As a member of the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival’s marketing committee, I’ve been given the awesome opportunity of reviewing films from this year’s lineup leading up to the festival. It is also an honor to be a part of Reel Asian’s very special 15th year (November 9 – 19). Up next, SAIGON ELECTRIC.
A realistically desolate story about a North Korean refugee, Jeong Seung-chul, who struggles to survive in Seoul, South Korea, The Journals of Musan is a drab portrait of a man desperately trying to find a better life in the endlessly cruel world of capitalism. Unable to find any respectable employment due to his North Korean identity card, Seung-chul is forced to post sleazy sex fliers across the city.
Unlike his roommate also from the North, Kyung-chul, who embraces the contrasting lifestyle of the big city through cheating and stealing, Seung-chul finds a little relief in a local church where he develops feelings for the pretty Sook-young. Even when he begins to work in the same karaoke bar as Sook-young, Seung-chul is constantly harassed by rival poster-boys, superiors, and his roommate, only to find comfort by adopting a stray white dog. With struggles coming in all directions, Seung-chul realizes the moral difficulties with adapting to the modern world.
Written, directed, and starred by Park Jung-bum, The Journals of Musan is a film about a topic that will never be in low demand. The tension between North and South Korea is ongoing and may be considered repetitive at times, but it will never be irrelevant. Adopting a very effective cinéma vérité visual style with hand-held DV images, which at times seems unexpectedly too truthful, catapults the hard-hitting realism of Seung-chul’s hardships into an almost painful perspective. Directed and acted superbly by Park Jung-bum, even among the constant traffic of Seoul, Park was able to create a palpable and bleak slice of a North Korean defector’s life, rather than a traditional story that goes from beginning to end.
Get your tickets to THE JOURNALS OF MUSAN (Sat Nov 12th 12pm) at Reel Asian here!