×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Alive’

Writer-director-star Park Jung-bum's second feature is an ambitious, artful but increasingly dirge-like tale of woe.

With:
Park Jung-bum, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Myoung-hoon, Shin Haet-bit, Park Hee-von, Park Young-deok, Lee Seung-yeon.

The title suggests something triumphant, but Park Jung-bum’s second feature, “Alive,” might as well have the prefix “Barely” — its protagonists are scraping by with cruel odds stacked against them, as in his acclaimed 2010 debut, “The Journals of Musam.” Once again, the writer-director-actor is compelling as the chief victim of perpetual setbacks, but this handsome, accomplished film becomes an increasingly dirge-like chronicle of woes as it marches into its third hour — an artistically impressive achievement that perhaps demands more patience than it rewards. Beyond the fest circuit, commercial placements will be spotty.

Two long, wordless opening sequences show two principals in full physical/psychological torment: Jungchul (Park) is struggling to clear debris from a family property that’s been “ruined” (we only learn how much later). Elsewhere, also in the freezing winter cold, his sister Sooyun (Lee Seung-yeon) self-flagellates as punishment for misdeeds we don’t fully grasp for quite some time. Neither of them can catch a break. Jungchul is blamed by fellow workers when the foreman on a construction job he’d signed them onto absconds with their pay. Mentally unstable since their parents’ death, Sooyun is at risk of being fired for her erratic behavior from the soybean-paste factory that shelters her and fatherless daughter, Hana (Shin Haet-bit).

When mother and daughter are threatened with eviction by the business’s hard-nosed owner, Jungchul and his simpleminded friend Myunghoon (Park Myoung-hoon) ease the situation by signing on as cut-rate workers. But even this creates problems, as the two young men prove so industrious that the owner uses their higher productivity as an excuse to cut loose older longtime employees. Meanwhile, Sooyun’s health issues — including simultaneous suicidal thoughts and terrors of death, as well as nymphomania acted out with bus-depot strangers — spiral out of control.

Park’s austere yet engaged treatment maintains credibility through what might otherwise be an excessively melodramatic pileup of scenes involving hysteria, physical fights and other extreme situations. Yet it also makes his film something of a slog, particularly in the last third, when a disaster at the factory makes life even worse for our protagonists, who end up shouldering a blame that isn’t actually theirs. A tiny ray of hope at the end does little to counter the sense that the writer-director has simply overplayed and underdramatized this saga of endless travail, in which the reasonably well-off endlessly exploit the luckless. The screenplay’s decision to keep so many basic explanatory details hidden for so long also undermines full emotional involvement.

Yet there’s much to admire here, with a committed cast topped by the director’s own gruff but noble hero, who endlessly struggles like Sisyphus to push impossible burdens upward — though fate keeps raining debris down on him, quite literally in the case of his family’s landslide tragedy. Kim Jong-sun’s widescreen lensing offers both hand-held, obsessively tracking intimacy and an arresting deployment of not particularly beautiful Gangwon Province landscapes. The spare tenor is furthered by the lack of an original score — only overheard (or in one brutally awkward scene, karaoke-sung) music is utilized. All tech/design contributions are solid.

Film Review: 'Alive'

Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival (Global Visions), May 7, 2015. (Also in Rotterdam, Hong Kong film festivals; 2014 Locarno, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Busan, AFI, Singapore film festivals.) Running time: 174 MIN. (Original title: “Sanda”)

Production: (South Korea) A Secondwind Film presentation in association with Sansoo Ventures Inc. and Jeonju International Film Festival of a Secondwind Film production. (International sales: Finecut Co., Seoul.) Produced by Park Jung-bum, Kim Youngjin, Kim Jong-sun. Executive producers, Kim Hyun-woo, Kim Songil.

Crew: Directed, written by Park Jung-bum. Camera (color, widescreen), Kim Jong-sun; editor, Jo Hyunju; music, Park In-young; makeup & hair, Kwon Jieun; sound, Jin Dong-hoon, Kim Hyn-sang; assistant directors, Moon Joon-young, Lee Chan-ho.

With: Park Jung-bum, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Myoung-hoon, Shin Haet-bit, Park Hee-von, Park Young-deok, Lee Seung-yeon.

More Film

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' First Reactions: 'Most Emotional, Most Epic MCU Film'

    The end is finally here. “Avengers: Endgame” had its world premiere Monday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center and reactions on social media from fans, journalists and critics are already pouring in. The reaction has so far been almost universally positive, with several commentors warning fans of the movie’s emotional elements. Brandon Davis wrote [...]

  • Josh Brolin, Kathryn Boyd. Josh Brolin,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Josh Brolin: Thanos' Butt Is a 'Beautiful, Purple Peach'

    On the eve of “Avengers: Endgame’s” world premiere, everyone’s thoughts have turned to the one crucial detail that could be the difference between life or death for the Avengers: Does Thanos have a butt? “I don’t know what that whole thing is about! I really don’t!” Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, told Variety‘s Marc Malkin [...]

  • Tessa Thompson'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Tessa Thompson Says Valkyrie Would Spoon Captain Marvel, Thor

    Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” had no problem addressing speculation about the character’s sexuality at the “Endgame” red carpet premiere Monday. The “Sorry to Bother You” actress explained that she played her Marvel character as bisexual. “In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual. You see her with [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content