Beyond You (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Beyond Him

To be frank with you, I was rather bored during the first 30 minutes of South Korean independent film “Beyond You” because I did not know much about what and how it was going to be about. On the surface, it initially looked like another low-budget film influenced by those plain talky works of Hong Sang-soo, but then it somehow engaged me more as turning into something quite different. As reflecting more on a number of key moments in the film, I come to admire its storytelling and technical aspects more, and I am willing to appreciate its several strong points again someday.

At the beginning, we get the odd opening scene unfolded at a small public park in Seoul. After the camera observes a bunch of tiny ants on the ground for a while, the movie baffles us with a brief but bizarre moment involved with its struggling filmmaker hero Kyeong-ho (Kim Kwon-hoo), and then we see him subsequently meeting a young woman named Ji-yeon(Yoon Hye-ri), who sends him a message accompanied with a piece of writing written by her mother In-sook (Oh Min-ae). Many years ago, In-sook was quite close to Kyeong-ho, but she has recently been suffering the early onset of dementia, and Ji-yeon is curious about whatever happened between Kyeong-ho and her mother during that time.

However, Kyeong-ho does not seem to remember Ji-yeon’s mother well at present, and he is understandably flabbergasted when Ji-yeon asks whether he is actually her biological father. While their little conversation is going nowhere, the camera steadily hangs around them in addition to paying some attention to the background, and I was a bit amused by a seemingly coincidental moment involved with a certain vehicle and its driver in the background.

As we wonder about Ji-yeon’s question, she eventually leaves the scene, and, probably because of curiosity, Kyeong-ho decides to follow her without being noticed by her. Shortly arriving at some shabby neighborhood which looks labyrinthian due to those narrow alleys, she eventually arrives at a small public place where someone is waiting for her, and that person in question is none other than her mother. They talk with each other for a while, and then Ji-yeon leaves, and then Kyeong-ho tries to approach to In-sook, who, to his another bafflement, does not remember him at all.

Meanwhile, we also get to know a bit about how things have been going nowhere for Kyeong-ho’s life and his filmmaking career. He attempts to write a new script which is incidentally based on his personal feelings, but the president of a movie production company, who has also been an old acquaintance of his, is not much interested as pointing out the lack of entertainment value in Kyeong-ho’s script, and that certainly makes the mood pretty bitter and awkward between them. Quite more frustrated than before, Kyeong-ho later meets a female writer which may help him a bit, but their conversation is eventually interrupted when he happens to spot Ji-yeon, and that leads to another baffling moment to him as he promptly goes after her.

Around that narrative point, the screenplay by director Park Hong-min and his co-writer Cha Hye-jin does not seem to be going anywhere, but then it takes an unexpected left turn in terms of mood and storytelling. When Kyeong-ho is trying to revise his rejected screenplay at his small and shabby residence during one evening, somebody suddenly knocks on the door of his residence, and Kyeong-ho is alarmed to find Ji-yeon outside his residence. For some unknown reason, she wants to see and talk with him right now, and she is quite adamant even though he refuses her urgent request again and again.

I will not go into details on what happens next, but I can tell you instead that the movie soon enters the dreamy territory of those fascinatingly mind-bending films ranging from “Mulholland Drive” (2001) to “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020). As we come to wonder about what is exactly going on around Kyeong-ho, we also come to question the reliability of his increasingly shaky viewpoint, and the movie does not hesitate to catch us off guard as jumping from one strange moment to another. Despite its low production budget, the movie is steadily imbued with subtle dreamy qualities in addition to having some realistic ground for that, and Park and his crew members provide us a number of technically commendable moments including one certain key scene where the effortless 360-degree panning of the camera generates considerable drama effect between the two main characters in the film.

Although the three main characters of the film are more or less than archetypes, its three main cast members dutifully fill their respective parts without overshadowing each other at all. While Kim Kwon-hoo earnestly holds the center as required, Yoon Hye-ri gives an engaging performance which always suggests something more behind her rather elusive character, and Oh Min-ae is particularly heartbreaking when her character is scared and devastated by the fading status of her mind.

On the whole, “Beyond You” requires some patience from you during its opening part, but it is worthwhile to watch for its gradually compelling handling of mood and narrative, and the overall result is much better than “Me and Me” (2020), which also tried similar stuffs but ultimately failed to engage or intrigue me enough. I am still trying to understand and interpret its whole picture, but I did enjoy the free-flowing narrative of the film and the dream logic behind it, and that is more than enough for recommendation in my humble opinion.

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