Movies about being stranded on a deserted island or planet have a unique and captivating quality. We are intrigued by watching the main character deal with losing things we take for granted. We root for them as they try to survive on Mars and we understand their courage in the face of a hostile environment. By the end, we feel purified and inspired to make positive changes in our own lives. These films often serve as a reminder of our insignificance compared to nature and can be critical of materialism and societal structures. “Castaway on The Moon,” the debut film by writer-director Lee Hae-joon, offers a refreshing twist. Along with all the elements mentioned before, it also tells a heartwarming and humorous story about human connections and hope.
“Castaway on the Moon” is screening at Hong Kong Arts Centre, as part of the The Look of Love: Korean Romance Film Showcase program
The movie begins with a close-up of a man’s face, Kim Seong-geun (played by Jung Jae-young), talking on the phone about his financial struggles. As the camera zooms out, we see he is on the edge of a bridge and jumps off. However, he washes up on Bamseom, a deserted island in the middle of the Han River in Seoul. Despite being only a few hundred meters from civilization, Kim is unable to swim and feels trapped. He initially becomes angry at his situation, but soon realizes that he is stuck between life and death. His cell phone, which still works, provides no help as the battery dies. He must learn to survive on his own by scavenging for food and using scraps to create shelter. As time passes, his “HELP” message in the sand turns into a “HELLO”.
Unknown to Kim, he had been under surveillance for some time. Kim Jung-yeon, a reclusive young girl, spends her days in isolation within her dark room, indulging in her orderly OCD habits and projecting a fake persona on the social media platform Cyworld (similar to Myspace). On this platform, she presents herself as a fashionable avatar and shares photos of her shopping trips. However, her true self is quite different – messy hair, oversized t-shirts, and worn-out sneakers. At night, she finds solace in exploring the moon through a telescope and capturing photos of it. During one of her photo expeditions, she stumbles upon male Kim and his large “HELLO” message on the island. She mistakenly believes him to be an alien seeking contact with humans. Breaking her own strict rules of seclusion, she decides to respond to his message in a complicated yet clever manner. This sparks a slow and unexpected conversation between the two.
This story of two unconventional individuals coming together is a charming and enjoyable experience. The clever and well-crafted screenplay effectively utilizes the absurdity of the plot, which involves being stranded on a desert island within swimming distance from home. The film addresses various themes such as consumerism, alienation, fake identities on social media, and self-isolation, all while potentially leading to a romantic outcome. However, rather than being weighed down by these heavy topics, the film manages to strike a delightful and whimsical tone.
Both Kims share the same name, but they also share a similar fate as outcasts. They have deliberately isolated themselves from society, trapped in their own personal bubbles. Their attempt to conform to societal expectations of beauty, wealth, and consumerism has failed, leaving them stranded in the midst of a bustling metropolis. However, the film does not dwell on heavy social commentary. It simply presents it in the background, allowing us to reflect on it. This is mirrored by the male Kim’s view of Seoul’s skyline from his metaphorical, yet very real, desert island.
The pacing of the movie is incredibly impressive. The troubles faced by male protagonist Kim are portrayed in a subtly comedic way, resulting in many laughs and taking up a significant portion of the film. But as female Kim enters the story with her tragicomic behavior, she grabs the audience’s attention and brings new possibilities and anticipation. The subsequent interactions and suspenseful final act are executed with pure brilliance.
The exceptional widescreen cinematography by DP Kim Byeong-se is what truly elevates the absurdity and creates a memorable cinematic experience. The two distinct worlds of the Kim family are effectively portrayed through the use of light; the female Kim’s room is characterized by dark, bluish tones while her sleeping area, lined with bubble wrap, emits a comically cold light reminiscent of a freezer. In contrast, the island is bathed in warm, natural light with frequent backlit shots that give the illusion of a beautiful tropical destination, despite the presence of garbage and plastic bottles littered throughout. The design team further enhances the film with simple yet perfect costumes and whimsical props found in both locations; from a duck-shaped pedalo to a collection of garbage bags and cans of sweetcorn in the hikikomori room, to a handmade bowl of instant black noodles.
The limited dialogue in the film, reflecting the isolation of the two Kims, and their minimal on-screen interactions allow for Jung Jae-young and Jung Ryeo-won to shine in their roles and display excellent virtual chemistry. Jung Jae-young’s comedic facial expressions and physical acting are impressive, while Jung Ryeo-won portrays a complex range of emotions. Both actors are very likable.
“Castaway on The Moon” is a unique and entertaining film that strikes a perfect balance between seriousness and humor. It expertly combines deep themes with a lighthearted touch, featuring endearing characters and impressive technical elements that are sure to please audiences.