When The Weight started, I thought for a moment that I was watching the wrong movie. Even though the opening credits were in Korean, I was very clearly not looking at Korea. What I was looking at what actually outside my window: New York City. Then I second guessed myself, because what if Korea has a New Yorktown the way New York has a Koreatown, but it was just New York.
Fantasia’s descripton of The Weight specifically references its bleak vision of South Korea, so I just sat back and scratched my head as the montage of New York imagery continued. And then, over the shot of a beach, a subtitle explained everything by explaining nothing: “This is not the world in which he lives.”
Understatement of the century.
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival. Started in 1996 and based primarily in Montreal, Fantasia is widely regarded as one of the best genre film festivals in North America. To read all of our coverage, click here.]
The Weight (Mooge | 무게)
Director: Jeon Kyu-Hwan
Country: South Korea
The Weight has no story. There are characters, discussions, events, even flashbacks, but they don’t come together to create any kind of real narrative. Jung (Cho Jae-Hyun) is a hunchbacked mortician, and being surrounded by death means he invites, intentionally or not, all kinds of odd people into his place of work (which is also his home, by the way). Sometimes they’re alive, oftentimes they aren’t, but everyone clearly has a story of their own. Unfortunately, The Weight doesn’t tell many of them. Early on, it seems like the film might be trying to focus on its vision of South Korea rather than just follow a single character, but that unfortunately turns out not to be the case.
A flashback shows the gruesome circumstances under which two corpses ended up on Jung’s metal tables, but it never happens again. It’s a real shame, because those last moments of a person’s life can reveal a lot about them, even without context of the rest of the life. A drunk walking home gets hit by a bus. A woman fights her mugger and gets shot. These are stories that could have fit perfectly with The Weight‘s tone and would have made it much more compelling. That single instance was a tease, as was the one flashback for a not-actually-revelvant living character. These showed a fascinating world beyond the morgue’s four walls, one that even the scenes that take place in the open don’t properly portray.
Instead, the story focuses on Jung and Dong-bae, his transgendered sorta-sibling, with whom he has an uncomfortable relationship. That’s uncomfortable for me, by the way… not so much for them. The Weight tries to explain their backstory through flashbacks, but they don’t really clear much up. It wasn’t always obvious who was who in the flashbacks, and it’s not until now that some of it is starting to make some sense, but even then it still doesn’t all fit together properly. A second watch might help to close some of the holes, but it might also break them wide open.
You’ve probably gotten a sense of how weird The Weight is, so I won’t spend too much time on it, but I will say that it really is a bizarre movie. It’s not The Warped Forest weird, but it’s certainly strange. I will leave most of the oddness up to you to find out, though, because it’s really what makes the film worth watching. Seeing the next odd character or interaction keeps thing interesting and surprising throughout, even if there isn’t much reason behind anything that’s happening. There’s a lot to see, and while everything is pretty much played straight, there are a couple of good laughs that come from the insanity of it all.
Unfortunately, The Weight suffers from an unnecessary obsession with sex. From glory hole gallivanting to random streetside sexual encounters, The Weight spends far too much time focusing on penises and vaginas and the interplay between those things. In the case of Dong-bae, it makes some sense, because he/she is currently in the middle of a gender shift, but I could have done without the necrophilia. I could have done without pretty much all of it, actually. There’s a lot of nudity because the Jung’s corpses are naked as he works on them (duh), but there was no reason to go beyond that. In the latter half of the film, things are less sexually charged, but it doesn’t justify everything on display in the beginning.
The Weight doesn’t seem like it was a film made for anyone other than the director, and while I can’t say I loved the film, I have to appreciate his willingness to just make it happen. He got people who were willing to go along with his deranged vision, and he deserves some credit for having done so. Not a lot of people are going to like what he’s done here, and even fewer are going to “get” it, but it’s still worth seeing.