Snowball (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): They try their best – and they also do their worst

I often wanted to shake my head as watching South Korean film “Snowball”, which mainly revolves around three different adolescent girls who try their best but end up doing their worst. Although it phlegmatically observes their worsening circumstance from the distance, the movie also lets us understand their emotional struggle and confusion to some degree, and we keep watching them even when it becomes quite apparent that something worse will continue to happen among them along the story.

The story is mainly told via the viewpoint of Kang-i (Bang Minah), a 18-year-old high school girl who has been not so happy due to many uncertainties in her daily life. As the only daughter of a rather poor family, she often feels lonely and isolated among many of her schoolmates who are more affluent compared to her, and the only consolation comes from her two close friends Ah-ram (Shim Dal-gi) and So-yeong (Han Sung-min). While Ah-ram is the most miserable one in the bunch due to her abusive father, So-yeong is a confident model student supported by her rich family as well as those teachers of their school, and Kang-i tells us a bit about how much her rich friend can get away with many things at the school.

Anyway, both Kang-i and her two friends have been quite suffocated by their school and their respective families, and Ah-ram and Kang-i do not hesitate at all when So-yeong suggests that they should run away and then go to Seoul together. Having aspired to become an actress someday, So-yeong is willing to take a chance with some audition for new talents to be held in Seoul, and both Ah-ram and Kang-i are eager to enjoy much more freedom than before while their friend is preparing for that audition.

However, not so surprisingly, things do not go well for all of them as they soon come to face harsh reality, though the movie thankfully restrains itself from showing too much of their dark and seedy circumstance. When they happen to be on an alley without nowhere else to go, they come across a guy who not only gives them some money but also allows them to sleep at his small residence, and we are naturally concerned about what may happen next, but then this awkward situation is turned upside down to our little dark amusement.

Kang-i and her two friends later manage to get some other place where they can stay for a while, but they are still stuck in their increasingly despairing circumstance. Not long after So-yeong fails in that audition, Ah-ram lets herself get involved with someone who leads her to a certain job not suitable to any adolescent girl, but she does not seem to mind this at all in addition to bringing a little stray cat to their temporary staying place.

While Ah-ram is often absent day by day, Kang-i and So-yeong remain stuck in their temporary staying place without nothing much to do. As getting more frustrated with their ongoing ennui, So-yeong becomes rather harsh to Kang-i, and Kang-i does not know how to deal with her friend’s increasingly edgy attitude toward her, but then the emotional tension between them is developed into something quite unexpected on one day.

In the end, after getting so tired of how they have been going nowhere, Kang-i and her two friends eventually decide to return to their families. While So-yeong resumes her school life as if nothing had happened at all, Ah-ram gets exactly what she expects from her abusive father, Kang-i’s position is somewhere between her two friends’ respective positions. Although her parents are sincerely relieved to see her returning to their home, the mood is pretty strained between her and her parents, and they are all clumsy when they try to talk a bit with each other over a dinner table.

It seems that our three girls will eventually graduate as long as they do not make any fuss during next several months, but, alas, they get into more troubles as they frequently conflict with each other. Probably because of her shame from what happened between her and Kang-i at that time, So-yeong begins to bully Kang-i along with several classmates of theirs, and that throws Kang-i into more anger and confusion. In case of Ah-ram, she does not help either of her two friends much as swayed back and forth between her two friends, and she is already considering running away again.

It is not so pleasant to see how the circumstance among these three main characters gets worse and worse due to their unwise choices and foolish deeds, but director/writer Lee Woo-jeong, who adapted Lim Sol-ah’s acclaimed novel “Best Life” for the film, keeps engaging us via her competent and thoughtful handling of story and characters. Even when its three main characters become quite unsympathetic, the movie does not lose any of understanding and empathy toward them as maintaining its calm and sober attitude as usual, and its three main cast members are believable in the complex relationship dynamics among their characters.

On the whole, “Snowball” is not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but it is still worthwhile to watch because of its good storytelling and solid performances, and Lee, who previously made several short films besides working as an actress at times, made a commendable feature film debut here. I do not think I can soon revisit the film, but it is one of the more interesting South Korean films of this year, so I recommend you with some caution.

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