Juvenile Offender

Juvenile Offender

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The title brings with it ideas of grimy borstal boys, beat downs and buggery, of Scum, Dog Pound and their ilk. Lock them up and throw away the key - they're not in this quietly moving film.

There is an offender - Ji-gu - but he's a lot more than that, being first and foremost a teenager with all that entails. Sure, he's out on probabtion but despite a claustrophobic life spent caring for his sole guardian, a very sick grandfather, other things are looking up. Sae-rom, for instance, the girl who makes his heart skip a beat and his brain want to buy the biggest teddy in the shop. She's a good girl but temptation is strong when young love is involved. In fact, there's temptation all around for Ji-gu who, wanting to stay in with the in crowd, joins his mates on a burglary spree. Being teenagers and useless, they are caught and Ji-gu finds himself looking at a stretch in a young offenders' institute. "Can you forgive me just this once?" he asked as he's being sent down - little realising that it is he who will be called on to show clemency both to others and himself as his life progresses.

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The film doesn't linger in the confines of the prison, as this is about Ji-gu, choices, forgiveness and how hard change can be. In a refreshing break from the grimness usually seen in teen jail set-ups, the staff are normal and one of them even goes so far as to look out for Ji-gu, hunting down his long-vanished mother Hyo-seong and persuading her that it's about time she stepped up to the plate. Ji-gu initially finds it hard to believe that this woman can really be the mother he thought had died years ago, while his mum finds it equally difficult to assume the role of responsible adult. Still, a tentative connection is made and on Ji-gu's release, the two of them try to find a way forward at the same time as reconciling with the past, while at almost every turn, Ji-gu discovers he is the more mature half of the relationship.

The pair face financial hardship thanks to his mother's largely irresponsible attitude, while Ji-gu finds the system prejudiced against him. He also discovers that a mistake of his own is about to give him an unwelcome insight into just how his mum came to be in her position in the first place. He may be reduced to literally carrying her at one point but it is through taking responsibility that he comes of age.

Kang Yi-kwan's film bristles with life despite his understated style. He is interested in big concepts not cliche and he gets terrific performances from Young Ju Seo as Ji-gu, Lee Jung-hyun as his Hyo-seong and Jun Ye-Jin in the smaller but significant role of Sae-rom. And though it was written after an invitation from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to direct a film on the human rights of offenders, the issues are never allowed to over-shadow the moving journey of the characters. Each of them feels fully fleshed out, their failings as believable as their moments of self-realisation. Their depth makes them unpredictable, as they make wrong, right and unexpected choices. The result is a pleasure to watch and deserves to reach audiences beyond the festival circuit.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2013
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Released from a young offenders' institution into difficult circumstances, a troubled young man searches for stability.

Director: Kang Yi-kwan

Writer: Joo Young Park, Kang Yi-kwan

Starring: Lee Jung-hyun, Seo Young-ju, Jun Ye-jin

Year: 2012

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: South Korea

Festivals:

EIFF 2013

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