"Everyone says I'm the worst person... Do you hate me too, now?"


Kim Moon-young is a withdrawn and deeply insular young woman who spends the majority of her time after school filming random people on the subway with a camcorder that is virtually always in her hands. Any time she's challenged about her somewhat intrusive filming, or indeed if anyone attempts to even interact with her, she vehemently gesticulates that she's mute and cannot speak, pulls her hood almost over her face, lowers her head and moves away.
Stumbling across a belligerent altercation between a woman and her (ex)boyfriend one evening, Moon-young begins filming only to be caught by the woman in question, Hee-soo (Hyun Jung), who orders her to transfer the footage to DVD and bring it to her house and with little option but to comply, Moon-young reluctantly agrees.
On delivering the disc as promised, Moon-young begins spending more time with this self-titled ‘crazy girl’ and gradually the two build an odd, even eccentric, symbiotic friendship. The question is, whether either of these broken souls will be able to open up enough to explain the pain that drives each of them...


Moon Young began its life, if you will, as a short film of just over 40 minutes duration, filmed in 2013. Originally premiering at the Seoul Independent Film Festival in 2015, a further 20 minutes of scenes were later added for its January 2017 cinema release, taking the ‘full' feature running time, ultimately, to 64 minutes.
As such, Moon Young is half the duration of the average Korean film, or even less than half if you consider the number of Korean cinema releases in the past few years that have far exceeded the two hour running time mark (Moss immediately springs to mind, for example). However, Moon Young never feels anything less than a full feature. Neither does it ever feel rushed in any respect and in fact, to the absolute credit of director Kim So-yeon, Moon Young succeeds in having a gentle pacing throughout; one of the film's many strengths.
Kim So-yeon clearly added to the original short only scenes necessary to tell the story wholly and entirely regardless of the ultimate narrative length, rather than take the route of some of the large Korean studios that will often specify required duration from script stage, even if that means a director must pad out a narrative, to an extent at least, to reach a two hour or two hour plus running time. This deftly ensures that every single scene in Moon Young feels (and indeed is) vital to the unfolding of the narrative and themes, while the film overall comes across as adeptly succinct without a moment's unnecessary meandering.

Moon Young opens with some of the handheld footage of random commuters filmed by the titular character accompanied by gentle, even almost melancholy, acoustic guitar and synth strings. As the hoards of mostly women file past Moon-young’s somewhat intrusive lens – many ignoring her completely while some briefly and disparagingly give her a dressing down with their eyes – it is virtually impossible not to be instantly aware of this young girl's separation from the masses, either by choice, necessity or indeed circumstance; Moon-young stands as an observer watching life move around and past her wholly from an outside perspective while not really being part of it. This idea is further underlined just a moment later as a female subway commuter jumps to berate Moon-young for not answering her query of how to get to a specific destination, with Moon-young angrily gesticulating and moving away as quickly as possible.
Similarly, through the growing and somewhat quirky friendship between Moon-young and Hee-soo the narrative also speaks of the difficulty of and need for finding a meaningful human bond for those living essentially solitary lives in highly populated, modern urban landscapes and how the almost subconscious feeling of solitude can cause individuals such as Moon-young to shy away from connections that by their inherent nature would negate (at least in part) the very feelings of separation that are at the core of their ‘issues'.

It could also be said that in showing Moon-young’s awful home life with her alcoholic father, director Kim So-yeon is providing critique and commentary on abusive relationships in society (Moon-young's father can repeatedly be heard outside her padlocked bedroom drunkenly screaming “Open this f*cking door! You're as f*cking crazy as your bitch of a mother! Open this door, you c*nt!”). However, while that can be pretty much taken as read and though we do initially assume Moon-young’s constant desire to be away from home is simply to avoid him and his abuse, the truth of the matter is far more layered and indeed personal; it and every one of the above themes ultimately shown to be directly related to Moon-young’s obsession with filming strangers on the subway.

The final line of dialogue in the very last seconds of Moon Young is perhaps the film's most powerful moment. Speaking at once of separation and connection, one only needs to look at the subtle change in the titular character’s expression to know everything there is to know about her ultimate feelings, needs and of course pain.

The vastly differing personalities of Moon-young and Hee-soo work incredibly well together (Moon-young silent, insular and brooding; Hee-soo loud, irreverent and often raucously drunk) but both have one thing entirely in common. That is, they have both created personas in an attempt to subconsciously hide their pain and indeed shield themselves from it. Director Kim So-yeon perfectly uses this commonality to ensure that the bond between the two women is wholly believable; their gradual understanding of each other is entirely natural; and the chances of each of these largely broken souls eventually opening up to each other is not only plausible but also likely and indeed hopeful.

Kim Tae-ri (Moon-young) and Hyun Jung (Hee-soo) both give superlative performances in Moon Young to the extent that no criticism of either in any respect could or should be given. Kim Tae-ri especially stands out, to my mind, and once more my belief that she is destined to be a massive star has been underlined. Those who are familiar with her utterly superlative performance in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden will already be aware of her phenomenal acting talent, but her performance in Moon Young (filmed way back in 2013, some three years prior to The Handmaiden) is every bit as subtle, nuanced and exemplary. Did I mention that she's destined to be a massive star?



While just 64 minutes in duration, Moon Young never feels anything less than a full feature. A nuanced, succinct yet in-depth narrative insightfully speaking of both separation and connection, Moon Young is without even a single moment's unnecessary meandering.


문영 / Moon Young (2017)
Director: Kim So-yeon
Starring: Kim Tae-ri, Hyun Jung


All images © KT&G Sangsangmadang
Review © Paul Quinn