Thursday, September 13, 2018

Review: SPECIAL ANNIE Awkwardly Switches From Subject to Artist

By Pierce Conran

Ten years after her feature debut What Are We Waiting For?, documentarian Kim Hyun-kung returns with an intimate film that is both a portrait of a HIV-positive New Yorker and a filmmaker uncertain of her aims. Awkwardly straddling the border between human interest story and self-interest, Special Annie is a lively if curiously narcissistic sophomore effort.

The Annie of the title is without a doubt a special woman. Bursting with energy, she suffered a abuse as a child in the South, saw her basketball career derailed as she became a teenage mother, turned into a hopeless heroin addict and spent a lot of time in jail and on the streets in the Bronx. Suffering from aids and eeking out a meagre existence, her life has been filled with trials and tribulations, and yet, during every moment she spends with Kim, she always finds a reason to smile and laugh.

Director Kim is fascinated with Annie’s positive attitude, and after detailing her harsh life, remarks rather coldly that ‘she threw her good fortune away.’ Though focused on this woman’s story, Kim spends an inordinate time detailing her own troubles, which she admits pale in comparison to her subject’s. Though confessional, this approach, which sees her juxtapose her own life to a less fortunate one, rings of condescension and unchecked privilege.

Beyond Annie’s natural charisma and a little background on her history, not much happens in Special Annie, save for her adopting a sick cat she becomes very attached to. In lieu of a climax, Kim follows Annie, against her protestations, as she visits a prison to meet with an old jail mate. Filming the exterior, she is caught by prison guards and causes trouble for Annie who is kept from seeing her friend. Rather than deal with Annie’s story, this episode is overwhelmed by guilty narration as Kim awaits Annie’s return on the train platform. It’s a new level of egotism that serves as a poor end point to what has by now become a trivial tale of a filmmaker who is unable to separate herself from her subject.

Due to its affable protagonist, Special Annie is never less than watchable, particularly early on, but ultimately it’s perhaps more interesting when viewed as a document of an artist who is having trouble finding her way. Though she hasn’t made a film since 2005, Kim has been active as a screenwriter and producer on fictional indie fare such as Moscow (2011) and Oldmen Never Die, the LG HiEntech Award for Best Korean Film winner at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) in 2013.


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