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Ko - production in Busan
  • In Focus: JUVENILE OFFENDER
  • by Darcy Paquet /  Nov 02, 2012
  •    
          
    Directed by
    KANG Yi-kwan
    Starring SEO Young-ju, LEE Jung-hyun, JEON Ye-jin, KANG Rae-yeon, JEONG Seok-yong
    Release Date November 22, 2012
     
       
    The low-budget film Juvenile Offender is making a strong impression abroad even before it reaches Korean audiences. After premiering to positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the film by director KANG Yi-kwan won two awards at the 25th Tokyo International Film Festival: a Special Jury Award, the festival's second highest honor; and a Best Actor award to newcomer SEO Young-ju.
     
    Director KANG Yi-kwan has been in this situation before. His debut feature SaKwa, a relationship drama starring MOON So-ri, received enthusiastic praise and multiple awards at the Toronto and San Sebastian film festivals in 2005, but it was three more years before the film finally received a commercial release in Korea. This time, the gap promises to be shorter, with a release scheduled for November 22.
     
    Juvenile Offender centers around a high school boy named Ji-gu who lives alone with his grandfather, who is dying from diabetes. After being caught breaking into a house with his friends, a judge sentences him to juvenile detention, mostly because he has no parent to look after him. The months pass, and after almost a year, an officer at the detention center discovers records of Ji-gu’s mother, who disappeared when he was just a baby. Ji-gu, who never dreamed he would ever meet his mother, is startled to see her before his eyes.
     
    The heart of the film is this newly developing mother-son relationship, and so it relies particularly on the performances by SEO Young-ju as Ji-gu and LEE Jung-hyun as his estranged mother. This is the first major film role by SEO, after appearing in multiple TV dramas, and several critics in Tokyo commented that he has the aura of a future star. At the least, the award in Tokyo looks certain to increase his visibility in Korea. LEE, whose performance was also singled out for praise, is best known in Korea as a pop star, but she attracted notice in PARK Chan-wook and PARK Chan-kyong’s Night Fishing (2012), and in JANG Sun-woo’s emotionally intense A Petal, shot in 1996 when she was 16 years old.
     
    Juvenile Offender was partly financed by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, which in recent years has produced the If You Were Me series of omnibus films to draw attention to human rights issues. Juvenile Offender does present an inside view of the juvenile justice system that will raise questions in the minds of viewers, but one of the film's strengths is that it never feels judgmental or didactic. In a realistic and quite subtle way it draws us in to the story of two struggling people who desperately need each other’s support.
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