Friday, July 02, 2010

NYAFF ’10: Castaway on the Moon

These kids are made for each other. Let’s just say neither is particularly outgoing. One is a shut-in and the other is a homeless hermit. Getting them together will be quite a trick though in Lee Hey-jun’s Castaway on the Moon (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

Heartbroken and bankrupt, a man named Kim decides to end it all by jumping into the Han River. Unfortunately, he cannot even commit suicide right, washing up on tiny Bamseom island, a tiny spit of land designated as a nature preserve. Though it is within throwing distance of the Seogang Bridge, the currents prove too strong for Kim to swim back to civilization. However, he quickly resigns himself to life as castaway, preferring it to the rat race that drove him to despair. Then one fine day, he has his first human contact in months—the proverbial message in a bottle.

A young woman also named Kim has been watching the castaway from her high-rise apartment. Like the hikikomori in Bong Joon-ho’s Shaking Tokyo, she has completely withdrawn from the outside world, living a strange obsessive-compulsive existence, with the support of her indulgent parents. Yet, something about Mr. Kim’s eccentric behavior touches the recluse, motivating her to sneak out of her building late at night to chuck bottles over the bridge. It might be a healthy first step, but it will take a lot more to get the two Kims together.

Obviously, Moon will suggest comparisons to Robert Zemeckis’s Castaway, but the dramatic dynamics are totally different. Mr. Kim is not really alone, which is why he is able to “live in hope.” It might even sound a little creepy in a voyeuristic kind of way, but Lee steers well clear of anything remotely edgy. Instead, Moon is really a highly chaste love story between two lonely, fragile people.

Indeed, Lee keeps the proceedings sweetly earnest, even flirting with outright corniness, like the DIY black bean noodles that represent spiritual rebirth for Mr. Kim. Still, there is something refreshing about its unabashed sentimentality, unburdened by any hipster irony. Essentially two solo performances intertwined into a two-hander, Moon obviously relies heavily on its two leads. While Jung Jae-yeong gets act crazy and go Lord of the Flies as the castaway (which he is relatively convincing at) it is Jung Rye-won who touchingly expresses both the film’s sweetness and its quiet desperation as Ms. Kim.

In a way, Moon is a lot like the dopey old Huey Lewis “Stuck with You” video, mixing unlikely love with an urban castaway tale. It works though, by playing it straight, wanting the audience to root for its awkward protagonists. An endearing film, it screens as part of the 2010 NYAFF on Sunday (the Fourth) and Wednesday (7/7) at the Walter Reade Theater.