With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, October 10, 2011

ACF 1183: END OF ANIMAL reviewed

Korean Cultural Service NY
Korean Movie Night
Series 5: Hidden Gems of Korean Cinema, Part II

Jang Soon-young wanders through the woods

End of Animal
Written and directed by: Jo Sung-Hee
South Korea, 2010, 114 minutes
When: Tuesday, October 11th @ 7:00 PM
Doors open: 6:30 PM
Where: Tribeca Cinemas
54 Varick Street, NYC
Near the A, C, E @ #1 Canal Street subway stops
Admission: FREE!!!
All seating is first-come, first served. 

Jang Soon-young, a cute, young, pregnant woman with a page-boy haircut, is taking a taxi to her mother's home where she plans to give birth to her child. Before reaching a rest area, the taxi stops and takes on another rider, an enigmatic young man with a baseball cap. He displays an uncanny knowledge of intimate details about both Soon-young and the taxi driver. His apparent omniscience suggests that he is either a psychic or a psycho, or perhaps something more.

He begins a countdown, and when he gets to zero there is a blinding white flash. Soon-young wakes up alone in the cab. The driver has left a note that he's gone to the rest area to get aide and will return. The young man is nowhere to be seen. And all things electronic - cellphones, digital watches, etc. - no longer work, as if the area has been struck by an electro-magnetic pulse.

The couple from the car and 5th grader Yang Dong-ju

Soon-young wanders down the road, finds a house, but no one is around and the phone doesn't work. She then meets Yang Dong-ju, a 5th grade boy who we have previously seen drive off an adorable white puppy by throwing stones in its direction. Soon-young and Dong-ju set off for the rest area. Along the way they meet a couple standing by their car which, like the taxi, has totally broken down in the wake of the strange pulse.

The group sets off together, then some members separate. A strange man from a nearby village comes by with his bicycle. He offer aide, but his motives turn out to be not exactly altruistic. Soon-young's attempt to get to the rest area so she can call her mother, a clearly optimistic notion given the circumstances, is thwarted by various factors, such as injury and misreadings of maps. Some of those individuals encountered along the way wander off, then reappear. Others disappear completely, except for a piece of clothing they were wearing or an accessory they were carrying. Meanwhile, Soon-young somehow keeps getting advisory messages on her cellphone or other devices from the young man with the baseball cap!

Soon-young looking a bit worse for wear from her wanderings

End of Animal is the first feature film from director Jo Sung-hee, whose prior offering was the 2009 short Don't Step Out of the House, and quite frankly I'm not sure what to make of it. It's remarkably polished and compelling for a movie made on what must have been a miniscule budget. On the other hand, I have no idea if it's an apocalyptic tale or a low budget Korean riff on Rosemary's Baby, or perhaps a combination of the two and who knows what else. For me, End of Animal makes David Lynch's films, such as Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and Mulholland Drive, seem almost clearly understandable in comparison.

For the first time in over eleven years of writing about Asian films, I find that I simply cannot assign a rating or give a clear recommendation. I'm glad I watched End of Animal (on a DVD screener), and perhaps I'll visit it again sometime. I definitely don't feel that it was a waste of my time. So with the caveat that it may leave you bewildered, befuddled and frustrated, I'd say check it out.

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