Lee Jun-hyeok delivers a remarkable showing, skillfully portraying the complexities of his character with concise eloquence.
It is not an easy task to combine grittiness and strong social criticism in a way that is packaged as art house, but Kim Ki-duk has been a champion of this approach in his early films in Korean cinema. Jeon Kyu-hwan also seems to have achieved a similar feat with his movie “Animal Town,” which has received awards at Vesoul, Black Movie, and Busan.
The movie “Animal Town” will be shown at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema.
Oh Sung-Chul has been granted parole. He must wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle to track his movements and serve as a reminder of his past wrongdoings. He resides in a dilapidated apartment complex that is scheduled for demolition. He works in construction, but is recently fired and receives a reduced final paycheck. In addition, he is required to take medication to manage his mental health issues. On the other hand, Kim Hyung-do is a devoted family man who operates a printing company, but is facing challenges in both his career and personal life, especially with his strained relationship with his wife. Eventually, the two men’s paths intersect.
Jeon Kyu-kwan’s film unfolds slowly, initially appearing to be an art-house drama about the monotony of city life and the resulting isolation. However, as the story progresses, the harsh yet realistic answers to many lingering questions are revealed. Why does Sung-chul wear a police ankle bracelet and take pills? Why is the homeless little girl a recurring presence? What is causing Hyung-do’s depression and what is happening with his wife? How do all of these pieces fit together? These questions drive the film from start to finish, with Jeon skillfully introducing new ones until the shocking conclusion near the end.
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Additionally, while delving into deep analyses of the characters and their dialogue, the director also incorporates thought-provoking social and philosophical commentary. This includes themes of alienation, crime and punishment, grief and despair, exploitation, and societal indifference towards those in need. The film’s tone borders on nihilism, highlighting the director’s pessimistic views.
One noteworthy aspect is the use of visuals, as Kim Jin-kyung’s cinematography often adopts a documentary style that closely follows the two main characters without trying to make them look more attractive. The editing by Han Jong-hoon and Park Hae-o contributes to a deliberate slow pace that complements the overall aesthetic, and the placement of revelations and shocking events in the story is well done.
Lee Jun-hyeok delivers a remarkable portrayal as Sung-chul, effectively conveying the various dimensions of his character through restrained yet powerful dialogue. Oh Seong-tae also shines as Hyung-do, showcasing a similar style in his smaller role that stands out towards the end.
The film “Animal Town” is outstanding, skillfully blending all its elements together, especially in the way everything builds up to the ending, which is a spectacle to behold.