Directed by: July Jung
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Taylor Baker
July Jung’s first film since her debut “A Girl at My Door” 8 years ago, is a taut, well-communicated, and thoughtful piece. “Next Sohee” made waves back in May when it debuted as the closing night selection of the Critics’ Week at Cannes. Jung opens on a frantic and frenetic dance from Kim Si-eun who plays the titular So-hee. So-hee in this opening scene is trying to nail the dance moves that she used to practice regularly at a local studio. The cinematography of the scene is handheld and meticulous, it builds out viewer anticipation and the central character simultaneously.
The film goes on to detail So-hee being placed in a work program through her school at the equivalent of what might best be described as a South Korean Comcast Call Center. So-hee and her co-workers’ jobs are in essence to discourage, dissuade, enrage, and exhaust customers calling in to cancel their service into giving up, and if they can, secure a contract extension. It’s a soul-sucking gig, but it should pay okay. Only the management team doesn’t pay out earned incentives to the staff, overtime, or even their whole paycheck. They’re essentially used and abused as an indentured labor force without any recourse. If a student wished to quit the job they were placed in and go back to school they have to wear a red tag designating them as a failure and work as janitorial staff at their school. Or in So-hee’s case, she would have been made to put on a large red vest causing her to be ostracized further. The social dynamic of this failing in South Korean society is presented as the equivalent of a death knell, forever damning you to a lower class existence for dishonoring your school and family after being made to wear this pseudo scarlet letter.
It’s no wonder then that So-hee’s boss commits suicide one winter evening after leaving a note on his dashboard that serves to whistleblow the abuse that the corporation is committing. The corruption they’re involved in seems to run further up the chain than we’ve seen and through pressuring the staff and help from the police the call center company manages to avert any unwanted attention and investigation into their business practices. So-hee from this point on is irrevocably damaged. Shortly after her bosses death she also attempts suicide, after a night of drinking with her friend. This first half of the film spent observing and living with So-hee is stressful but its deliberateness and Jung in conjunction with cinematographer Kim Il-yeon and editors Lee Young-lim and Han Ji-youn is able to coalesce a stark version of the realities youth in South Korea experience through effective visual storytelling. Often drawing the viewers eye to the periphery while maintaining action in the center of the frame. This duality seems inherent in the project itself, as this is a film built of two halves.
The second portion follows Bae Doona’s (Sense8, The Host, Cloud Atlas, etc.) Yu-jin as she investigates the second and successful attempt of So-hee to commit suicide. This second portion of the film reexamines the isolated human experience we’ve observed and the labyrinthine quality that life has in the earlier half of the film. As well as false intimacy, corruption, and a false sense of honor framed as a way of manipulating and abusing those who cannot defend themselves.
Through riveting specificity July Jung’s “Next Sohee” has created a powerful criticism of South Korean institutional failings. Making it one of the best sophomore films of the year, and the indelible result of a bonafide filmmaker.
“Next Sohee” Trailer