This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Alan Newnham’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I don’t think I could really review this. Without a doubt it’s gonna need another viewing. But here’s a bunch of borderline nonsense in the form of notes.
Social/political divide. Gatsby References. Living so close to the N. Korean border (the propaganda crossing over/influence). Haemi’s room is “north facing” where the sun rarely shines, and when it does it’s reflected off a high tower - a tower that Jongsu often masturbates over in her room - though he might just masturbate over it due to how it reminds him of the time they had sex and he notices the sun shining through into her wardrobe, though I think the fact that he recognises that sun beam is important) Ben is meant to be a borderline sociopathic yuppie who “plays” for “fun”. Ben represents the most upper class, excess and decadence, all of this has lead to him being completely detached from emotion and right and wrong - “there is no right or wrong, only natural law” - which leads to his admittance of a greenhouse burning hobby. Jongsu, our protagonist, comes from a working class background. Haemi seems to come from a similar background yet Ben welcomes her into his upper world, yet it’s obvious he seems to be using her - his yawning during social scenes, his smirk. Haemi seems to be a bridge that’s formed between the divide, a bridge that leads to buried jealousy and rage that soon boils to the surface.
There’s also a divide caused by sexual desire.
Divide in education and intellectualism. He’s a college graduate yet can’t define a metaphor. He also can’t get a job. He seems to be haunted by his past and roots (his father and his rage, his mother etc.)
Our protagonist doesn’t seem completely trustworthy in his perspective.
Loose ends/unexplained - Boil the cat, Haemi’s parents denying the existence of a well, yet Jongsu’s mother remembers it. Jongsu’s terrible memory seems to have some sort of importance. Haemi’s wristwatch in Bens draw. Ben staring out at that lake. Was Jongsu ever working on a book? Was a greenhouse near by ever burnt? Jongsu not being able to find one definitely seems to hint that it’s a metaphor for the women Ben either “fixes up” or makes “disappear”.
I feel thats it’s fairly concrete that Ben definitely either made Haemi “disappear” or he killed her, and that he regularly does this with different women.
Or this is part of Ben “playing”. The majority of the film is orchestrated by Ben. Yet no matter what Ben seems surprised when Jongsu stabs him - though you would think Ben would know something was up if he had made Haemi disappear - he would of seen through Jongsu’s lie of him and Haemi waiting for him in the countryside.
Or Jongsu is unbelievably disillusioned and his past, rage inherited from his father, sexual struggles, class struggles all over flow and he burns all his surroundings e.g. Haemi and Ben. (Haemi’s cat and watch in Bens apartment could be explained by Jongsu’s perspective being totally warped and untrustworthy, the cat could be any cat, and the watch could of simply been left there by Haemi)
Or Haemi is still alive and Ben runs a sort of sex trafficking system - “he makes these ugly run down “greenhouses” disappear” “as if they never existed”. His criminal activity and connections to the outside through sex trafficking would be due to his upper class privilege. But I doubt this theory.
The juxtaposition of Jongsu being naked and cold, and Bens burning body seems very important.
You could also read that Haemi disappearance is actually not meant to be important to the audience. It’s only meant to be important to the characters. What we must care about is how the characters react - and what importance it has on them.
Either way this is either a stellar film and possibly the best film South Korea has ever release besides Oldboy, or its a long drawn out mess that’s riddled with inconsistency’s but held together by a scatter of brilliant scenes, gorgeous widescreen shots, and great performances. Which ever one it is, there’s no doubt this film will root itself in your brain and not let go for quite some time.