Sunday, March 24, 2013

Re-encounter (혜화,동, Hye-hwa, Dong) 2010

(by refresh_daemon)

Re-encounter is a Korean independent film that managed to garner a number of awards from festivals as well as a couple of high profile nominations, so it has been on my radar for some time. After watching it, I can easily see how its exploration of loss and coming to terms with unresolved hurt in the past, coupled with a subtle, yet memorable performance from lead actress Yu Da-in managed to convince festival juries and audiences. The film's attention to detail when it comes to the title character's behavior wraps its personal drama together well and although the final act is a touch more forced than the rest of the film, by the time the credits roll, the examination of Hyehwa's character has won so much good will that it's hard not to appreciate the film.

Hye-hwa is a young woman who works at a veterinary clinic in a small town who spends much of her spare time wandering the abandoned ruins of houses rescuing and sheltering dogs while also playing caretaker to her boss' child. One day, out of the blue, her ex-boyfriend from high school, Han-su (Yu Yeon-seok), returns into her life fresh from his mandatory military service, and although she's not happy to see him, he turns her emotional life upside down when he informs her that their daughter, the one that she dropped out of school for, is still alive.

What makes this story work so well is the deep characterization of Hye-hwa and how her many actions, from collecting dogs to collecting her own fingernails, is a response to her own trauma of losing both her boyfriend and her child as well as her own family history. The flashback structure built into this film, which goes back to showing Hye-hwa as a precocious, spunky teenager, helps display the gravity of her losses. Furthermore, the character study really helps drive her internal conflict as her fear stemming from her past wounds causes her to erect walls around her despite her intense desire for an irretrievable past. Han-su is much less developed, but it works in this story due to Hye-hwa's centrality.

However, for all the depth of character exploration, the actual plot, especially in the final arc reveals, does feel a little more forced than necessary and I almost felt that the story would have been interesting enough as a straightforward drama. While the twists are smart, it does add a touch of artifice to what was a strong and natural character study. The film does resist the temptation of melodrama and tightens around her character, using symbolism to depict her change as a result of her experience rather than seeing her uncharacteristically thaw.

Like many modern Korean independent films, Re-encounter looks fantastic, boasting production values that exceed the film's minuscule budget, even though it has the excuse of being a drama. Director Min Yong-geun's observant eye for detail is perfect for his character-based story and his willingness to linger with his protagonists and their oft-dilapidated environments as well as observe the symbols already present in Hye-hwa's internal life imbues the film with naturalism. I really liked how Yu was able to draw the past and present into her scenes, awakening Hye-hwa's teenage energy to win over her boss in a crucial emotional moment. Her nuanced lends a great deal of credibility to the film's narrative, along with Min's direction.

All of this makes Re-encounter a surprisingly affecting drama. Surprising in that the film is able to pierce the many barriers that Hye-hwa throws up, thus allowing us to see the way that she copes with the circumstances that have befallen her. While the final act feels a little too constructed for what was so natural a drama, the goodwill won by the observant direction and natural performance from Yu carries the film through to its end. Re-encounter doesn't provide the kind of tear-jerking melodrama that many popular Korean films are known for, but its in own subtle way, it packs a punch through its wounded protagonist and that's certainly enough to merit a viewing.

This review originally appeared on Init_Scenes on February 10, 2013.


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