Tuesday, July 05, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Alone

Like David Hemmings in Blow-Up, Su-min inadvertently takes a photo of a murder in progress, but he sees it right away—and they see him. The ski-masked assailants quickly start hunting the grungy witness, or so it seems. It is hard to say for sure, because reality is dicey proposition in Park Hong-min’s Alone (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

Su-min is not very fleet of foot, but for some reason, the masked men choose to toy with him, rather than immediately executing him. Several times, Su-min is knocked unconscious, coming to in the darkly foreboding shanty-town district of Seoul, usually in rather awkward positions. We soon conclude Su-min is caught in some sort of looping nightmare, especially given the presence of his mother (always a dead giveaway), his girlfriend, and perhaps the eight-year-old version of himself.

It should be readily granted Alone represents a quantum step-up for Park from his underwhelming A Fish, which frankly played like the feature film version of Park Chan-wook iPhone short, Night Fishing. This time around, Park Hong-min maintains a palpably tense mood. He gets a massive assist from the wickedly atmospheric back alleys and staircases of the shanty neighborhood. It is rather entertaining to merely watch Su-min navigate the ominous passageways, which is fortunate, because he does so constantly.

Park Hong-min and his cinematographer Kim Byeong-jung do bravura work following Su-min through the ancient maze. Visually, Alone manages to be both gritty and stunning. However, Park eventually has to leave sufficient clues for the audience to add up, but he prefers to play coy until far too late in the game. Still, Lee Ju-won (who had a small part in Lee Kwang-kuk’s A Matter of Interpretation, which could be considered Alone’s more upbeat cousin) is terrific as the ever-evolving and often battered Su-min. It must have been a tricky role, considering how often Park changed the ground rules on him.

It is always encouraging to see a filmmaker significantly improve over their first films. Alone is far from a masterwork, but it is a distinctive work. New Yorkers who really see a lot of films should check it out, because it is different, but it will still befuddle anyone hung up on a conventional three-act structure. Recommended for those with adventurous tastes, Alone screens tomorrow (7/6) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYAFF.