South Korean documentary film “Girl Who Dreams About Time” follows the life story of one young female shaman who simply tries to live her own life. Although she was expected to follow the footsteps of her grandmother due to her ‘fate’, she really wants to explore other options for her life out there, and the documentary lets us have some empathy and understanding on her growing conflict between her life and her fateful vocation.
At first, the documentary gives us some background information on its two human subjects. After losing her parents when she was very young, Kwon Soo-jin lived with her grandmother during next several years, and now she becomes a senior high school student preparing for the upcoming college entrance examination, but there is one big personal problem for her. Even when she was only 4 years old, she showed considerable potential for becoming a shaman, and, as a well-experienced shaman, her grandmother certainly taught her a lot on shamanism. Because being a shaman is usually a social stigma, Soo-jin really wants to go to college for escaping her “fate”, and her grandmother respects her decision even though she does not approve of that much.
Anyway, things seem to be going pretty well for Soo-jin once she eventually begins to study in some good college in Seoul. We see her doing her little class presentation quite enthusiastically, and then we observe her having a little private moment with her boyfriend. She sincerely hopes that she will work in advertisement business after her college graduation, which will be her first forward step toward a normal life she has always wanted.
However, Soo-jin still finds herself tethered to her old world represented by her grandmother. Whenever she is not busy with studying or taking exams, she has to come to her grandmother’s house every weekend for doing various shamanistic rituals and activities, and that gradually puts a considerable amount of strain on her relationship with her grandmother. At one point, the camera merely watches their big argument from its static position, but this moment feels quite painful to say the least. She really likes to be in her college, but her grandmother and her fateful vocation keep holding her as usual, and we come to sense more of her ongoing dilemma via a subsequent close-up shot of her face.
In the end, Soo-jin makes a decision with which she will have to live for the rest of her life. After she finally graduates from the college as planned, she moves to a city near her hometown where she is going to work as a new shaman in the town. Every weekend, she goes to her grandmother’s house as usual, and we see how she tells fortunes to several people who come to her for understandable personal reasons (We never see the faces of these people as the camera only looks at them from the behind, by the way).
This is rather sadly fatalistic in my humble viewpoint, but Soo-jin is not so depressed about accepting her ‘fate’ at least. As a smart girl who is considerably savvy about self-promotion, she makes a YouTube account where she can eagerly talk about her profession, and she has enough charisma to draw more attention from those online viewers out there. Although I do not care much about what she says, I find her quite engaging with her outgoing attitude, and I even consider checking out her YouTube account someday.
In addition, Soo-jin’s grandmother is certainly ready to provide all the support and help she can give to her dear granddaughter. During the preparation for one big ritual to be held at their place, she willingly assists Soo-jin at every step of this ritual, and we get a little amusement as observing them with some fascination. Later in the documentary, they go together to a beach town for another ritual, and we feel more of the strong emotional bond between them as they go through the ritual in private later.
Nevertheless, Soo-jin still wants to live her own life as before, and that aspect of hers is clearly shown from when she happens to have a drinking time with several friends of hers. As she joyfully and comfortably talks with them, she feels a bit more normal at least for a while, and we come to sense that she will be all right regardless of whatever will happen next according to her ‘fate’.
Except several occasions when Soo-jin talks about herself and her life in front of the camera, the documentary sticks to its restrained attitude as a close but detached observer, and director Park Hyuck-jee, who has been known for his acclaimed documentaries including “Oh! My Papa” (2016) and “Speed of Happiness” (2020), deserves to be commended for how he slowly but effortlessly immerses us into the daily life of Soo-jin and her grandmother. Although I wish the documentary showed and explained more about their shamanistic activities, Soo-jin and her grandmother are compelling enough to hold our attention, and the documentary did a good job of presenting them with enough care and respect.
Overall, “Girl Who Dreams About Time” is a haunting documentary which gives us a close and intimate look on shamanism via its two plain but unforgettable human subjects. As your average agnostic, I only observed them and their spiritual belief with skepticism, but I was touched by their human moments nonetheless, and that is certainly enough for recommendation.