Homeless (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): They need a place to stay…

South Korean film “Homeless” is about a desperate young couple helplessly stuck in their grim economic status. Without getting any financial help or support at all, they come to resort to some desperate measures for not only themselves but also their little baby, and the movie often feels like a thriller as closely and intensely observing their increasingly precarious circumstance.

During its first act, the movie slowly lets us gather how things have been quite hopeless for Han-gyeol (Jeon Bong-seok) and Go-woon (Park Jeong-yeon). This poor young couple has been trying to get any suitable place where they can live along with their infant son, and they have saved a considerable amount of money for that, but, alas, they only end up swindled by some con man. As a result, they and their baby have no choice but to spend another night at a local sauna, and they become all the more frustrated when their baby happens to be seriously injured.

At least, the baby gets some emergency treatment at a local hospital, but now they will have to pay the medical bill for that, and there is no one to help around them. Neither Han-gyeol nor Go-woon has any close family member at all, and Han-gyeol’s current employer, who is running a small delivery service, is not so willing to lend some money to him for understandable reasons.

Remaining homeless as well as broke, Han-gyeol and Go-woon are accordingly driven into more despair and exasperation, and then Han-gyeol comes with a nice temporary solution for them. There is an old lady who has been very friendly to him while he often delivers a box of sushi to her, and this old lady is living alone in a house without any close family member around her. When Han-gyeol later takes Go-woon and their baby to the house, the old lady happens to be absent, and he tells Go-woon that the old lady asked him to take care of the house during her brief absence.

Go-woon is certainly glad to have a place for them and their baby at last, but it does not take much for us to sense that Han-gyeol is hiding something from her. For example, he tells her not to go inside a certain locked room on the second floor, and, though she is not bothered much by this strange instruction, she gradually comes to see that Han-gyeol was not totally honest with her from the very beginning, while more aware of some weird smell coming from somewhere inside the house.

Nevertheless, Go-woon also discerns that there is not any other option for them and their baby, and things look a bit better for them as they get accustomed more to their new staying place. They feel free and safe as comfortably sleeping with their baby at every night, and that inconvenient fact hovering over them can be ignored for a while at least.

However, their harsh reality keep cornering them more and more. After reporting to the police, Go-woon tries to find that con man, but there is really nothing she can do, and her desperate search eventually comes upon a dead end as expected. In the meantime, Han-gyeol continues to search for any cheap place they may move into, but he only gets frustrated again and again, and he becomes all the more desperate when he and Go-woon come to face another big problem later in the story.

What follows next is pretty despairing to say the least, but the screenplay by director Lim Seung-hyeun and his co-writer Kim Seung-hyun continues to hold our attention as steadily building the tension around its two main characters. Although the movie does not tell us that much about their past, it is implied to us that both of them struggled through some hard times even when they were very young, and we gather that is the main reason why they are so concerned about taking care of their little son. Determined to protect their son from their harsh reality as much as possible, both of them are eventually driven to make some bad choices, and we are not so surprised by that.

The movie is supported well by the unadorned acting from its lead performers, who ably embody their characters’ growing despair and weariness along the story. Jeon Bong-seok is harrowing especially when his character has a grueling moment of conflict at one point, and Park Jeong-yeon has her own several moments to shine in addition to complementing her co-star well during several key scenes. Right from their first scene, we can feel the strong emotional bond between their characters, and their characters’ sincere parental devotion feels all the more palpable because of that. In case of several substantial supporting performers in the film, Song Gwang-ja and Jang Joon-hwi are well-cast in their respective parts, and Song brings some warmth to what can be regarded as a few bright moments in the film.

Overall, “Homeless” is not a pleasant experience at all, but it works as a fairly compelling social drama thanks to its good storytelling and solid performances. Lim, who incidentally makes a feature film debut here, demonstrates that he is a good filmmaker who knows how to present story and characters well on the screen, and it will be interesting to see what he will do next after this commendable start. In short, this is one of notable South Korean films of this year, and I recommend you to check it out if you have a chance.

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