Bori (London Korean Film Festival 2020 Closing Gala) – Movie Review

Sweet Simply-Told Story About Belonging

Everyone wants to fit in. For most middle-schoolers, it’s acceptance in cliques or sports groups. But not Bori – she’s fine in school and with her best friend. Where she feels a bit of an outsider though is within her own home.

Each day Bori gets herself up and ready for school. On her way, she stops at a shrine to pray. What is she so earnestly wishing?

Her parents and younger brother are lovely and they all spend time together. It’s not that she’s neglected or even excluded. The thing that separates her just a little is that they are deaf and she alone can hear.

As such, she is by default the household spokesperson to the outside world. She watches intently as her parents silently play with her brother. It’s not that they don’t connect with her, but there is something subtly different in the relationships.

Written, directed and produced by Kim Jin-Yu, his debut film is delicately told from a nine-year-old’s perspective. Bori is brilliantly played by Kim Ah-Song and you can see every emotion on her face.

Bori’s mother is portrayed by Heo Ji-Na. Kwak Jin-Seok is her father and particularly sweet as he makes time for both of his children. Lee Rin-Ha is seven-year-old Jung-Woo and the steadfast friend Eun-Jeong is performed by Hwang Yoo-Rim.

The family attends an annual festival and Bori gets separated. Of course, there’s no use in calling out. Bori holds it together as she searches along the event stalls. When she finally finds herself at the police station and bursts into tears, it’s clear that she’s just a distraught kid and at least today, not the person responsible for handling things at home.

This 2018 film seems timeless both in its seaside setting and in other’s attitudes toward the neighbours. Those who know them accept and look to Bori when discussion is necessary. People who only know of the family treat them with veiled derision.

Being different is tough even with other relatives. Mother and children visit their grandfather, believing he’s ill. He appears to be perfectly fine, but mother persists in questioning him, having Bori translate.

This is where we see Bori’s special relationship with her hearing grandfather. Again, not one of intentional exclusion – just different. Bori asks him why he never learned sign language and it turns out no one ever taught him. Bori says the same – she was never taught either. But of course, she’s learned by necessity.

There’s a scene where Bori finally admits to Eun-Jeong that she wishes to be deaf too. She heartbreakingly confesses, ‘I feel all alone at home.’ Her friend helpfully provides an MP3 player and instruction to play it on full volume.

Later the news covers a sea diver who notes that her hearing has been damaged by submerging. With this new hope, Bori jumps into the sea at the first opportunity. At the hospital, she fakes her hearing test and is presumed deaf. Everyone believes it completely plausible, given her parentage.

Once Bori finds herself with this opportunity to fit in, she’s treated to a view of how others behold her family as well as their experience of the outside world. She asks questions and starts connecting the dots to her own experience. You can see the wheels turning.

It’s not until Jung-Woo becomes a candidate for ear surgery that Bori starts to rethink her resolve. Doctors and relatives encourage the surgery that would offer Jung-Woo a better life.

Everyone embraces the idea. Only Bori is uncertain, as she’s heard the doctor say it would mean an end to football (soccer) for her brother – his only route to connecting with his friends. But of course, it’s his choice.

Bori may only be a youngster, but she’s astute enough to ask questions and find out what her loved ones really want. There’s a lot to think about in this simple story about fitting in. It’s not just our own experiences but our loved ones as well, as they are as vested in us as we are in them.

 

Closing Gala for the 2020 London Korean Film Festival, family drama, Bori, will be available to watch either online or in participating cinemas. Check the website for evolving schedule and guidelines.


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