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Korean indie “Come, Closer” marks the debut feature from director Kim Jong Kwan, a winding exploration of love and modern relationships, focusing specifically on the pain of breaking up. Drifting through a series of scenes of couples experiencing various difficulties and realisations, the film is an ensemble piece with a cast headed by popular actress Jung Yoo Mi (recently in master indie director Hong Sang Soo’s “Oki’s Movie”), and various musical types including singer-turned actor Yoon Kye Sang (Lovers of Six Years) and indie singer Yozoh. Like most Korean indie productions, the film took the festival circuit release route, having played at Pusan in 2010.
The film kicks off with coffee shop worker Su Jin (Kim Hyo Seo) taking a random call from a Polish man in Rotterdam, who tells her the story of his missing fiancé, before moving into a series of vaguely interlinked segments revolving around a group of young urbanites. These see a girl called Se Yeon (Yeom Bo Ra) attempting to seduce the possibly gay Young Soo (Oh Chang Suk), band mates Hye Young (Yozoh) and Ju Young (Yoon Hee Suk) taking a walk through the park while discussing love, Hyun Oh (Yoon Kye Sang) being stalked by his ex-girlfriend (Jung Yoo Mi) in the rain, and the confused Woon Chul (Jang Seo Won) having to deal with an awkward confession from his boyfriend.
Although this synopsis may suggest the kind of contrived overlapping multi-narrative type plot so common in indie cinema, “Come, Closer” is actually a pleasingly naturalistic affair, with Kim Jong Kwan taking a gently intimate approach to the material. The film is observational rather than intrusive, and though it does feature a handful of revelations along the way, it’s never manipulative or artificial. Whilst this may mean for some viewers that it is lacking in drama or high octane emotions, it’s very much a character based and humanistic effort, and one which clearly cares more about its journey than its destination. Basically consisting of a series of vignettes, the film is essentially just a series of conversations between couples, though thanks to a fine script, it rings true throughout, facing up to the harsh realities of the heart without pulling too many punches. Though it does get a touch ponderous in places (in particular during the not exactly promising opening scene) and occasionally oversteps the mark in its search for meaningfulness, at the same time it benefits from a light touch and a genuine desire to offer a realistic and balanced depiction of the many trials and troubles between men and women (and indeed between men and men).
The film is a fittingly mature and adult affair, and in dealing with a number of weighty issues it does get graphically sexual in places, more so than most other similarly themed efforts. However, although it frequently features both male and female nudity, as well as some pretty intense couplings, it’s never gratuitous or played for cheap titillation. To a large extent this is due to Kim’s efforts to flesh out his characters, all of whom are convincingly written and acted by the impressive cast. For the most part the players are complex figures, and the film has a non-judgemental manner which never condemns their sometimes less than moral behaviour or offers any kind of conclusions, narrative or thematic. This is offset with some well judged instances of humour, and though the film doesn’t feature any jokes or comedy as such, it is all the more engaging for never wallowing in angst, despite covering some potentially depressing ground.
As a result, although likely to be mainly of interest to devotees of independent cinema, “Come, Closer” is arguably one of the few truly honest films about modern relationships to have emerged from Korea of late. Touching and insightful, it manages to avoid most of the philosophical excesses that genre outings tend to be prone to, and suggests that Kim Jong Kwan may well be a talent to watch.
Kim Jong-kwan (director) / Kim Jong-kwan (screenplay)
CAST: Yoon Kye-sang … Hyeon-oh
Jeong Yu-mi … Eun-hee
Yoon Hee-seok … Joo-yeong
Yozoh … Hye-yeong
Jang Seo-won … Woon-cheol
Oh Chang-seok … Yeong-soo