returns home and has a violent run-in with a man (Jung Hi-te) pleading her to use her paranormal skills to tell him where his missing son is.

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So begins her journey into the knowns and unknowns of her supernatural gifts and her life, as she escapes from the first madman and stumbles into seemingly another, a young man (Kwon Yul) who keeps her captive in a warehouse, calls her by a different name and persists in offering her the heart-shaped chocolate he makes. And it's here that the story takes a step into the surreal, as So-jin suddenly finds herself leading another life in the city, with her captor now her boyfriend and  her daily routine involving studies at the university and part-time shifts at a cafe.

As So-jin travels constantly between these parallel universes, it's as if she's been forced into experiencing the life she craves. Lee managed to realize the twists in Kim Ja-ryung's script gently and with guile, with only subtle signposts along the way which would give the plot away. But the guessing is just half the game here: Miss the Train has lived up to its title by offering a poetic exposition of personal loss and a young woman's struggle against what she sees as an imposed, pre-destined fate. So-jin wants out of the alienating line of work which seems to condemn her and her mother into a life on the margins; as the story unfolds, certainties about rural shamanism and urban living become less clear, converging in a finale which reveals why the young woman gets to see all this.

Kong Pyung-jai's cinematography and Lee Do-hyun's editing has contributed much in keeping the film's subdued tenor throughout, with even So-jin's tastes of a dream urban living nearly always tarnished with melancholy. Miss the Train is a delicate package from a team of young filmmakers offering a skilful itinerary of their low-key artistic vision.

Venue: Jeonju International Film Festival (Korean Competition), May 4, 2014

Production Company: Tiger Cinema with Dankook University

Director: Lee Kyung-sub

Cast: Park Joo-hee, Kwon Yul, Park So-yeon, Jung Hi-te, Ahn Jae-hong

Producer: Kim Ki-chul

Screenwriter: Kim Ja-ryung

Director of Photography: Kong Pyung-jai

Art Director: Lee Hee-jeong

Editor: Lee Do-hyun

Music: Park Sang-chul

In Korean

85 minutes