KYUNGMI'S WORLD (2019)
A bleak, difficult watch that does succeed in showing the angst of toxic family relationships
Trevor Treharne, Online Marché du Film, June 2020
Our families are foisted upon us and in some cases this locks people into destructive relationships for which there is little escape.
This is the central theme here where we see a feuding grandmother and granddaughter reunited and the finger-pointing resumes as they blame each other for their fragmented lives.
This results in a difficult to watch film, even if it is highlighting some deeply important issues. This aspect probably contributes to why the film feels a drawn out affair, nevertheless it is still a promising directorial debut from Koo Ji-hyun as it is maturely handled.
Despite the film’s title, we never get to meet Kyungmi, instead we witness the world she has mysteriously left behind in the shape of her daughter Soo-yeon (Kim Misu) and her mother Young-soon (Lee Young-ran).
The grandmother-granddaughter relationship between Soo-yeon and Young-soon is a strained one and only after complications over Young-soon's exit from a property do the pair speak for the first time in seven years.
Young-soon is now in a care home, where she claims to be faking dementia to exploit cheaper pricing. When Soo-yeon visits her, old wounds are opened over their previous treatment of each other and who was the cause of Kyungmi running away years prior.
Soo-yeon's struggles to make it as an actor has caused her to live a despondent life of underachievement in her eyes, a weakness that her grandmother quickly jumps upon (“I’m a better actor than you”).
There does seem to be flickers of common ground to work with, as Soo-yeon hears how she has told the care home workers of her granddaughter's beauty and talent.
They also briefly bond over a troubled vice of bulimia, which Young-soon insists both do to maintain some control over their otherwise failing lives. However, these flickers of hope soon burn out between the pair and they are back at each other’s throats.
It seems that the problems of this family are inter-generational, from the surly grandmother to her daughter who ran away and now her granddaughter who plays out a melancholy existence.
The film is a relentless portrayal of these issues and the family dynamic, meaning it feels it has outstayed its welcome by its final act. For large parts, there is scant entertainment to be found within this mire of a film, but that is largely the point. There is so much bitterness in this film, you start to taste it yourself.
However, it is addressing relevant and important issues around families, mental health and how the blame game can run through generations.
Both Kim Misu and Lee Young-ran produce performances of depth and interest to hold the film’s difficult issues together for its duration.
For a debut feature from a filmmaker just 31-years of age, it certainly suggests we will be hearing more from Koo Ji-hyun in the not-to-distance future.