SOUTH KOREAN DARK DRAMA “JANE” MISSES BOAT ON ONE STORY BUT TELLS ANOTHER

Article by Luis Vazquez

The 2017 Asian Film Festival was looking to explore LGBT topics with the South Korean film “Jane.” The transgender effect which is displayed as the centerpiece on the movie posters promised a look into this subject. Director Cho Hyun-hoon fails to shed any light on this but in his choice of Gu Gyohwan as Jane, he received a performance that kept all the loose threads of this complicated storyline from falling apart. Gu, who is a film maker as well, brought that perspective in his portrayal. Cho did get our attention concerning the plight of runaways in Seoul and the desperation that leads them to join with other runaways into loose groups ruled by an authority figure who is referred to as “Mom” or “Dad.”

The story main character So-hyun, played by Lee Min-ji, a world apart from her Reply 1988 days, is broken. She ran away from home and lives with boyfriend Jung-ho, who later abandons her without any word. She attempts suicide. But Jane arrives and sees in her a kindred spirit. Except that So-hyun has issues and is horrible socially.

Jane is a den mother to a group of runaways but supports them through her singing job at a club called “The New World.” She brings the kids to her job though its not allowed. She has a habit of taking or collecting things. The most memorable is her lifting the mirror ball so her kids can have a house party. She teaches some important lessons about sharing and not being petty. She nearly overdoses from pills but So-hyun revives her by dragging her in the shower returning the favor.

They both share an interest in finding Jung-ho but he has moved on. Jane seems to have lost interest as her health declines. Soon as the kids are sharing a Bimbap meal, So-hyun looks out the window and sees Jane sprawled on the ground, dried blood protruding horrifically from her body. She lays there as much an afterthought as the dead animals found on sides of a road recalling a conversation that her kids Ji-Soo, Dae-po ad Jong-gu had shortly before Jane’s death. Her death felt like a stripping of her humanity or a life style punishment depending on one’s view.

Stripped of her security blanket, So-hyun and the film gets violent. She joins a new family that is already overextended and is beaten by the leader known as “dad.” He rules through fear and punishment. In this house the girls are prostituted yet its vague if it’s a part time deal. Ironic considering his mother we learn made such an arrangement when he was a boy. When he discovers a new addition, Ji-Soo has earned money away from the group, he crosses the line by locking her in the bedroom and offers her up to an army of clients who rape her for a lengthy period causing her to jump out the window to her death and turning off the group at large. As they bury her, So-hyun, who was hoping to move away with her bites the hand that feeds her and as dad is distracted, he is slammed by a shovel on his head and his body is dumped and burned while the family split her money and goes dark.

Throughout the film she is penning a letter to an unknown source concerned with her story being told. We get flashbacks that flesh out how Jane came to know them all. So-hyun tells an angry Jong-hu where dad is buried and he spares her life when it seemed a surety she would be dead and buried. Maybe the one act of not partaking of the cash of the now dead Ji-soo was her saving grace. As flawed as she is, she does try to do the right thing.

The girl who is not good with people links to her memories of Jane to keep her company and though the threads don’t ever really get unwound totally we are left with a mess of colorful interplay of strings that stand as a multi-hued web and in the end, the song that Jane sings for her, is the only truth and that brings a smile for the first time. This film is useful in identifying what happens to kids in the real world when their protectors are gone. A sobering reality but an excellent attempt to find new patterns in a well-worn cloth. This films beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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