It Might Be Possible That Life Itself is Without Meaning: Re-encounter / Hye Hwa, Dong ( 혜화,동) (2010)

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Hye Hwa (Yoo Da In)

This is the English and updated version of ‘Re-encounter’ movie review. The original post in Bahasa Indonesia can be read in here:

“It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”
(Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf)

What happens if at the end of the day, our lives turn out to be nothing but a meaningless journey and that is all there is to it? In the age of #selfmade and hyper-positivity, many will probably drown in a sudden depression or find themselves lost in hysterical wailings, longing for the glorious life that was once a #lifegoals, but ends up in… nothing. This is the feeling I just cannot escape from ‘Re-encounter / Hye Hwa, Dong (혜화, 동)’, that maybe, just maybe, life itself is without meaning.

‘Re-encounter‘s’ opening scene shows Hye Hwa (Yoo Da In) riding her motorbike to pick up an unwanted dog. Over the years, she has developed some sort of obsession to save them. She even runs a dog grooming salon for a living, right next to a vet clinic. It could be possibly be part of the clinic too. Besides taking care of the dogs, sometimes (maybe most of the times) Hye Hwa also helps the vet to look after his son who she seems to have a close relationship with. Her relationship with the child and her dog-rescuing actions look like a manifestation of redeeming whether her guilts or her losses or even both, as a result of ‘failing’ to save her own baby who died not long after she was born.

At least that is what’s planted in Hye Hwa’s memory for the past 5 years. Until one day, her ex-lover and the father of her child, Han Soo (Yeo Yeon Sook), who ‘disappeared’ before the baby was born, suddenly reappear in front of her and tells Hye Hwa that their daughter is still alive.

The re-encounter then brings the “what ifs?” The lethal question.

What if Han Soo’s words are true? What if their daughter is in fact is still alive and was not dead like what has been planted in Hye Hwa’s memory for years? Hye Hwa can’t escape herself from the “what ifs” that for a moment she and Han Soo are trapped in a delusion Han Soo created. Like opening a pandora box.

If we only read the synopsis, ‘Re-encounter’ might sound like like an uber-melancholic drama, but it seems director Min Young Geun wasn’t interested to turn it into a tear-jerker movie but instead he chose to explore and depict the hollowing loneliness and nothingness of people’s lives. The adult Hye Hwa is now living alone, accompanied by her saved dogs. She still keeps the cuts of her clipped nails in an old roll film tube. Probably a metaphor of keeping and preserving parts of herself that were once uncontrollably and involuntarily thrown away. Or maybe, just like what my friend Ninin said, Hye Hwa is still keeping her love and holding onto to her past in those polka dot nail cuts. Her aging mother now has to holding on to a string of raffia rope whenever she needs to go to the bathroom. She weakly mumbles the deep-seated anger towards her cheating husband, which left her with no choice but to take the ‘illicit offspring’, Hye Hwa, into her own care. Han Soo, who is now back to living with his family, is now walking with a limp, maybe from a shot wound or military training injury.

Min Young Geun delivers all of these in a very quiet and calm manner to almost showing no sign of exterior emotions. Suppressed emotions. It does make sense, considering the kind of life Hye Hwa’s family leads. For some, they just can’t afford to be be absorbed in prolonged self-indulgent melancholia. There’s life to be lived, there’s hunger to be fed. Perhaps to some others, especially those whose lives are in the middle-upper level of Maslow’s pyramid, life should ideally be filled with dreams that are worth fighting for. Hye Hwa, obviously does not belong to this social strata. Her lives revolved around abandoned and unwanted dogs, like the lives of many others whose days are only filled with routines to make ends meet. Often times too tired to even feel their own feelings, let alone searching for life’s meaning.

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Han Soo (Yoo Yeon Seok)

There’s subtlety and finesse in Yoo Da In‘s delivery of adult Hye Hwa’s suppressed emotions, in contrast with her interpretation of the bolder and spunkier teenage Hye Hwa. This is my first encounter with Yoo Da In, and I fell in love with her instantly. In his best performance I’ve seen by far, Yoo Yeon Seok translated Han Soo into a mama’s boy who could not chase away his broken heart that he had to create a delusion in hope of healing the wounds of not only his but also Hye Hwa’s.

This calmness, loneliness, silence or whatever this almost emotionless feeling, somehow is really haunting. I have watched this movie a few times, and still I can’t grope how exactly this movie makes me feel. Maybe this is why it then led me to feel that eventually that is all there is to it to life. Just a passing time, until the day we all die. Even as I write this, the feeling is still vague. As unclear as Hye Hwa’s look in her eyes as she drove her car backwards towards Han Soo. Vague.

Update: I have watched the movie a few more times after writing the first review. Somehow it now leaves me with a feeling of hollowing sadness. The multilayered feelings that it reveals over time has set ‘Re-encounter’ apart from many Korean movies, mainstream and non-mainstream, which too many have the tendency to overpromise and underdeliver, banal and pretentious. I can’t help but comparing it to Hong Sang Soo‘s works (probably from having a similar feel?) ‘Re-encounter’, to me, even exceeds some of Hong Sang Soo‘s movies, as (I feel) his works begin to plateau. I guess it’s safe to say that ‘Re-encounter’ has now become one of my most favourite movies of all time.

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