Stars: Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, Steven Yeun
South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong’s latest picture is an oblique but bewitching thriller adapted loosely from a short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakmi. Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is a callow aspiring writer making ends meet by working as a delivery boy. One day he is spotted by an ex-school acquaintance, beautiful young woman Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), who is dancing as part of a store promotion. He doesn’t remember her, although she claims this may be because she has had plastic surgery. Hae-mi is about to set off travelling in Africa for a couple of months and she asks Jong-su to look after her apartment and cat in her absence. He agrees and shortly before she leaves they have sex. Weeks later, Hae-mi returns home with Ben (Steven Yeun), a confident and well-moneyed young man who lives in the fashionable Gangnam district. Jong-su is weary and resentful of this affluent young man whose income remains a mystery, but despite his hurt feelings he spends time with the new couple. One night at the shabby farmhouse Jong-su has inherited from his parents, Ben confesses, while Hae-mi sleeps, his strange penchant for burning greenhouses down, adding that his next target is ‘very near’ to Jong-su’s abode. Later, when Hae-mi seems to disappear, Jong-su suspects Ben is behind it. Boasting some indelible imagery, Lee’s picture is as thematically rich as it is elusive, a melancholy love story that also works as a bleak comedy, and a mystery in which no-one is reliable, which features illuminating insights on sexual politics and class relations in contemporary Seoul. Unquantifiable but essential.