Good Person (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A teacher oscillating between faith and doubt

South Korean film “Good Person” is a calm but tense drama mainly revolving around the gloomy plight of one man oscillating between faith and doubt after one devastating incident. Struggling with the resulting grief and anger, he simply tries to do the right things, but he only ends up committing a series of wrong things instead, and he is reminded again and again of those serious human flaws still inside him.

Everything begins from one seemingly insignificant incident at a high school where Kyeong-seok (Kim Tae-hoon) works as one of its staff members. Somebody stole the wallet of one of his class students, and the security camera installed around the classroom clearly shows that the culprit is one of other students in the class, though its video footage is not clear enough for Kyeong-seok to identify who that student really is. While promising that there will be no disclosure or punishment, Kyeong-seok tries as much as he can with his class students, but, alas, nobody still comes to him, and he understandably gets more frustrated.

And then there comes a little tip from one of Kyeong-seok class students. According to this student, Se-ik (Lee Hyo-je), one of his classmates, is the one who stole that wallet, so Kyeong-seok subsequently comes to have a private meeting with Se-ik. Not so surprisingly, Se-ik, a sullen introverted boy who does not seem to be not so social to say the least, is not particularly willing to tell anything to Kyeong-seok, so Kyeong-seok soon finds himself running out of his patience. Nevertheless, he keeps maintaining his calm attitude as usual, and he eventually has Se-ik remain in the school for several more hours, which may give Se-ik enough time for writing or telling anything.

Meanwhile, there is something else Kyeong-seok has to handle immediately. Because his ex-wife happens to be absent for a few days due to her work, Kyeong-seok must take care of their little daughter in the meantime, but it is apparent that his daughter is not so pleased about spending time with her father for some unknown reason. No matter how much Kyeong-seok tries to cajole his daughter, she remains quite unhappy while not saying much to her father, and Kyeong-seok finally becomes very irritated around the time when he arrives at his school along with his daughter. After he blurts out some harsh words to his daughter, her mood becomes much worse than before, and he eventually leaves her in his car before going inside the school for handling his matter with Ik-se.

In case of Ik-se, he still does not write or tell anything at all, and Kyeong-seok has no choice but to let Ik-se go, but then something really serious happens. Shortly after Ik-se goes out, Kyeong-seok goes back to his car, and he is surprised to find that his daughter left the car during his absence. After looking for her for a while, he subsequently reports her missing to the police, and, unfortunately, it soon turns out that his daughter had a car accident at a spot not so far from the school.

At least, Kyeong-seok’s daughter is not dead, but both Kyeong-seok and his ex-wife are devastated to see their daughter being unconscious at a hospital, and Kyeong-seok’s ex-wife is certainly angry at him – especially when she happens to discover what occurred between him and their daughter not long before the time of the accident. As a result, old resentments between them are resurfaced while they are respectively coping with grief and anger, and she even puts a restraining order on him later.

While facing more agony and guilt as a consequence, Kyeong-seok becomes gradually obsessed with finding what really happened at that time. According to the driver of the vehicle which hit Kyeong-seok’s daughter, she was pushed onto the road by some unidentified high school student, and the police are already quite interested in investigating on Ik-se because a security camera installed around the spot shows his accidental encounter with Kyeong-seok’s daughter right before the time of the accident. As he comes to delve more into the case, Kyeong-seok cannot help but think of a certain horrible possibility, but then things become more complicated when Ik-se stops coming to the school for no apparent reason, and Kyeong-seok becomes more confused and exasperated while going nowhere at all.

As steadily keeping things rolling along its narrative, the movie focuses more on its hero’s emerging person demons. Kim Tae-hoon did a solid job of conveying to us his character’s increasingly troubled state of mind, and he is also supported well by several good performers surrounding him. As Kyeong-seok’s devastated wife, Kim Hyun-jung did more than her thankless job requires, and Kim Jong-goo is also fine in his small but crucial supporting part. In case of Lee Hyo-je, a young actor who previously appeared in “The Throne” (2015) and “Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned” (2016), he ably sways his role back and forth between sympathy and suspicion, and I sincerely hope that we will see more of his considerable talent in the future.

In conclusion, “Good Person”, which is incidentally the first feature film from director Jung Wook, is often stark and melancholic in its harrowing tale of grief and anger, but it is fairly engaging on the whole thanks to its competent direction and good performances, and it does earn a little tentative glimpse of hope in the end. It is certainly not something you can watch for cheering you up, but, folks, no good movie is depressing, and this movie is good enough to make you reflect on its story and characters for a while.

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