South Korean independent film “Unboxing Girl” is often difficult to watch in many of its absurdly exasperating moments. Mainly revolving around its heroine’s very unlucky office romance, the movie has a lot to show and tell about sexism and gender inequality, and it made me wince more as I came to reflect more on what many working women in the South Korean society have to endure everyday even at present.
At first, the movie succinctly establishes its heroin’s busy daily life. Although she has been stuck in the same position for many years in some designing company, Yeong-jin (Lee Tae-kyoung) keeps trying hard for getting things done nonetheless, and one brief scene at a factory shows us how much she is dedicated to her work. She wants to confirm on the production process one more time just in case, and, despite the opposition from the annoyed foreman, she soon checks the process alone by herself.
However, Yeong-jin does not receive much appreciation at her workplace. For example, her superior simply disregards her design for a new product without care or attention, and he does not even consider her promotion. In her department, she is not particularly close to several other employees, and the only consolation in her daily life comes from her best friend Ha-na (Lee Bom), who has worked as a part-time teacher since quitting her designing career some years ago.
Anyway, there comes a change into Yeong-jin’s life via Joon-seol (Lee Han-ju), a young man who is recently employed as the new manager of her department. As everyone quickly notices on his very first day, Joon-seol is not particularly smart or competent, and we soon come to gather than he got employed just because of his affluent and influential family background. After meeting him, Yeong-jin becomes more frustrated because she should have been the manager instead considering all those good efforts and results from her, but her following protest is casually ignored by her superior.
As a result, Yeong-jin has no choice but to assist Joon-seol along with her colleagues as expected, and the movie gives us a series of small comic moments while Joon-seol frequently bumbles day by day. Yeong-jin’s colleagues have already expected him to quit his job sooner or later, and Yeong-jin cannot help but feel a bit sorry about him even though she still resents him for taking what should have been hers. When they meet each other outside their workplace, Yeong-jin gives Joon-seol a few tips, and then, what do you know, they come to spend more time together.
Now this looks like a typical setup for office romance, but the screenplay by director/writer Kim Soo-jung focuses more on the glaring gender inequality between its two main characters. When Joon-seol unwisely tries to do the proposal for a new product, Yeong-jin comes to help him a lot just because of her growing attraction to him, but, not so surprisingly, he gets all the credits from the following success without showing any appreciation to her.
Yeong-jin naturally becomes quite angry about this, but, to her exasperation, there is no one to help around her. Again, her direct superior does not listen to whatever she says, and it also turns out that the company is not so interested in handing ethical problems like hers. Yeong-jin tries to be more patient with Joon-seol instead, but, not so surprisingly, there eventually comes a point where she cannot tolerate his growing insolence anymore.
At least, Yeong-jin can still get some comfort and consolation from her best friend, and the mood becomes a bit more relaxed when they happen to have a little vacation at one point. When they arrive at some rural area, they meet a middle-aged woman who has worked as a taxi driver after quitting her office job, and Yeong-jin comes to reflect more on the current status of her life and career as listening to this old lady’s life story.
However, the movie does not soften its edgy sides at all as its heroine faces more frustration and exasperation, while being held together well by the strong lead performance from Lee Tae-kyung. Although Yeong-jin is not particularly amiable, Lee ably imbues her character with enough life and personality, and we certainly root for her character a lot when she becomes a little more active about her life and career around the end of the story.
In case of several main cast members of the film, they deftly support or complement her. While Lee Bom is also solid as Yeong-jin’s best friend, Seo Kab-sook simply steals the show during her brief appearance, and Lee Han-ju is effective as bringing some human complexity to his increasingly unlikable character. Like the movie itself, he does not make any excuse on his character at all as focusing on many realistic details of his character, and his good performance will make many female audiences cringe for understandable reasons (FULL DISCLOSURE: As an office manager who often simply occupies his position all day long, I saw a bit of myself from Joon-seol, and I felt ashamed to say the least).
Overall, “Unboxing Girl” delivers sharp points on its main subjects well thanks to its biting comic moments, and Kim, who previously made a feature film debut with “A Blue Mouthed Face” (2015), shows here that she is another interesting South Korean female director to watch. While amused a lot during my viewing, I became more conscious of its painfully relevant issues during my viewing, and that is surely an achievement.
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