The Education (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two different young persons in need and despair

It took some time for me to accept what and how South Korean independent film “The Education” is about. At first, I felt quite frustrated with its rather dry and restrained narrative, but I subsequently came to see that the movie intends to present to us a plain but uncompromising slice of life accompanied with human need and despair, and I admire its several strong elements including the unadorned natural performances from its two lead performers.

In the beginning, the movie establishes the hard and difficult current circumstance of Seong-hee (Moon Hye-in), a young female college student who is soon going to graduate and wants to travel to Spain someday after her graduation. She has recently worked as a social service worker to take care of the disabled, but she is doing this job just because it is one of the requirements for her graduation and she also needs the money for her subsequent travel to Spain, so she has to keep working as usual even after getting seriously injured in her back some time ago.

Anyway, after arguing with her coordinator at a local center for the disabled, Seong-hee manages to get a case which looks easier for her in addition to paying her enough. Her latest client is some old disabled lady who has been mostly unconscious, and it seems all Seong-hee has to do is having this old disabled lady get some sunshine from time to time besides cleaning her body as expected.

While this latest job of hers turns out to be quite easy indeed, Seong-hee later comes across a little problem because of the old disabled lady’s adolescent son Hyeon-mok (Kim Joon-hyung). When Seong-hee and Hyeon-mook meet each other for the first time at the end of her first day at his residence, they are not very cordial to each other, and Hyeon-mok even demands to her that she should also clean his residence. Of course, Seong-hee flatly emphasizes that she is paid only for taking care of his mother, and then Hyeon-mok later attempts to force his demand upon her via making his residence messier on the next day.

Not so surprisingly, Seong-hee becomes quite exasperated about this. Although she does not raise her voice at all, her curt words are harsh and aggressive enough to make Hyeon-mok squirm in response, and the awkward tension between them is palpable to us even though the camera simply looks at them from the distance. In the end, he comes to take care of the mess in his own way, and that leads to one of a few funny moments in the film.

Anyway, Seong-hee and Hyeon-mok gradually get accustomed to each other as days slowly go by. While Hyeon-mok becomes a little more courteous to Seong-hee, Seong-hee helps Hyeon-mok a bit on his study for the upcoming civil servant qualification test although it is apparent that he is not so bright to say the least, and they later come to have a little nice afternoon time along with his mother outside.

However, this little improvement in their relationship does not brighten up either of their lives at all, and the screenplay by director Kim Duk-joong and Kim Mid-eum never overlooks how despairing their respective lives are despite a few respites between them. Although Seong-hee has aspired to get out of her suffocating daily life in South Korea once for all via leaving for Spain, her dream still seems to be out of reach no matter how much she works, and her back injury keeps bothering her as usual. While Hyeon-mok looks like really caring about his mother who has incidentally been his only close family member, he remains to be careless and thoughtless as before, and you may roll your eyes during a certain key scene later in the film where he tries to persuade Seong-hee not to call an ambulance despite a serious situation inadvertently caused by him.

Meanwhile, the movie also pays some attention to how Seong-hee and other social service center workers work for those disabled persons coming to their workplace. Seong-hee has been a bit friendly to one disabled woman who has a serious case of cerebral palsy, but both she and that disabled woman know well that their relationship will be probably over if Seong-hee really goes to Spain, and Seong-hee feels a little guilty about that, though that disabled woman casually reminds Seong-hee that she is not so bothered by that.

Around the end of the story, the movie suddenly throws a rough emotional moment at us, but this does not feel jarring at all because of what has been steadily built up by the director and his two lead performers. While quietly but firmly holding the center as required, Moon Hye-in, who previously played a minor supporting role in another recent South Korean independent film “Lucky Chan-sil” (2019), subtly conveys to us her character’s accumulating despair and frustration, and Kim Joon-hyung complements his co-performer well while never making any attempt to soften his pathetic character.

In conclusion, “The Education” is another typical South Korean independent film which grimly and realistically presents the hard social/economic reality of the young generation of the South Korean society, and it is worthwhile to watch mainly for its two solid lead performances. Yes, this is not surely something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but you will not forget its two lead characters easily once you watch it.

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