Tuesday, June 27, 2017

NYAFF ’17: A Single Rider

We should all know this by now, but the terms “low-risk” and “high-yield” just do not go together. We they are associated, you should be suspicious. A broker like Kang Jae-hoon should have known better, but he let greed and arrogance crowd out his better judgment. As an inevitable result, he personally paid a stiff financial price, along with his friends and extended family. Fortunately, his wife and young son have been largely untouched by the scandal while living in Australia, but the time apart will make it even more difficult for Kang to reconnect in Lee Joo-young’s A Single Rider (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

After humbling himself before his investors and getting the “bugger off” treatment from the firm’s management, Kang books a one-way ticket to Sydney. Yet, shame and instinct prevent him from immediately knocking on his wife’s suburban door. Instead, he furtively observes Soo-jin in a technically chaste but undeniably affectionate moment with her good natured, blokey neighbor Kris. Kang quickly deduces their son and his daughter are friends at school—and one thing is very close to leading to another.

Over the course of days, Kang snoops through the house and shadows both Soo-jin and Kris. During the course of his wanderings, he meets Yoo Jin-ah (or Geena to Australians), who has just lost her entire work-abroad nest-egg to a group of fellow Korean expats. Kang tries to help her as best he can, but his own recent experiences make him grimly skeptical of justice.

Although Rider is a quietly observational film with a game-changer rug-pull that everyone will say they saw coming. Yet, if put under sodium pentothal, nine out ten will probably have to admit they just explained away all the tell-tale signs rather than following them to their logical conclusion. In fact, it is better that way, because it allows for a moment of massive grace.

This is Lee Byung-hun as most of his American fans have never seen him. As Kang he gives a quiet performance of careful shadings and deep power. He never resorts to cheap, Streepian histrionics, but you can see the pain in his eyes and slumped shoulders. Likewise, Kong Hyo-jin is tough, sensitive, and soulful as the semi-estranged Soo-jin. Yet, it is former K-pop star [Ahn] So-hee who is utterly heart-breaking as the naïve Geena Yoo.

Rider is the sort of smart, high quality tearjerker that South Korean cinema has always has a comparative advantage producing for an appreciative local market. It is also the sort of film Hollywood will buy remake rights for, but absolutely butcher the Westernized version (hello Lake House). You should always see the original article. “Original” is indeed a surprisingly apt description of this deceptively restrained and meditative family drama. Highly recommended for fans of Korean cinema and K-dramas, A Single Rider screens this Saturday (7/1) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.