You get an early hint of what sort of movie this will be in the opening scene, when Han Yurim, Park Ilrae and their son Yeongsu are going for a walk in the park. Han turns to her son at the side of a cairn, instructing him, “If you add a stone and make a wish, it will come true.” Yeongsu adds a stone – and the whole cairn collapses. To say director Park Sanghun’s film is unrelentingly bleak would be an understatement: every action Park takes is an ill-fated one. Unable to get or keep a job, he struggles to keep his family afloat. When a promising business deal goes awry, Park loses what little money he has. Ashamed, he brings pesticide home to poison his whole family – but somehow, he alone survives; a later attempt at suicide fails as the rope he hangs himself on breaks. As for the moral of A Mere Life – whether Park is a victim of circumstances or author of his own misfortune – that remains unclear to the bitter end.
Oct. 1, 12:45 p.m., Pacific Cinémathèque
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