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Review of My Name is Loh Kiwan (2024) directed by Kim Hee-jin.
Review of My Name is Loh Kiwan (2024) directed by Kim Hee-jin.

Review of My Name is Loh Kiwan (2024) directed by Kim Hee-jin.

“I have the freedom to reside in any country, and to also have the choice to leave whenever I desire.”

The film “My Name is Loh Kiwan” is based on the book of the same name by Cho Hae-jin. It was awarded the Sin Dong-yup Prize for Literature in 2013. This month, it was released on Netflix and became the top non-English movie on their global weekly chart from March 4-10. It gained over 5 million views and was popular in 31 countries such as Peru, Portugal, Turkey, and Malaysia.

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The movie follows Loh Kiwan, a defector from North Korea who escapes to China with his mother. However, he becomes a wanted person after an incident and is forced to flee as the police come searching for him. Despite managing to escape, his mother is unfortunately killed. In response, Loh decides to defect once again, this time seeking refuge in Belgium for a new beginning.

However, Loh quickly realizes that his new life in a foreign country is just as difficult. First, he must endure a long waiting period for his refugee status. Second, he has nowhere to live and no job, and not being able to understand the language only adds to his troubles. Reduced to living like a homeless man, he sleeps in public restrooms and survives by selling collected bottles for spare change and scavenging through garbage for food. On top of all this, he must also defend himself against violent youth gangs for no apparent reason. One night, he unexpectedly meets Marie Lee, a young woman who steals his wallet but also captures his heart. Together, they form a deep bond that dramatically changes their lives.

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Kim Hee-jin’s debut film as director chronicles the challenges faced by refugees in an unfamiliar country and their uncertain fate. The dominant medium and close-up shots capture the viewer’s attention, despite a limited color palette. The mundane background scenery, consisting of shades of brown and gray, is occasionally contrasted by pops of vibrant red from neon or street lights. This visual style effectively complements the film’s theme and tone.

The main character being homeless is one of the few poignant scenes scattered throughout the film that depicts the difficult reality of refugees while also tugging at the emotions of the audience. However, there are also moments of joy, particularly between Loh and Maria as their relationship develops, and a very intimate love scene. The film’s first shot, with Loh washing away blood from the street and a somber piano playing in the background, is both impressive and captivating, drawing in the viewers.

The duo of lead actors is incredible and both deliver outstanding performances in their respective roles. Song Joong-ki portrays the character of Loh Kiwan perfectly and convincingly depicts the struggles of a refugee seeking a new life and, above all, freedom. His expressions are impeccable, allowing the audience to truly understand his emotions. In the recent TV show “Vincenzo” (2021), he played a smooth and cunning mafia leader, dressed in tailored suits – a stark contrast to his character here. However, he still manages to breathe life into his character and make them believable, whether he’s portraying a dirty, depressed individual or simply moping around as Loh.

Marie Lee, portrayed by Choi Sung-eun, is a complex and troubled character. She rebels by using drugs and drifting through life without a clear direction. However, she also shares many struggles and inner demons with Loh. Cho brilliantly portrays the enigmatic nature of Lee and gives a flawless performance, also looking stunning in her bold fashion choices. The chemistry between Choi and Song is believable and relatable for viewers.

The entire supporting cast delivered strong performances despite having limited screen time. Kim Sung-ryung and Lee Il-hwa, who play the mothers of Loh and Lee respectively, portrayed their tragic characters with great impact. However, the depiction of the foreign characters was generic and stereotypical, although the actors did an acceptable job with their roles.

The movie “My Name is Loh Kiwan” explores themes of human struggles, hope, love, and survival through the raw and compelling storytelling of Kim and the heartfelt performances of the two main actors. This film delivers a powerful message and can be emotionally intense at times.