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Castaway on the Moon
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by Jay Seaver

"Sees both the tragedy and abusrdity in loneliness."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Somehow, I got the idea into my head that "Castaway on the Moon" was going to be a serious film, all allegory for isolation within the city and breaking its hero down to find out who he is without defining him by his relationships to other people. Which it is. It is also well aware that its plot is as potentially funny as it is clever, and goes for the laughs, too.

Mr. Kim (Jung Jae-young) is in bad shape. His girlfriend has left him, and he somehow owes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a $75k, supposedly interest-free loan. Once he has established the situation as hopeless, he throws himself into the Han river. Things still aren't going his way, though, as he washes up on shore. But not of the city; of Bam Island, a tiny piece of land in the middle of the river with an unscalable bridge support and no other connection to land. He can't swim, so he finds himself in the odd situation of being a Robinson Crusoe surrounded by one of Asia's largest cities, as nobody can see him. Well, one person can - Ms. Kim (Jung Rye-won), a young shut-in in a nearby high-rise, has accidentally caught a glimpse of him via her camera's telephoto lens, and has become fascinated.

Kim is the most common surname in South Korea, shared by roughly a third of the population, so it would be no great surprise for two random people to have that name. Obviously, in a film, that choice is not random, especially since the characters' given names are spoken aloud maybe once apiece and they are listed as "Male Kim" and "Female Kim" in the credits. The two are meant to be analogs for each other, creating tiny nations of one within Seoul and shunning outside contact. It's done in extreme ways but they could be anyone who has, one way or another, been hurt sufficiently to run away from the world.

That's sad, and there is often something very morose about watching Ms. Kim; she sleeps in a bubble-wrap-filled closet in a bedroom in an apartment in a secure building; she has put layers between herself and the world, seemingly never even throwing out the garbage. But we don't see her until a ways into the movie; we spend the first act with Jung Jae-young's Mr. Kim, and most of the time spent with him is hilarious. He's not Tom Hanks in Cast Away, someone who clearly picked up some wilderness skills in the Boy Scouts and can get down to the business of survival - he's a panicky mess making things up as he goes along, talking to himself and freaking out even as he gradually learns how to make the plants, animals, and detritus on and around the island work for him.

It's a manic performance rather than one that shouts how very tortured his Kim is with painful sincerity. He is, of course, and scenes where he decides to hide from passing boats rather than try to signal them show a solid grounding in real emotion, but the vast majority of the time, we see a man either being driven mad by the situation he's in reveling in new-found freedom, just letting it all hang out because he doesn't realize he has an audience. It's one of the funniest acting jobs seen in recent years, but one that always has real emotion.

Jung Rye-won's acting isn't one-note either; although it's instantly apparent how timid and hurt she is, both her narration and general acting show us a girl who is potentially very funny and kind, if she can ever get past her fear. She does a great job of selling scenes that show us a contradictory image of boldness and paranoia, and though her Kim's growth is slow, Rye-won makes us treasure her milestones.

Writer/director Lee Hae-joon does an admirable job of setting the scene, making sure we understand that these islands of different sorts are the Kims' whole worlds but never letting them feel like the whole world. He gives Jae-young and Rye-won plenty of funny bits, including one hilarious segment which could easily end the movie but instead shows us that the Kim's are indeed fairly self-aware. He does make a couple of weird choices - I'm not sure why Mr. Kim writes his messages on the beach in English, as it makes parts of the movie seem awkward - but he does a truly exceptional job of making a movie that is smart and emotional, but also very funny.

That's a major achievement. Sure, a lot of comedies want to deliver an emotional punch at the end, but this one actually manages it, in part because it's been doing so for the previous two hours; it just refuses to act as though that goal is in opposition to being entertaining.

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originally posted: 07/22/10 15:34:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

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4/29/12 Karen Brown Excellent 5 stars
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Directed by
  Hey-jun Lee

Written by
  Hey-jun Lee

  Jae-young Jung
  Rye-won Jung
  Mi-kyung Yang

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