Korean Film Festival 2017 Review: The World of Us (South Korea, 2016)

The opening film for the 2017 Korean Film Festival in Sydney is The World of Us, an poignant look into both friendship and bullying amongst elementary school girls. The film holds more lessons than just for those in school however, as the Korean consulate introduced- the film also serves as a reminder of these lessons for adults.

The film opens to black with the beginnings of a rock, paper, scissors game. School children are picking sides in a game of dodgeball, and the camera holds the face of our main character Sun (Choi Soo-in) as her face slowly falls from a bright smile to a disappointed sadness as she becomes the last to be chosen. The film follows this style very closely, with the focus often on Sun’s expressions as she reacts to the world around her. In this way the audience builds a great sense of empathy with her day-to-day struggles.

A new student arrives on the last day of term, where Sun is the last at school. The two immediately hit it off after Ji-ah (Seol Hye-in) compliments Sun’s handmade friendship bracelet and is happily given it as a gift. The two spend their break together and grow closer. A turning point happens just before they return to school- Ji-ah (who is staying at Sun’s house for the time being) wakes to see Sun interacting with her loving mother (Jang Hye-jin). Ji-ah’s mother has all but abandoned her child, claiming herself too busy to see her, and Ji-ah quickly becomes jealous of Sun having what she most desires. Matters are not helped when Sun realizes Ji-ah has been attending summer English classes with the instigator of her bullying, Bo-ra (Lee Seo-yeon).

Things continue to slip for both girls as school begins again. At first Ji-ah is accepted into Bo-ra’s popular circle, but as it becomes clear that Ji-ah may outshine Bo-ra she is quickly turned on. Her “status” falls below Sun and the two end up resorting to having to hurt the other in order to survive.

Several motifs reoccur throughout the film. Nail polish is used to demonstrate the fragile relationships and how quickly they wear away. The dodge ball games are brought in as well to remind us where each girl stands at any given point in the movie. Another striking moment saw Ji-ah with a bright green Fjallraven Kanken bag (for those unfamiliar, quite an expensive brand) whilst Sun holds the equally bright green bag of her younger sibling. Ji-ah has the more expensive of the items, but Sun’s represents her family- an area where she has much more wealth than Ji-ah.

Watching the film you so badly want to just tell them- just be friends again! Forgive each other! All these little popularity games at elementary school don’t really matter! But, of course, we (similarly it seems to the other adults in the film) can do nothing but watch them struggle and hurt. We can’t help them, but I guess we can make sure we don’t resort to the same, harsher, tactics in our own adult lives.

It’s not a tear-jerker per se, but the film certainly builds up your feelings of helplessness and a slight melancholy. Particularly when you see how broken Ji-ah becomes towards the end of the film after appearing to be so self-confident. I must provide kudos to the young actors for drawing all these emotions out- both handle their roles brilliantly. A special shoutout to Sun’s little brother Yoon (Kang Min-joon) who had some truly fantastic moments. What a little actor!

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The World of Us is being shown as part of the Korean Film Festival in Australia. It will be screening in Melbourne on the 7th September, Brisbane on the 8th September and Canberra on the 15th September.

For more information and to book visit www.koffia.com.au