The Remains Of A Broken Youth

in 42nd Istanbul Film Festival

by Yesim Burul

The 42nd Istanbul Film Festival took place in a tight spot between the devastating February 6th earthquake in Eastern Turkey and the upcoming presidential and general elections on May 14th. As the country was still mourning the loss of more than 50 000 lives, most of the festivities that had been one of the cornerstones of the festival were canceled. Yet, the range of films and accompanying Q&As were enough to attract a wide range of cinephiles and inspire, affect, and move its audiences.

This year, the underlying thread that connected most of the films in the International Competition section was the despair one feels when faced with the cruelty of our political and social systems. Next Sohee (Da-Eum-So-Hee) from South Korea, the winner of this year’s International Competition, was the epitome of this selection. The director July Jung’s sophomore feature is composed of two parts: In the first part, we follow a high school student named Sohee, who starts her job training in a call center as a young woman full of life and aspirations, spending her free time with friends who face similar circumstances. As the harsh system of exploitation put into practice by this greedy company is unveiled, Sohee’s spirit is crushed, despite her efforts to fit in. We see that her fellow students in different companies also have similar experiences, where they are constantly put under pressure, humiliated, and isolated. As Sohee cannot take this anymore, her suicide leads to the second part of the film that follows Detective Oh Yu-jin played by talented Bae Doona (also the star of July Jung’s first feature A Girl at My Door (Dohee-ya)).

Detective Oh Yu-jin’s search for the truth leads her to a corrupted system of entanglement involving the ministry of education, the vocational schools, and the companies they turn to for job training. While the ministry determines the schools’ budgets, based on their performance in job training, the companies that offer this training unashamedly, abuse the high school students they employ. As interns, they are under as much pressure as regular employees, but do not receive the wages they deserve. It is also important to note that the students who receive this treatment come from poor families with little means, and they have no one to turn to. Sohee’s spiraling into deep despair is further triggered when she is scolded by her teacher for not properly completing her training and told that she has to go back to the same call center.

Detective Oh Yu-jin, who is no stranger to bullying in her workplace, stubbornly and empathetically follows in Sohee’s footsteps and defies her superiors to reveal this corrupt system, fueled by greedy and unregulated capitalism and served by unscrupulous, selfish managers. Yet this revelation does not deliver any consolation, as there is no apparent will or motivation to change from the people who have set up this system.

The film’s two-part structure, each part exemplifying a different genre, is a brilliant reworking of the genre-mashup tradition emblematic of South Korean cinema. It starts as a light-hearted drama reflecting the life of a high school girl, which then turns into a tragedy, and in the second part evolves into a police procedural. Each genre is put into use in a considerate and delicate manner to follow the needs of the storytelling, thus does not overshadow the deep yet simple despair that caresses the whole film.

The film opens and closes with Kim Si-Eun, who wonderfully portrays Sohee with a wide range of emotions, practicing her dance moves in a studio. Her love of dance overrides all the negative experiences and feelings we eventually witness. The director Jung July seems to underline the fact that a young woman’s passion for art and culture is not easy to sustain in a highly patriarchal society, such as South Korea. Still, nevertheless, it is worth fighting for.


Yeşim Burul
Edited by Savina Petkova