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“Second Half” is a Korean indie film with an interesting pedigree, being the debut feature from writer director David Cho, who just happens to be the chairman of Sponge Entertainment and the producer of a long list of popular commercial and art house films, having worked on the likes of “A Frozen Flower”, “Rough Cut”, “Dream” and more. Unsurprisingly the film, which premiered at the 2010 Pusan Festival, sees Cho drawing on his own experiences by featuring a film maker as its protagonist, reflecting on life and love in whimsical and often alcohol soaked fashion.
The film follows film producer Jo In Sung (Ryu Seung Soo, recently in war epic “The Front Line”), who after the latest in a line of box office failures results in his mountain of debts piling even higher, decides to flee Seoul and visit a small coastal town in Gangwon province where he spent time during his college years. On his first evening in the hotel, he comes across a young waitress (Esom, “Hindsight”), whose face seems strangely familiar. Thinking back on his past, Jo recalls a woman he had a one night stand with some twenty years back, and comes to the conclusion that the girl might in fact be his daughter. As a means of finding out more about her, he conjures up a story that he is writing a film script set in the area, and persuades her to show him around.
Downbeat film maker protagonists are a favourite with Korean indie directors, as seen in several Hong Sang Soo outings such as “HaHaHa” and “Like You Know it All”, and here Cho certainly makes good use of the premise, filling the film with authentic touches and dialogue about the stress of life in the industry. Cho obviously knows his stuff, and this aspect of the film is very interesting, coming across as genuine without being explicitly autobiographical. Crucially for this kind of film, Jo does make for a basically likeable figure, thanks in part to an appealingly low key performance from Ryu Seung Soo, bumbling along in cheerfully immature and unreliable fashion.
The film as a whole is pretty similar to its main character, with a leisurely, unforced pace and following a gentle rhythm that holds the interest thanks to a strong script and some believable, engaging conversations, avoiding the kind of purposeful quirkiness that sometimes taints indie productions. Drinking plays a big part in the proceedings, with a great many scenes of Jo and the rest of the cast sinking beers, staggering around or talking nonsense to each other. This plays nicely into the theme of things being misremembered, which is what really drives the whole question as to whether the girl is his daughter as opposed to any kind of dedicated investigation on his part. Rather than a drama, the film unfolds more as a pleasant road trip, with some nice coastal locations and plenty of local colour and food, Jo amiably wandering around, content just to hang around with her for most of the running time until the issue finally comes to the fore during the last act.
The ambiguous relationship between the two works well, and is arguably more interesting than the usual romantic shenanigans. Though Cho steers away from anything artificial or contrived, there is a definite spark between Ryu Seung Soo and Esom, and he does a good job of building dramatic tension. However, this generally takes a back seat to the film’s breezy, naturalistic progression, and never really drives the narrative. Backed by a classical score, Cho’s direction is playful and humanistic throughout and he goes some way to giving the film an unobtrusive, intimate feel, almost as if the viewer were simply spending time with the characters.
As such, “Second Half” is more than charming enough for the viewer to overlook the fact that it’s not really about anything much, and like its protagonist just kind of muddles along. Entertaining and genuine, it’s an accomplished character piece which marks Cho as one of the better indie writer directors working in the genre.
David Cho (director) / David Cho (screenplay)
CAST: Ryoo Seung-soo