Nobody’s Lover (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Messy and Lonely

South Korean independent film “Nobody’s Lover” is about one adolescent girl who is often lonely and desperate in her messy private life. While you may shake your head more than once due to her several unwise choices along the story, you will also come to worry and care more about her as getting to know and understand the emotional needs behind her plain appearance, and that is why it is a little consoling to see a bit of hope around the end of her bumpy emotional journey.

At the beginning of the story, the movie observes how things have not been that good for Yoo-jin (Hwang Bo-un). Because her single mother has been mostly occupied with her current romantic relationship, this teenage girl is usually left alone in their shabby house, and we also come to gather that she does not have much social life outside the house. At one point, especially if you a Korean audience, you will notice a considerable dialect gap between her and several schoolmates who ostracize and ridicule her, and that always seems to remind her of her status as a social outsider among other students.

When she is not in the school, Yoo-jin does part-time jobs for earning a bit for herself, and her latest job turns out to be better than expected. She begins to work at a little local pizza restaurant, and its owner/manager is a kind and understanding man who even comes to Yoo-jin’s house for persuading her not to quit her job just because of one very unpleasant incident. In addition, there is a young delivery man around her age, and we can easily sense that this lad is attracted to her right from their first encounter.

However, Yoo-jin’s attention is drawn to someone else. When one college student who once worked in the pizza restaurant happens to drop by on one day, it does not take much time for Yoo-jin to become attracted to him, and he turns out to be willing to get closer to her although he is several years older than her. As they spend more time together, Yoo-jin comes to want more affection and attention from him, and he seems to have no problem with that for a while, but then, not so surprisingly, he is not so eager about presenting her to others around him.

This problematic situation of Yoo-jin is alternated with what is going on in her mother’s private relationship. After suddenly getting pregnant, Yoo-jin’s mother expects her lover to be more serious about their ongoing relationship, but her lover turns out to be much less reliable than he seems on the surface. She tries to be patient and understanding despite that, but she cannot even hide her problem from her daughter, who is not so shocked about her mother’s problem but becomes exasperated with her mother’s rather passive attitude.

Meanwhile, things also get pretty messy for Yoo-jin herself. When that college student lets her down a lot, she comes to lean on that delivery guy, and he cannot possibly say no to her due to his longtime crush on her. He eventually takes her to his house without being noticed by his parents, and she unwisely allows him to get much closer to her than before just because of her desperate emotional urge.

Of course, Yoo-jin cannot help but drawn again to that college student when he comes to her again later. As she struggles more with her increasingly complicated matter of heart, the movie sticks to its non-judgmental viewpoint while also showing some care and understanding toward her. She keeps making one wrong choice after another, but we understand why she is driven to such wrong choices, and we come to feel more compassion toward her when she comes to face the inevitable consequences of her unwise actions later in the story.

In addition, the movie is supported by the solid lead performance from its lead actress. While never making any excuse on her character’s human flaws, Hwang Bo-un steadily carries the film to the end via her unadorned but strong acting, and she is especially wonderful during a number of small intimate moments when the movie observes more of her character’s emotional vulnerability. Although this is her first film, she demonstrates here with considerable confidence that she is another new talented actress to watch, and I will not be surprised if she advances much more during next several years after this excellent breakthrough turn.

Around Hwang, director/writer Han In-mi assembles a bunch of good performers to notice. As Yoo-jin’s equally problematic mother, Seo Young-hee, whom you probably remember for “The Chaser” (2008) and “Bedevilled” (2010), is effective in her several key scenes with Hwang, and she is particularly touching when her character shows more care and affection to Hwang’s character in the end. As several substantial male figures in the story, Jun Suk-ho, Woo Ji-hyun, Hong Xa-bin, and Kim Min-chul are well-cast in their respective parts, and Park Jeong-yeon is also fine in her small but crucial supporting role.

Overall, “Nobody’s Lover”, whose Korean title is incidentally “Everybody’s Lover”, is a modest but engaging mix of character drama and coming-of-age tale, and Han In-mi makes a commendable feature film debut here after directing several acclaimed short films. This is certainly another notable South Korean film of this year, and I guess I can have some expectation on whatever will come next from her.

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1 Response to Nobody’s Lover (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Messy and Lonely

  1. Pingback: 10 movies of 2022 – and more: Part 3 | Seongyong's Private Place

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