Moving On (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Summer days at their grandpa’s house

South Korean independent film “Moving On” often made me smile during my viewing, and that is quite an achievement considering what a grumpy guy I usually am. Slowly and tenderly doling out one precious human moment after another, the movie depicts its few main characters with loving care and attention, and you will come to like and care about them a lot more than expected around the time when it eventually arrives at its haunting finale shot along with them.

The movie mainly revolves around the viewpoint of a young adolescent girl named Ok-joo (Choi Jung-woon) and her little younger brother Dong-joo (Park Seung-joo), and the opening scene shows them moving out from their shabby apartment building along with their divorced father on one summer day. Because their current financial situation is quite poor, the father decided to stay at their grandfather’s house for a while, and the grandfather does not have any problem with that, though he remains mostly silent and unresponsive even while seeing his grandchildren again.

Anyway, Ok-joo and Dong-joo gradually get accustomed to their new environment as beginning to spend their free summer days there. During their first night at the house, Ok-joo makes one of upstairs rooms into her own private place, and then we get a small amusing moment when Dong-joo tries to sleep along with her but then only ends up sleeping with his father and grandfather in a downstairs room belonging to his grandfather.

The mood in the house becomes merrier when their aunt comes to the house. As enjoying spending time with her brother and his children, the aunt, who has incidentally stayed in her close friend’s residence since she left her husband, decides to move into her father’s house in the end, and Ok-joo is certainly pleased to have someone to talk with her in private.

And we get to know a bit more about the current economic hardships of Ok-joo and her family. Since a serious business failure of his which happened not so long ago, her father has tried to study hard for passing a certain certification examination, and he has also been quite busy with selling cheap imitation sneakers on streets. At one point later in the film, Ok-joo tries to earn some extra money for herself via selling one of her father’s imitation sneakers without his knowledge, but, not so surprisingly, that eventually puts her into a little trouble with the police, and that leads to a rather humiliating moment for her and her father, who is not angry at all about her misdemeanor but feels hurt by his daughter’s dishonesty.

While there is not much progress for Ok-joo and her family, summer days keep passing as usual, and they often have pleasant moments together in her grandfather’s house. On his birthday, everyone else in the house sincerely congratulates him, and the grandfather looks a little more brightened than before – especially when his grandson actively entertains him and others with his silly dance.

Although he does not speak and act much except taking care of his small green garden full of vegetable and fruit plants, the grandfather seems to like being surrounded by his family members, and his grandchildren get to know him bit by bit as looking here and there around his house, which is always filled with a sense of long history because of many old stuffs including an antique sewing machine on the second floor. Leisurely observing the mood and details shown from the house in the film, I could not help think of the house of one of my deceased uncles, which was also quite old while being full of old memories.

After vividly establishing its main background and characters under the soothing summer atmosphere during its first half, the movie slowly shifts itself onto a little more serious mode during its second half. As the grandfather’s physical condition becomes more deteriorated than before, Ok-joo’s father and aunt come to discuss a lot about what they should do with their father – and what they will have to do with his house if he is sent to a facility for old people. Having been more emotionally attached to her grandfather and his house than before, Ok-joo is not so pleased about what her father and aunt may decide to do, and her resulting emotional conflict also affects her fairly cordial relationship with her younger brother.

While the situation eventually becomes more dramatic as expected, the movie keeps maintaining its low-key tone as usual, and director/writer Yoon Dan-bi continues to handle her story and characters with humane touches. As a matter of fact, you will become so immersed in Ok-joo and her family members’ emotional circumstance that you may get caught off guard when a certain key sequence suddenly ends with a surprise.

As the heart and soul of the film, young performer Choi Jung-woon is simply superb in her unadorned natural performance, and she is also supported well by the other four main cast members surrounding her. As Ok-joo’s loving father and spirited aunt, Yang Heung-joo and Park Hyun-young are particularly touching during a small private scene where their characters happen to let out a bit of their personal feelings to each other, and young performer Park Seung-joon is irrepressible in his plucky acting while Kim Sang-dong often speaks volumes in his mostly wordless acting.

Apparently influenced a lot by the works of Edward Yang and Hirokazu Kore-eda, “Moving On” is a very charming piece of work to be appreciated for many reasons, and I think Yoon, who previously made short film “Firework” (2014) before making her feature film debut here, is another promising South Korean female filmmaker to watch. Like Kim Bo-ra recently did in “House of Hummingbird” (2018), she brings another whiff of fresh air into South Korean cinema, and I will certainly look forward to watching her next feature film.

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