Miss the Train (Miseongnyeon): Jeonju Review
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.
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