Subtle Drama with Beautiful Moments
This isn’t a happy tale. But there are some beautiful moments, typically reflected in the full-length windows of the Seoul office building that sets the stage. Even though there’s a lot of unpleasantness in the action, there’s hopefulness too. And a subtle message about holding that which is worth grasping.
Starring a few familiar faces, Chun Woo-Hee leads as Seo-Young, who you may recognize from Netflix series Argon. Yoo Teo as CEO Lee Jin-Soo appears in London Korean Film Festival opener Pawn and Netflix series Vagabond, Arthdal Chronicles and The School Nurse Files. Jeong Jae-Kwang plays Kwon-Woo and can be seen in Netflix series It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and Save Me.
Billed as a romantic drama written and directed by Jeon Kye-Su, this film is certainly leaning more toward the spectacle side. It’s uncomfortable to watch Seo-Young as she struggles to keep her job, deal with her cup-three-quarters-empty mother and quite literally maintain her equilibrium.
Vertigo sufferers, this may not be for you. As Seo-Young’s symptoms increase, clever camera work here and there by cinematographer Lee Sung-Eun gives you a mildly experiential taste of what she must be facing as if you’re spiraling along with her.
Seo-Young’s day-to-day is a slog where very few are in her corner. There are an awful lot of takers and from the off, it seems as if she’s already given up the fight.
Even the romance with Lee Jin-Soo that kicks off the story is tricky and one-sided. He’s got his pressures too, it seems. As he hides and leaves Seo-Young dangling further, the swirl widens.
Her position in the company is precarious as the time for contract renewals arrives. Her manager assures her he’ll put in a good word, but there’s an implication that this may come with a price.
I wondered if this is simply a narrative told in absorbing visuals or instead, perhaps an astute commentary on the Korean business world’s caste system. The plight of the temp employee; where the haves consistently stomp upon the have-nots – just because they can. The definition of bullying.
This theme is drawn upon fairly frequently in Korean content – either it’s a highly common occurrence or cultural symbol of people who struggle to find their rightful places. That is certainly a factor here as Seo-Young seems sticky-noted to her role, precariously close to falling off the edge.
In its make-up, this movie feels quite a distance from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, yet still focuses on similar themes of obsession, manipulation and fear. Not in the same arrangement, yet these topics are certainly a piece of this 2019 film’s puzzle.
Throughout the story, Seo-Young visits her doctor as her symptoms become more frequent and acute. She describes the sensation – ‘I feel suffocated like I’m inside a vacuum.’ And gradually becomes more disoriented as her life becomes increasingly less stable and mired in bleakness.
It feels like a moment for a hero, doesn’t it? Not quite of the leotard variety but able to leap – or at least drop – from tall buildings, Kwon-Woo, a window cleaner, notices Seo-Young through the glass. He gradually transitions from observer to friendly stalker and then saviour, keeping an eye out whilst suspended from high places.
Kwon-Woo imperceptibly protects and encourages Seo-Young. He’s also navigating his own maze, caring for his debilitated father and mourning his sister’s death. Is he a wonderful guy or another predator tracking the weakest of the pack?
There’s a daily forecast that appears as text on screen. It seems to anticipate frequent hurdles and sporadic lovely moments. Overall, there are more grey skies than blue, but it’s worth hanging on until the last moment. Eyes up. And enjoy with a comforting cup of hot tea.
Part of the line-up for the 2020 London Korean Film Festival, romantic drama, Vertigo, will be available to watch for free on November 10 on the festival website. Feel free to click here to learn more!