Expedient Christian brainwashing makes eating a shameful experience in “Shin Sung-il Is Lost,” a passionate, if weird, DV-shot feature by firsttime South Korean indie helmer Shin Jane. Slow B&W start will even lose many fest audiences but, for those who remain hooked by pic’s skewed atmosphere, a memorable, if not entirely fathomable, experience awaits. Experimental events are sure to find a home for this, but adventurous fest programmers looking for a talking-point should also consider slotting it.
A young boy who finds fasting to be redeeming behavior, Shin Sung-il (Jo Hyeon-shik) is the star inmate of the House of Angels orphanage. Controlled by a cheapskate director (Ye Su-jeong), the institution is run on the same principles that can make sex or nudity shameful in a Catholic institution; here, the taboos are food and eating.
Sung-il is matched with a new member, Lee Jeong-ae (Mun Seul-ye), because they both share the names of local celebs. However, Jeong-ae is yet to learn of the nobility associated with enduring hunger, and soon begins to rock the boat by questioning the director’s ethos.
Despised as a hypocrite by the other children, because of his innate plumpness, Sung-il is confronted by the new girl as she openly pursues her appetite. All the other children eat only in isolation, either under their beds or standing above the toilets. Sung-il rarely eats at all. The only food on offer is milk and a fave South Korean confection, Choco-Pie.
When the children learn that the director does not adhere to her own doctrine, they plan a rebellion. Lead by the diminutive Kap-su, they intend to execute the director and embrace a gluttonous lifestyle.
Pic switches from B&W to color when biblical hymns are piped through the orphanage grounds. Around the one-hour mark, it changes to – and remains in – color for the duration, as the ethics of the outside world start to permeate the children’s minds.
Kiddie thesps are hauntingly convincing in their disturbing roles, with Jo particularly successful as the demanding title character. Helming varies in quality, but Shin handles her frequently baffling themes assuredly. Film would benefit from trimming as it lurches towards its conclusion, though the idiosyncratic director would probably regard such advice as unsophisticated.
After end credits stop rolling, there jokily appears a synopsis for a proposed sequel, featuring Kap-su. Throughout, tech credits are rough, in experimental vein.