Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Busan 2015 Review: ALONE Winds Its Mystery Through the Backstreets of Seoul

Part of MKC's coverage of the 20th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Four years after his experimental 3D shaman mystery Fish, Park Hong-min returns to BIFF with another singular work that offers one of the most compelling examinations of gentrification in Seoul. Alone follows a single character as he hops from one terrible dream to the next, unable to wake up and incapable of escaping nestled alleys of his small, dying neighborhood.

Opening with a gritty POV shot of an apparent murder scene in a shabby apartment, Park's film purposely seeks to disorient before guiding us to a collage of pictures on the wall offering a vista of the local area visible from the roof the building, zooming in on a girl who may or may not be the victim of whatever crime has just taken place.

Switching to stalking tracking shots for the rest of the narrative, Alone next shows us the man taking long lens shots from his roof, and here he witnesses a crime. Spotted by its perpetrators, he tries to escape to his one-room apartment but it isn't long before they catch up with him. Later, he walks through the alleys of his neighborhood naked, meeting a boy with a knife and a girl crying on steps. Waking up in different spots with new fears each time, the narrative drags him (and us) into a paranoid frenzy of fuzzy dream logic in the interlocking alleys sprouting out around his building.

Employing a series of dynamic long takes which forcefully gliding back and forth, either pulling in or pushing the protagonist through alleys, the camera acts like an active and aggressive agent, making the filmmaker (and by extension the viewer) complicit in the character's descent into paranoia. Further compounding the protagonist's disorientation is the claustrophobic tangle of narrow, winding staircases and alleys he continually climbs and descends, never reaching a destination as they keep curving him back to the center.

With a strong presence behind the camera, bold lensing and an ingenious use of location, Alone easily stands out among the usual crop of local social indies that tend to crop up in the Busan lineup. The dreamscape logic is somewhat reminiscent of last year's A Matter of Interpretation, but this film's tension and focus on social and urban infrastructure, rather than characters, marks it as a very different work.

With a presence that is at once physical and timid and a countenance that captures his character's growing confusion, Lee Joo-won, a new face on the film scene, acquits himself well in the lead, performing a tenebrous duet with the camera. With his second feature outing, Park proves himself as a filmmaker with plenty of ideas, and one keen to explore expression through a variety of different techniques.

At times the long takes lead to some lingering moments of uncertainty, as characters may take too long to decide on something (such as whether or not to answer a call) and the second half touches on some increasingly cerebral territory, but these small quibbles aside, Alone is a bold and compelling work with much to offer beyond the traditional narratives we are so accustomed to.


This review also appeared on

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