Friday, June 09, 2017

SSFF & Asia ’17: Hitchhiker (short)

If this mystery man is a spy, he is extraordinarily unsubtle about it. Of course, subtlety is not exactly a national trait associated with North Korea. Regardless, he will not get very far in Jero Yun’s short film, Hitchhiker, which screens during the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2017.

All he says to the driver is: “why don’t we get a drink?” Yet, the oafish tool panics, making a beeline for the police station instead. Still, we would probably be put off our game somewhat if a man with a North Korean accent just invited himself into our cars—assuming we could recognize a North Korean accent. Frankly, the provincial coppers are a little rusty when it comes to counter-espionage training, but they have a manual someplace. The lead detective also has a bottle of soju handy.

Hitchhiker is the sort of film that would like to see us all just get along, but it is also mature enough to recognize the nature of the borders separating the North from the South, so it spares us the lectures. Instead, it offers us and its characters a brief respite and a fleeting human connection, but those things are not nothing.

Yun and cinematographer Kim Byeong-il give the film a dark but warm Hopper’s Nighthawks kind of look that perfectly suits the nocturnal ships-passing story. Kang Seok-chul is terrific as the world-weary copper, while Lee Tae-gyu is convincingly awkward as the man with the suspicious accent.

Although the man never explicitly describes the situation in the North, the reason for his presence in the South clearly holds dire implications. Still, a bit more context would have further heightened the stakes and the poignancy. However, Yun’s primary concern was the purity of the moment, which definitely comes through. Recommended for viewers who can appreciate its elegantly restrained human drama, Hitchhiker screens again tomorrow (6/10) and Thursday (6/15) as part of the Asia & Japan program-10 at this year’s SSFF & Asia.