With A Girl Of Black Soil

With A Girl Of Black Soil


Reviewed by: David Stanners

With A Girl Of Black Soil paints a bleak picture of life for a family of three in an economically depressed mining town in rural South Korea.

A father of two loses his job as a miner, causing his youngest daughter, nine-year-old Yeong-Lim to look after her mentally disabled brother and all the household chores.

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Beginning with the news of his job, the father is forced to move the kids out of home into the grandfather's place. Driving down the road, the three of them sing a Korean version of Old McDonald Had A Farm. This is about as bright as it gets, as quietly the father slides down the slippery slope towards depression and alcohol abuse.

His disabled son Tong Gu, unable to communicate, runs away, while Yeong-Lim tries to cheer him up with her dancing and singing.

Very little happens in the way of action or dialogue; this is director Jeon Soo-il’s intention. Drawing pathos from an audience for what is an inescapable plight for the family, there is little to do but feel for the young girl whose precociousness and indomitable spirit keep things watchable. The quietness of the film merely reflects the boredom of the place they live, but this does have its limits.

Luckily Jeon Soo-il recognizes this and has kept the runtime to 88 minutes. Even still, you could be forgiven for fast-forwarding bits. The plot is minimal, and unlike the success of other Asian films outlining economic desperation, more could be made of outside influences. We are told of a casino being built to build revenue, but not enough is made of the external factors that would have added interest and given a sense of social context.

When the action does flick outside of the family, some tragic solidarity is felt, as the miners sing about their lives of unfulfilled promises spent down the mines.

The burden of responsibility shouldered by the young towards supporting the parents is a common theme in Chinese culture. In this case, a nine-year-old girl supports her brother and father, making a final poignant decision way beyond her years.

This type of film is vital in international film industries. Like the UK’s most tried and tested film realists (Mike Leigh and Ken Loach) they carry heavy socio-political messages which need to be noticed. This is no easy watch, and lacks drama, but will hopefully find distribution.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2008
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With A Girl Of Black Soil packshot
South Korean family drama about an economically impoverished family and their difficulties with one another.

Director: Jeon Soo-il

Writer: Jeon Soo-il

Starring: Yu Yun-mi, Jo Yung-jin, Hyun-woo Park

Year: 2007

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: France, South Korea


EIFF 2008

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