You may really want to hug the heroine of South Korean independent film “The Slug”, which is much more intimate and heartfelt than its rather slimy title suggests. While life remains hard and uncertain for her even at the end of the movie, she comes to find some unexpected comfort and support in addition to feeling a bit better about her life than before, and you may find yourself cheering a lot for her as watching her being optimistically ready for the next chapter of her life.
The early part of the film quickly establishes its heroine’s life background. In the late 1990s, young Choon-hee (Park Hye-jin) happens to become an orphan due to her parents’ sudden accidental death, and she has no choice but to stay at her mother’s family house where Choon-he’s uncle and his family are living with her grandmother. Although Choon-he’s uncle and his family are not bad people at all, they eventually decide to have her live in the attic room for a rather selfish reason, and this small and stuffy room consequently becomes her little private place.
Because her uncle and his family are often occupied with several private problems including his problematic older son, young Choon-hee is frequently neglected and disregarded at her new home unless she received some care and attention from her grandmother, and she is also ostracized by many of her schoolmates due to hyperhidrosis, which often makes her perspire a lot in her hands and feet. As a matter of fact, she sometimes leaves wet footprints on the floor because of this, and there is a little tender private moment of identification as she is simply regarding a small slug for a while.
Even when she becomes a grown-up, Choon-hee, who is played by Kang Jin-ah now, remains as lonely and isolated as before. She is now the only one currently occupying her family house, and it later becomes apparent to us that her uncle’s older son, who already moved out some time ago, is considering selling the house sooner or later regardless of how she feels about that. While she tries to continue to live there as usual, she makes a meager living by peeling garlics day by day, and she hopes that she will save enough money for the medical treatment for her hyperhidrosis someday.
And then there come two little unexpected changes into her shabby daily life. During one evening full of lightnings on the sky, Choon-hee is unfortunately struck by a lightning when she is returning to home, and she manages to regain her consciousness not long after that, but then something baffling happens when she comes back to her residence. Probably because she has often thought about her unhappy past, she begins to see her younger self hanging around her, and she is certainly perplexed by this inexplicable happening.
Meanwhile, she comes across a lad named Joo-hwang (Hong Sang-pyo), and she soon finds herself joining a little self-help group meeting along with him and several other persons. Although she does not get that much from this self-help group meeting, she is glad to spend some time with Joo-hwang, and it looks like Joo-hwang is also interested in getting a little closer to her mainly because she does not mind his stuttering problem at all. When she later tells him about how often she sees her younger self these days, he accepts this little issue of hers without any bias, and we are not so surprised when she lets him into her residence later.
As comforted by a bit by her younger self as well as Joo-hwang, Choon-hee becomes a bit relaxed about her life, but the situation remains desperate for her as before. Her uncle’s older son curtly reminds her that she will soon have to find a new place to live because he finally sold the house, and we get an emotionally intense moment as she angrily tells him about how much the house has meant to her for many years. In addition, both Choon-hee and Joo-hwang subsequently find themselves facing a serious financial trouble, and that certainly affects the growing relationship between them.
Nevertheless, the movie still maintains its gentle attitude as usual while thoughtfully handling its story and characters. Choon-hee’s uncle and his family members are depicted with some human complexity to be appreciated, and the movie also shows affection to Joo-hwang and a certain substantial supporting character whom Choon-hee happens to befriend along the story. In case of a number of key scenes between Choon-hee and her younger self, these scenes are balanced well between seriousness and playfulness, and it is moving to see how these scenes lead Choon-hee to little hope and optimism in the end.
Director/writer Choi Jin-young, who made several short films before making a feature film debut here, draws solid performances from her main cast members. Kang Jin-ah’s earnest but plucky performance holds our attention throughout the film, and she and young performer Park Hye-jin click well with each other during their substantial moments in the movie. While Hong Sang-pyo is likable as Choon-hee’s possible boyfriend, Lim Ho-jun, who was also good in another recent South Korean independent film “Awoke” (2020), is well-cast in his supporting role, and Hwang Mi-young simply steals every second of her brief but impressive appearance.
Overall, “The Slug”, which was mainly shot in my hometown Jeonju, is a modest but charming work which alternatively amused and touches us with its bittersweet qualities, and you will come to like and care about its heroine a lot more than expected. In short, this is another interesting South Korean film of this year, and I think you should check it out if you ever come across it.