Midsummer Madness (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): One summer day of a struggling poet

South Korean independent film “Midsummer Madness” follows one struggling artistic process to observe and reflect on. While its young heroine wanders around here and there for getting any possible inspiration for her, the movie calmly doles out one amusing moment after another along its free-flowing narrative, and these nice moments are further enhanced by several good poems appearing in the film.

The movie is mainly about one hot summer day of a young woman named Hyeong-sil (Kim Ye-eun), who has been quite unhappy about how things have not gone that well in her current life. While not fully recovering from her recent break-up with her boyfriend, she has focused on writing five poems to be submitted to some big poetry contest which may help her career, and she has so far completed four poems, but she still cannot finish the last one. While quite pressured by the approaching deadline, she manages to write the draft at least, but, unfortunately, she does not have any good idea yet on how to polish and compress that further for bringing more artistic qualities, and she only finds herself becoming more bored and frustrated as time keeps going by without any progress for her at all.

In the end, Hyeon-sil resorts to doing something any frustrated writer usually does for solving their artistic slump. She decides to take a walk outside for a while, and, what do you know, she comes to spend a lot more time than expected as encountering a number of people in her life. At first, she comes across a young woman who was close to her male senior, and their conversation later becomes a bit awkward when that young woman reveals that she does not live with him anymore.

After that awkward encounter, Hyeon-sil’s mind cannot help but drifted toward her past relationship with her ex-boyfriend. While the void caused by his absence has been filled by her recently acquired pet dog, her small residence is still strewn with a number of stuffs belonging to him, and Hyeon-sil often finds herself missing him a bit, even though he emphasized to her that they are totally finished with each other now.

And then Hyeon-sil comes across a fellow young poet who was once her best female friend before a little private relationship matter came between them. On the surface, they are totally fine to be around each other now as casually talking with each other, but then their conversation becomes strained as we get to know a bit about what broke up their friendship at that time.

Some time later, Hyeon-sil calls a male of friend of hers who is incidentally an independent filmmaker, and we get one of the most amusing moments in the film as they drink and talk a lot together. Both of them soon get mired in self-pity and pettiness as they drink more and more, and you may chuckle a bit when they ramble about how lousy many independent films are. When Hyeon-sil later comes across the aforementioned male senior, she is willing to listen to him despite being quite drunk, but his empty talk does not help or inspire Hyeon-sil much, and we get another good laugh from that.

In the meantime, the screenplay by Kim Jong-jae, who made several short films before making a feature film debut here, gradually generates its slow but engaging narrative flow under the mundane ambience of hot summer day, and we come to sense more of Hyeon-sil’s artistic process. Along the story, her four completed poems are read one by one, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the movie eventually ends with the completion of her fifth poem, but its effortless delivery of a small but significant sense of artistic achievement is surely something worthwhile to experience for yourself.

These five poems in the film, which were written by Hwang In-chan, feel plain at first, but their poetic quality will probably linger on your mind for a long time as you appreciate whatever is implied between words besides some playfulness to be savored. To be frank with you, I am a sort of dyslexic to poetry, but these poems in the movie somehow resonate with the images of the film in my mind, and I am willing to watch the movie again for appreciating how they are effectively incorporated into the screen.

The movie is also supported well by the charming lead performance by Kim Ye-eun, who previously appeared in a number of notable South Korean films including “Microhabitat” (2017) and “A Resistance” (2019). While deftly capturing the comic aspects of her character’s emotional/artistic confusion, she also imbues her character with considerable life and personality, and we come to cheer for her character more than expected. In case of the other main cast members in the film, Han Hae-in, Shin Gi-hwan, Kwak Min-gyoo, and Oh Gyu-chul are also solid in their respective supporting roles, and the special mention goes to a scene-stealing dog which plays Hyeon-sil’s pet dog.

On the whole, “Midsummer Madness” is a slow but engaging comedy drama about poetry and life, and I enjoyed its laid-back mood and sly sense of humor. This is basically another simple but talky South Korean independent film influenced a lot by the works of Hong Sang-soo, but it has enough substance and personality to distinguish itself, so I recommend you to give this little but solid work a chance someday.

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