DIRECTOR YOON Ga-eun
CAST CHOI Soo-in, SEOL Hye-in, LEE Seo-yeon
RELEASE DATE June 16, 2016
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2016 was a year filled with cinematic marvels from Korea, including acclaimed new works by PARK Chan-wook, NA Hong-jin and KIM Jee-woon, but beyond the big names, the year also set the stage for one of the most important indie debuts in the local film industry. Following several extremely well-received short films, all eyes were on YOON Ga-eun, to see if she would succeed in transferring her unique cinematic sensibility to a feature-length narrative. That film would be The World of Us (2016), which debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Sun (CHOI Soo-in) is a sensitive young girl who at ten years of age is struggling to fit in with her classmates at school. One of them, Bora (LEE Seo-yeon) is having a party on the last day of school before summer break and she invites Sun, in exchange for her doing her classroom chores. Sun happily does the work but then finds herself knocking on a stranger’s door after she was given the wrong address.
During her break, she looks after her younger brother and tries to help her mother. She also meets Jia (SEOL Hye-in), a new girl transferring into her class. Sun and Jia hit it off and become inseparable during the break. Sun’s parents are often busy with work and Jia, who is from a wealthier background, has been left in the care of her grandmother, so the pair are happy to have each other.
However, when Jia enrolls in an after-school class, which Sun cannot afford, she makes new friends, including, to Sun’s distress, Bora. By the time class starts again, Jia has been sucked into Bora’s social orbit and joins them in ostracizing Sun. Hurt but undaunted, Sun keeps trying to get closer to Jia again, but after one too many rebuffs, secrets from home start to spill into the class-room, to both Sun and Jia’s horror.
Much like her acclaimed shorts Guest (2011) and especially Sprout (2013), which earned the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film in the Kplus section at Berlin and introduced the magnetic child star KIM Su-an (TRAIN TO BUSAN, 2016) to the Korean film industry, The World of Us (2016) uses the worldview of children to deceptively ease us into simple setups and emotions that steadily become more complex and relatable to adults, as miscommunications and misunderstandings allow small problems to remain unresolved and fester over time.
Sun and Jia’s friendship starts out well, but a few realities crop up which challenge their bond. One is their differing social statuses, which don’t seem important to them, until their relationship is tested in a larger social circle. The other is the growing resentment of Jia - who is the child of a broken home - towards Sun and her warm relationship with her mother. On a tangential note, PARASITE (2019) fans should recognize Sun’s mother, played by a pre-fame JANG Hye-jin.
The World of Us (2016) begins with the age-old playground ritual of choosing classmates for sports teams. The children then play dodgeball (one of several such scenes in the film), framed in crowded tight shots filmed from a distance, which give the game an uncertain and vaguely dangerous energy. In the opening scene, Sun is of course picked last, and the ritual is once again played out in the final scene, but the game itself seems to be what matters - players thrown into a battle with unclear allies and opponents. Just as they will when they become adults, these children must learn to survive in a world filled with constantly shifting goals and rules that don’t always make sense.