Castaway on the Moon (2009)
director: Hae-jun lee | runtime: 1H 56mins | comedy, drama, romance | language: korean
After attempting suicide, Kim Seong-guen (Jae-yeong Jeong) is stranded on a small island in the middle of the Han River. After a few futile attempts to escape, he accepts his fate and decides to live there in peace. On the other side of the river, Kim Jung-yeon (Ryeowon Jung) finds a new lease on her reclusive life when she discovers the man through her camera.
With the exposure of Korean cinema radically changing thanks to the wonderful Parasite (2019), it seems appropriate to take a look at some of the work that wrongfully gets overlooked. There was a time when Korean cinema’s highest association was that of the revenge thriller, but Castaway on the Moon is far from the blood and violence, rather finding sweetness in romance and resiliency of the human condition. Packed with unorthodox charm and character work to die for, it feels like an undiscovered gem against the rest of the work coming from the country.
The film finds its feet within the first few minutes, as Kim stands atop a bridge ready to jump listening to his debt being announced, it’s a pretty heavy start that eventually laces itself with comedy. It finds and follows it’s tone quickly and consistently, as the main character has his initial panic, waving at passing tourists who simply wave back, carving ‘HELP’ into the sand and also suffering a last ditch phone call to a salesman while trying to ask for help. It’s continuously funny and Jae-yeong Jeong proves himself as a one-man-movie leader very well, finding the subtlest of opportunities to be both comedic and touching. Still fighting this urge to commit suicide while also being absurdly over-the-top about being stranded.
This bulks up the first half of the movie, where it begins to find similarities to the very best ‘castaway’ archetypes, using his surroundings in unique ways to create a somewhat life for himself, and eventually becoming comfortable sleeping in a worn down goose pedlo and eating pigeon. This part of the movie does lack the emotional levity it will later gone on to have, but it’s still entertaining as hell, dare I say just as entertaining as Zemeckis’ 2000 hit Cast Away. It isn’t until the main character finds the mixing powder from a black bean noodle packet that we see a real change, something that eventually becomes his overall goal and acts as a wonderfully absurd catalyst for his survival instinct.
If you watch any movie about a man stranded you already know where the high points come. They come from the little victories, the small achievements that make you believe in the characters survival, and Castaway on the Moon is full of them. The biggest though, is Kim trying to grow his own crops in order to make black bean noodles, and when you see the pure joy in his face you can’t be help but there with him. This movie’s strongest hand is in it’s ability to use unorthodox situations to make you relate to the unique people, not once do you feel a lack of connection to it’s main character, including the romantic story with the reclusive women across the pond (also named Kim).
Kim (female Kim) is opened up to us within minutes, we know her world doesn’t stretch any further than her bedroom, one that’s stocked with rubbish bags and canned corn, and she lives most of her life on the internet using fake accounts. The movie does so well to showcase both of the characters worlds, but ‘Female Kim’s’ is especially wonderful, using the camera and tight shots within her room and in the process, her mind. Her introduction starts to bring a level playing field in terms of balance, using her discovery of the deserted Kim to influence her decisions as a recluse, and her self loathing. But more importantly the comedy comes from both sides, using her attempts at communication as a secret agent level task, even managing to leave her room a few times.
As for the ending, the film’s build is so subtle you’ll be so overcome by it’s emotion. It’s a movie that earns it’s pay-off and the ‘against-the-clock’ style, that often feels predictable in movies, somehow manages to use it’s surroundings to effectively divert your expectations. This really is full of optimism and quirk that deserves a larger audience to project itself on to, and I challenge anyone to name a movie that somehow makes it’s most emotional sequences about a man and his noodles, and a girl leaving her bedroom to grow corn.