South Korean independent film “Kim Min-young of the Report Card” is a calm but intimate observation on the slow dissolution of the friendship among its three young female characters. As they try to live their respective lives in each own way after one certain turning point, they also find themselves getting drifted away from each other bit by bit, and there are several quiet but achingly bittersweet moments which will linger on your mind for a while after the movie is over.
During the opening scene, we are introduced to three female senior high school students: Yoo Jeong-hee (Kim Joo-ah), Kim Min-yeong (Yoon Ah-jung), and Choi Soosanna (Son Da-hyun). Although they have been pretty close to each other via their little creative writing circle (It seems that they are its only members, by the way), they all will have to prepare more for the upcoming college entrance examination which will incidentally be held exactly 100 days later, so they are holding a little private ceremony for closing down their creative writing circle for a while at least.
After that, we see what happens next to each of them after the college entrance examination. While Soosanna eventually goes abroad for studying at a certain Ivy League college in US, Min-yeong manages to be accepted to a university in Daegu, and Jeong-hee fails to get into any suitable college mainly because she was not particularly interested in going for higher education from the beginning. She does care about what she is going to do for her life, but she does not feel like being ready for that yet, and her parents do not seem to mind that much about her current status while sincerely hoping for the best for her.
We later see Min-yeong casually applying for a rather menial part-time job at a local private tennis court, and the movie draws a number of little humorous moments as she shows more diligence than expected. At one point, she decides to utilize a bit of her considerable drawing talent for more promotion for the tennis court, and she also gets a bit closer to the young son of her boss, whom she accidentally encountered and then helped a bit some time ago.
Meanwhile, Min-yeong and her two friends try to communicate with each other as much as before, but that becomes more difficult for them as time goes by. Because of not only the time difference between US and South Korea but also being often occupied with some matters in her current college life, Soosanna comes to feel quite burdened and annoyed, and we are not so surprised when she subsequently decides that enough is enough.
With Soosanna’s following absence, Jeong-hee naturally attempts to spend more time with Min-yeong, but Min-yeong has also been occupied with her own matters behind her back. As befriending some other friends at her university, she does not feel much need to spend time with her supposedly best friend, and, above all, her mind is mostly focused on how to get herself transferred to some better university in Seoul.
After leisurely strolling from one episodic moment to another during its first half, the screenplay by directors/writers Lee Jae-eun/Lim Ji-sun, who incidentally make their feature debut here, comes to build more narrative momentum when Jeong-hee visits a little apartment in Seoul where Min-yeong is staying during her summer vacation. Right from when Jeong-hee arrives, we can clearly sense considerable awkwardness between her and Min-yeong, and that becomes all the more palpable as they come to spend some time together during next several days.
While the story later reaches to a sort of breaking point as expected, the movie seldom raises its tone as Jeong-hee and Min-yeong’s relationship fluctuates between estrangement and affection along the narrative. As reflected by a little cheerful scene where they ride bicycles together, Jeong-hee’s presence brightens up Min-yeong’s daily life a bit, but they also come to feel more of the growing distance between them, and it becomes more apparent to Jeong-hee that she is not so welcomed by her friend as before – especially when Min-yeong comes to let out some of her negative feelings toward Jeong-hee later in the story.
These and other substantial moments in the film are handled well with subtle emotional intensity and sensitivity thanks to the directors’ excellent direction, and their main cast members are believable in their respective characters’ eventual growth and change along the story. While Kim Joo-ah’s unadorned but engaging performance conveys well to us her character’s rather offbeat qualities, Yoon Ah-jung complements her co-star well with her character’s practical cynicism, and Son Da-hyun is also fine as another crucial part of the story. These three wonderful actresses click so well with each other during the opening scene, and that is the main reason why the somber but undeniably haunting key scene around the end of the film works with considerable emotional resonance below the surface.
Overall, “Kim Min-young of the Report Card”, which won the Grand Prize when it was shown in the Jeonju International Film Festival early in last year, is a modest but commendable debut work by Lee and Lim, who are another new interesting South Korean filmmakers to watch in my humble opinion. Like many of recent South Korean independent films such as “Rolling” (2021), the movie reminds me again of how much South Korean cinema needs more female films these days, and I sincerely hope that Lee and Lim will keep advancing after this little but significant achievement of theirs.