THE WORLD OF US (2016)
Simple yet profound take on juvenile angst and educational pressure, a 10-year-old outcast makes a summer friend before a return to school threatens their relationship
While The King of Pigs (2011) and Bleak Night (2011) take a full blooded and austere look at the coming-of-age experience in Korea, Yoon Ga-eun’s engaging debut injects simplicity into the woes of some Korean children.
What further separates The World of Us from its predecessors is its ability to feel less an adult view of childhood and more a legitimately child-view of this world. Yoon achieves this through her camera craft – the film’s gaze is almost exclusively on the children. Adults are characters on the periphery, often out of focus in the background or darting out of the door to work. The children’s teachers can usually be heard, but not seen.
Our view is predominantly consumed by the sweet face of Sun (Choi Soo-in), a kind and gentle girl that suffers the fate of being neither academically brilliant or having sporting prowess. Completing this triple threat of societal misfortunes, Sun’s family is also poor and unable to provide her with the tools of her peers, such as a mobile phone.
Bullied by the super smart Bora (Lee Seo-yeon) and her pair of cackling sidekicks, Sun cuts a lone figure at school. When Bora surprisingly invites Sun to her birthday, it turns out Sun has been duped and sent to a random address.
Feeling melancholy after this snub, Sun bumps into the school’s new girl Jia (Seol Hye-in). With school out and the summer ahead of them, Sun and Jia form a close bond, spending time at each other’s houses. As Jia has not started at the school properly yet, she remains unaware of Sun’s unpopular status.
There are still signs though, with Jia supported by her rich grandmother while Sun’s family struggles on, including Sun having to handle her alcoholic dad. When the new school year starts, this close bond is put to the test as Jia is approached by potential new friends, including Sun’s bully Bora.
It is impossible not to get invested, deeply so, in the fortunes of Sun. She is the child you would have as your own, or encourage your child to make friends with. A soul too sweet for this world, held back by her society’s obsession with smarts, sports and riches.
Yoon has done a fine job, in her own debut, to manage that directorial task, while getting the best out of an inexperienced cast who are all superb. Yoon had demonstrated vast talent in her two previous shorts, Guest (2011) and Sprout (2013), and shows a clear aptitude for feature work here.
While The World of Us is reflective of the fixations of Korean society and the status that is placed on children for aspects often out of their control, there is an international applicability to its nature. That feeling of trying to fit in, of not comprehending what you have done wrong to be so side-lined. Yoon has created a film about children, told almost exclusively through their eyes, but with a flourish that will trigger viewers of all ages and situations.