A good deal less harrowing and cataclysmic than it could (and perhaps should) have been, this well-observed first feature considers the narrow economic margin nowadays between getting by and getting killed. A perfectly ordinary young man, with modest dreams and even more modest skills, is confronted with his mother's debts when she takes off without a word. He wobbles between fury at the injustice, ineffectual efforts to raise the dough, and pretending the whole mess will just evaporate. His general passivity contrasts sharply with the desperation of his mother's good friend, a divorcee who sells knockoff purses and invested a tidy sum in one of the mother's schemes. Moviegoers with a dread of looming violence needn't be frightened off; although it plays that way for a while, this isn't a parable about petty crime and capital punishment, or even of innocents out of their league with the big boys. The director's real subject is revealed through a relentlessly tightening focus on reputation, status, respect, and "face" that exposes and indicts Korean mores, and maybe yours.
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