Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fantasia ’17: The Senior Class

If you think art school students are inherently more sensitive than you have another thing coming. Granted, the shy, torch-carrying Jung-woo sort of fits the stereotype, but certainly not his coarse pseudo-friend Dong-hwa. They relate to women very differently, especially the aloof beauty, Ju-hee. We know angst and bitterness will mark their final year of school, because this is a production of Studio DADAhouse, the production shingle of Yeon Sang-ho, director of the smash-hit Train to Busan and the animated films, The Fake and King of Pigs. Love hurts like a stiletto in the heart in Hong Deok-pyo’s The Senior Class (trailer here), written and produced by Yeon, which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Ju-hee is beautiful and talented, so her classmates hate her, but pretend to like her. Everyone also assumes she is rich, because of her stylish accessories, but she isn’t. In fact, she has to work at a hostess bar to cover tuition. It really wouldn’t be a big deal if she were working in a Hooter’s here in America, but this is South Korea. Fortunately, it is the smitten Jung-woo who accidentally stumbles over her secret. By maintaining her confidence, Jung-woo manages to get closer to her. She sees it as a platonic friendship between future colleagues, but it’s a start. However, things take a decidedly dark turn when the crass Dong-hwa also learns her secret.

With the passage of years, we start to think school love affairs and dramas really don’t matter, but Senior Class is powerful reminder how much they can sting at the time and how deeply they can scar. Frankly, this is a sophisticated story of unrequited love, opportunistic lust, and predatory gossip that could just as easily unfold in any number of largely self-contained social/professional circles. Just about every viewer should be able to identify with the character’s emotions and understand their pain.

As an added bonus, Senior Class’s animation looks somewhat more refined and detailed than previous DADAhouse features. The voice cast is also admirably expressive. Yeon, Hong, and company are making first class films that take the path less chosen. They have a rare talent and affinity for scrupulously real and unflinchingly honest drama. Indeed, Senior Class an unusual film for “new adults,” because it has the maturity of adult adults. (At times, it is also quite sexually explicit, so viewer discretion is advised). Highly recommended for sophisticated animation fans, The Senior Class screens tonight (7/15) and Monday (7/17), along with Yeong-a Hwang’s surreal animated short Lovescream (which is rather unsettling for imagery that is both sexual and violent).