Chorokbam (2021) by Yoon Seo-jin

“I saw a dead cat hanging by the neck”

As we have mentioned many times recently, Korea’s Weird Wave is definitely having a moment right now, with titles that can only be described with the particular word coming one after the other. Slow-burning, road movie of sorts, family drama of sorts, winner of the CGV Arthouse Award at the latest Busan International Film Festival “Chorokbam” also falls under the “category”. 

Starting during a night when everything seems to be painted in green, the Dad of a three-membered family who works as a night security guard discovers a cat hanging by its neck on a rope. The image shocks him, but still continues his routine, of returning to their cramped apartment just as Mom leaves to dry peppers in the sun in the morning, with the red color dominating the images this time. As soon as she returns, a rather dysfunctional relationship is revealed, with the man using the toilet with the door open, and her nagging about his attitude, before she informs him that the owner of their apartment wants to sell it. They don’t actually interact with each other, apart from when complaining. 

The Son of the family works as an aide for the disabled, but his life is also unsatisfying, particularly because he does not make much in order to rent an apartment with his fiance, having to spend their nights together in cheap motels. They both retain their bitter sense of humor though. A bit later, the predetermined death of a relative brings their relations with the rest of the family to the front, with the rest of the movie following the three as they fulfill their duties as “the eldest of the family”.

Yoon Seo-jin directs a movie that seems to comment on the deconstruction of the lower middle class family, portraying a married couple who have no clue why they are staying together, apart the fact that they are used to each other, and a more extended family of the wife who are on the verge of killing each other, as the funeral scene eloquently portrays. The same applies to the Son, who may share mutual feelings with his fiance but does not have the money to begin a “proper” relationship, with Yoon suggesting that financial issues also are a big factor in the aforementioned deconstruction. As the funerals, the rituals and the one marriage all border on the ridiculous, this comment goes even further, in an approach that could even be described as nihilistic, with the fact that the Father realizes the suffocation he feels after witnessing the dead cat adding even more to this approach, as much as the finale cements it.  

Surprisingly, the road trip element also moves in the same direction, with the characters moving towards a path for no apparent reason, due to obligations no one actually forces them fulfill. Furthermore, Lee Tae-hoon as Dad, Kim Min-kyung as Mom and Kang Gil-woo as Son embody this sense of nihilism to the fullest, with the only thing straying away from the apathy being the fits the Mom throws, that actually showcase her incompatibility with her husband even more. 

In terms of visuals on the other hand, the movie is quite intricate to the point of maximalism on occasion, as the green night of the beginning and the red of the peppers stress. At the same time, that Yoon studied the greats of the Taiwanese cinema (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-liang) becomes apparent throughout the movie, through the editing, which results in a rather slow, leisure pace, the shots where the action takes place on the borders and even outside the frame, and the narrative, as intricate family relations are presented in the most subtle fashion.

Evidently, “Chorokbam” is an intensely art-house movie, of the type that very little happens from beginning to end, and the tension is just restricted to a brief scene here and there. On the other hand, it is also artful, appealingly weird, and a title that definitely deserves a watch due to its unusual approach to both narrative and audiovisuals. 

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