Short Vacation (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Their little summer journey

During my childhood years in Seoul, I was always fascinated with the intricate network of the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. During that time, believe me or not, the Seoul Metropolitan Subway had no more than 4 lines, so it was pretty easy for me to memorize many stations, and I was particularly intrigued about those stations at the ends of the subway lines. Whenever I happened to get off at one of those stations, I was often curious about where trains would go next after that, and those stations did feel like the end of the ever-expanding world of mine during that period.

That is why I could not help but a bit nostalgic while watching South Korean independent film “Short Vacation”, which is a very simple story about four ordinary adolescent girls’ little summer journey around the end of one of the Seoul Metropolitan Subway lines. Although nothing much happens among them throughout the film, it is constantly engaging to observe whatever is spontaneously exchanged among them, and their plain journey certainly takes my mind back to those little adventures of mine during my childhood years.

At the beginning, the movie quickly introduces its four main characters: Si-yeon (Seol Si-yeon), Yeon-woo (Bae Yeon-woo), So-Jeong (Park So-jeong), and Song-hee (Han Song-hee). As she has been recently transferred to their middle school, Si-yeon is a bit awkward when she happens to join a photography club in the school, but she is soon accepted by the other three girls after a little comic happening involved with a contact lens, and it does not take much time for these four girls to hang around together outside.

However, they are not particularly interested in learning how to shoot photographs via cameras, and their supervising teacher is also not so interested in teaching anything to them and other club members. During their club time, the supervising teacher simply shows movies, and there is a brief amusing scene where most of the club members are sleeping although they are supposed to watch a certain great film of John Ford, which, in my humble opinion, could teach them one or two things about camera position and scene composition at least.

Anyway, the summer vacation is near, and the supervising teacher gives our four girls a little special assignment. There is an upcoming local photography contest for young amateur photographers, and the supervising teacher wants our four girls to photograph anything interesting as traveling around “the end of the world”. He hands out four old-fashioned film cameras for each of his four students, and they look and touch them with baffled curiosity. To be frank with you, this scene reminded me that it has been several years since I stopped using cameras just because my smartphone is a more convenient tool for me.

Our four girls subsequently debate on which place should be “the end of the world” for their summer assignment, and there eventually comes an idea from one of them. All they will have to do is taking a subway to Sinchang Station, which feels like “the end of the world” to them considering that this station is at the south end of Seoul Metropolitan Subway Line 1. Once they arrive there, they are going to look for anything interesting enough to be photographed by them, and it seems that they will just spend a few hours there before going back to Seoul.

However, of course, they soon come to realize how unprepared they are. Right from the beginning, they have a problem with finding the exact subway train to take them to Sinchang station, and, not so surprisingly, it turns out that this station is not exactly the end of the subway line as the railroad goes beyond this station. They later manage to find the former location of this station where the railroad really ends, but this place looks so empty and barren that they come to have more doubt on their summer assignment.

Anyway, due to one little unlucky happening, our four girls subsequently find themselves wandering more in the surrounding rural area of Sinchang Station, and the movie calmly follows their rather uneventful and meandering journey. The area is so remote that they come across only a few persons, and, as the day is being over, they eventually decide to stay in a town hall, which does not seem to be abandoned at all but strangely remains empty as before when they later drop by this place again.

So far, I have only described the plain narrative of the film, and I must tell you that what is important here is those small accidental moments observed and captured by our four heroines and their cameras. The movie often stops to admire what their cameras capture for a while, and we become more drawn to its calm and reflective mood as musing more on how these little captured moments will be remembered by our four young girls. Under the competent direction of first-time directors Kwon Min-pyo and Seo Han-sol, the four young performers of the film give unadorned natural performances shining with realistic spontaneity, and I would love to know about how the directors handled and modulated the group acting of their four young performers.

In conclusion, “Short Vacation”, which is incidentally another notable graduation work from Dankook University in this year after “Scattered Night” (2019) and “Gull” (2020), may be a bit too dry and simple for you, but I assure you that it will grow on you once you give it a chance. In short, this is another interesting debut film from South Korean cinema during this year, and I sincerely hope that the directors will advance further after this promising start.

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