Friday, February 8, 2013

Berlinale 2013: Fatal (가시꽃) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Fragile and ephemeral, life is a series of moments, of complicated and random connections that constitute the fabric of our character. Each decision we make affects our path irrevocably: our actions may not always be consequential but they are nonetheless inerasable. Like a thin sheet of glass, our lives can shatter in an instant. The briefest moment can reveal our brittle fragility.

Fatal, a New Currents section debut feature from Lee Donku, begins with a life-altering moment for five people. A young woman has been drugged and raped by a gang of high school students, though one of them is an unwilling participant bullied into performing an act that will torment him for the rest of his life. Ten years later, this now 28-year-old man works for a low-rent clothes manufacturer. An encounter with a Christian group of missionaries on the street prompts him to seek some kind of salvation through religion but when he joins the group he discovers that one of his new colleagues is the woman that he and his friends raped a decade prior.

Employing a raw and stark aesthetic, Lee’s film is an uncompromising look at one man’s journey as he grapples with the consequences of one terrible decision. The young man, though nervous and wracked with guilt, seems able to lead a quiet and innocuous life. However, when he finds himself in his new church group he is both confronted with a potential road towards salvation and a perpetual reminder of the moment that permanently tore the fabric of his existence.

Instead of running away he is drawn closer to his former victim. Curiosity and a desire to come clean prompt him the follow her and before long he begins to work in her coffee shop. Conflicted and confused by his emotions, he soon falls in love with her. Though the young man was involved in a horrible incident during his youth he is actually a sweet and innocent young man, perhaps also a little simple-minded. His inability to forgive himself is devastating, particularly as a result of Nam Yeon-woo’s extraordinary performance.

Daring and original, Fatal is an explosive debut that has put the young cineaste Lee Don-ku on the map. The film does lose a little steam in its final reel as a sense of inevitability sneaks into the narrative but this is a minor quibble for what is one of the great discoveries at this year’s Busan Film Festival.

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