Contemporary World Cinema | 2017 | 124 minutes
Stranger Says: Fine acting and twisty plotting distinguish this slow-burn thriller. After one teenager dies saving another, the mourning parents are left to pick up the pieces. The father wants to establish a scholarship and the mother wants to have another child, but they’re mostly marinating in misery until Sungcheol takes Kihyun, the shifty kid Eunchan saved, under his wing. With one dead parent and another who couldn’t give a damn, the 17-year-old has to provide for himself, so Sungcheol gives him a job, but his charity takes a turn that none of them—the entire community included—could have anticipated.
SIFF Says:How does one replace a child taken far too soon? That is one of the wrenching questions explored in this debut feature film by writer/director Shin Dong-seok about a grieving set of parents, Sungcheol (Choi Moo-seong) and Misook (Kim Yeo-jin), who lost their teenage son in a drowning accident six months before. As the devastated middle-aged couple attempts to cope by focusing on their interior decorating business, Misook attempts (and fails) to conceive once again by artificial insemination. One day, Sungcheol notices a boy being harassed by bullies and discovers that the victim is Kihyun, the boy that the couple’s son had saved from drowning on the day he died. Moved by the connection to his son, Sungcheol decides to become a mentor to Kihyun and take him on as an apprentice, over the objection of the distraught Misook. Over time, Kihyun succeeds in the business as the couple gradually begins treating him as their own. But Sungcheol and Misook soon realize that performing a makeover in their lives is more complicated than rearranging furniture, as Kihyun reveals shocking news about what really happened to their son. Director Shin skillfully navigates the weighty subjects of death, guilt, and reconciliation in this subtle study of the myriad ways that grief can bring people together, and also drive them apart.
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