Friday, November 15, 2013

Busan 2013 Review: Mot Explores Youth in Revolt

Part of MKC's coverage of the 18th Busan International Film Festival.

By Rex Baylon

Water is the most malleable element in nature. It can inhabit different material states, i.e. liquid, gas, and solid. It can adapt itself to any shape it needs to be in and in purely literary terms water occupies a panoply of meanings, be it good, bad, or ambiguous. In Seo Ho-bin’s directorial debut, Mot (2013), water takes on the familiar meaning of a buried secret that won’t stay concealed. For Hyung-myung and his friends, the last day of high school should have been a happy memory. Hyung-myung’s friend, Sung-pil, envisions a future unrestricted by parents and teachers telling him what to do. For his sister Kyung-min the possibility of romance hangs heavily on her mind.  

Of course as in all teenage dramas those feelings are fleeting. The promise of a happy future is the first sign of tragedy for these types of pictures. Thus, like clockwork, by the time the curtains close on the first act two deaths squelch any chance for these kids to grow up well-adjusted. Fast-forward four years and Hyung-myung is out of the military, hardened by the lies he’s had to tell himself. Yet despite all the sour memories of his hometown he returns, with no job and no other place to go but his childhood home which is his only refuge even though a flood of bad memories whenever he visits there.

The film’s D.P. Yang Jung-hoon often frames the actors in tight two-shots or captures a single character in a lone medium shot even when they are talking with one another. Illustrating the idea that when around each other these so-called friends can never seem to be at peace with themselves. When together they feel trapped, chained by a shared secret, and though they may find comfort in older happier memories together, the pain of the past has left them alone to deal with the deaths of their friends.

It’s no spoiler to state that the catalyst for all of the conflict in the story is the death of Kyung-mi, as a result of a motorbike accident caused while driving back to a late night party with Gun-woo, Hyung-myung’s friend and Kyung-mi’s boyfriend. Her death causes Sung-pil to lash out at Gun-woo while Hyung-myung is still reeling from the discovery of Gun-woo’s relationship with Kyung-mi as well as his mother’s affair with Gun-woo’s father. It all seems complicated and drenched in melodrama but Mot underplays everything. It is a drama of ellipses where the players in the drama struggle to keep quiet and the tension in the story is predicting who will crack first.

With all that said though when you boil it all down Seo’s debut is lacking, marred by the fact that the picture is all tension and no release. The film spends so much time on telegraphing to us how burdensome it is for them to keep their secret, but when the big cathartic moment comes it is a letdown. Hyung-myung is merely a passive observer and though it may make psychological sense for his character to be so removed and emotionally unavailable it does not make for a good dramatic thriller.

Playing like a bad parody of a Samuel Beckett play I kept waiting for something to happen and though I do usually appreciate the journey a movie takes me on more than its destination in the third act, neither the journey or final destination in Mot was all that worthwhile. It traffics in a kind of quiet seriousness that pervades many indie films nowadays, but it takes more than angst-ridden characters to be profound. Seo’s first feature is crushed under the weight of its own pretension as it tries to evoke the characters and atmosphere of Bleak Night (2010) and tons of other better post-adolescent dramas.


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1 comment:

  1. Disagree. Plenty happened. Ending was superb leaving deep questions of why such a selfish person would end it and where he ended it in particular. As for the sole keeper of the secret, why was he shedding tears? For the victim, the past or that he must he still confess even though only he knows the truth. Great film.