Korean cinema goes from strength to strength; the successes, including Parasite, are well-known, but the sheer breadth of quality films that have emerged over the last decade mark out Korean films as one of the most booming film-cultures. Aloners is a first time feature, but doesn’t feel like it; Hong Sung-eun’s film is something of a meditation on the nature of loneliness and aloneness, which are not the same thing at all, and should strike a chord with international audiences, at festivals and on home entertainment.
Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) works in a call centre; she lives alone. An opening scene sees her taking a call from her mother, or at least that’s what it says on the screen of her phone; her mother has just died, and her father is the actual caller. After over a decade away, Jino’s dad has just inveigled his way back into his wife’s life just in time to claim her inheritance; it’s not hard to see why Jina should feel alienated, from him and the world, as a result. Training up a gauche colleague doesn’t do much for Jina’s state-of-mind either, but the solo style that started as a lifestyle choice begins to feel like an imposition as the walls start to close in on Jina.
Aloners is a strikingly honest film that pulls apart social pretentions with precision. The flat next to Jina is inhabited by a lone, heavy-smoking male who died under a pile of pornography. The new neighbour accidentally knocks out Jina’s cable in the process of moving in, but Jina’s negativity towards him is soon reflected back onto herself. There’s no romance here, but as the neighbour proceeds to honour the memory of a man he never met, Jina is able to see through his virtuous actions a reflection of her own inertia.
Aloners is one of these supple, simple films that burrows into your mind; anyone keen to resist societal pressure to be in a couple will understand what Jina is going through. And a subplot, in which Jina watches her father’s busy social life through a forgotten security camera in her mothers’ flat, suggests that Jina’s lack of enthusiasm largely comes from her perception that it’s a man’s, man’s world. Without the waspish wit of Parasite, this might seem like a hard sell, but Aloners is worth unpacking A sign above Jina’s desk in the call-centre reads ‘Happy Your Life’ ; exactly how to happy your life isn’t revealed here, but Aloners touches the sides of urban alienation with some skill.
The London Korean Film Festival 2021 takes place from 4 November – 19 November and tours the UK thereafter. koreanfilm.co.uk