Minnesota Film Arts presents “A Brand New Life” (which is “Yeo-haeng-ja” in Korean), from 2009, and French-South Korean film-maker, Ounie Lecomte, as a part of the In Search of Asia series at the St. Anthony Main cinema.
After an adorable elementary school-age girl, Jinhee [Sae Ron Kim], who clings to her dad, is left at orphanage by him, she must find a way to deal with it, but cannot. This, even after being treated well and finding friends.
How would you feel or respond if, at around age 10, your dad broke your heart by lying to you…because he had to?
What if he bought you a new ensemble and said that you two were bound for a trip, but deposited you with an orphanage? According to imdb, Ms. Lecompte’s own story inspired this film.
Jinhee’s dad deposits her at an orphanage, a way station for children whose lives might be lifted if middle-class families claimed them.
She has to deal with A Brand New Life in an orphanage.
From the moment that Jinhee – her beguiling grin that is – appears onscreen, she’s just a sweetie pie. Her effervescence hobbles your objectivity and skepticism. That story would be enough, but wait – there’s more. She just can’t get over the fact that her father won’t return – that this could lead to a more stable life for her.
While 10-years old may be old enough for a child to roll with that sock to the chin, Jinhee isn’t that child. She adores her father, so she refuses to accept her lot, and is doggedly stubborn about not rolling with punches that life has knocked into her. Jinhee’s story is partly one of her emotional arrest in the face of an unenviable situation. She might be Korea’s version of Shirley Temple, or an elementary-age Dakota Fanning if you like.
A key scene happens when the orphans attend church, where Jinhee sees a man whose resemblance to her father hits home. A beat after that, the pastor’s lesson about Jesus asking his father, “why hast thou forsaken me?” tells us just what agony is festering within Jinhee. It’s not that she likens herself to a martyr or as Messiah, but she is still struggling to reconcile her dad’s nasty, loving lie with her reality.
Either you sympathize with her refusal to roll with these punches, or you can find her as her soon-to-be good friend, Sookhee, [Do Yeon Park] will: “a wench,” who needs to stop being a baby! Children do not comprehend or consider their situations as adults do (or as we would like or expect adults to). They’re used to either being good or being punished. She’s being as good as she can muster, but she must still suffer.
If a screen title didn’t tell us that this is fiction, taking place in 1975, then the semi-documentary style might nearly have fooled me. But some of the shots are rarely found in documentaries. Otherwise we should compare this to a PBS film from its Point of View series, “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy,” a Chinese documentary on trans”racial” international adoption; there is a lengthy scene where the girl is smack dab in the middle of change. That scene is unsettling, with angst and agony. That’s a hint at why the pastor’s lesson registers with our aggrieved young protagonist.
This story is one that, as with Thomas McCarthy’s “The Station Agent,” from 2003, or other small, personal films, demands that you are patient – frankly, mature – enough to allow it to defy American expectations for pacing. That forecasts a niche audience who will have to seek out the opportunities to watch this. “A Brand New Life” isn’t slow, but is deliberate. It’s charming and quiet. Are you patient enough to let this child’s story unfold before you, or will you shift in your seat wishing that something, something cool would happen? The story defies American cinema’s banal conventions. But it was made by a French-South Korean film-maker.
If we were to rate this: 4 out of 5.