KAFFLA Review: Magic and Loss


[This week, we will be covering the the First Annual Korean American Film Festival Los Angeles, which will be taking place at the Korean Cultural Center LA from August 9th through the 11th. For all of our coverage, head here.]

I watched some anime recently for the first time in quite a while, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, it reminded me of one of the reasons I stopped watching anime in the first place. I talked about it in my review of Asura, but it bears repeating: over-explanation of every single moment is irritating. Really, really annoying. I just want to enjoy the action, the story, the whatever, but even when there are battles going on people can’t keep their mouths (or inner monologues) shut. It’s a constant stream of unnecessary information that gets really grating really quickly.

Magic and Loss is nothing like that.

Kiki Sugino and Yang Ik-june

Magic and Loss
Director: Lim Kah Wai
Rating: NR
Country:  Japan/Korea/Malaysia/Hong Kong/France/USA/China

The only thing you really need to know about Magic and Loss is that its main characters are from different cultures. Kiki (Kiki Sugino) is Japanese, and Kkobbi (Kim Kkobbi) is Korean. I say this is all you need to know, because that is basically all that I know. These two people end up staying at the same hotel for some reason on an island somewhere, and then they end up becoming… friends? I don’t know. After their initial stay at the hotel where they meet and whatnot, they return an unspecified amount of time later and end up staying in the same room and same bed. That wasn’t their intention, as far as I could tell, but it ended up working out that way. 

So you might think that perhaps they’re lesbians and have a lesbian relationship, and that’s what this whole thing is. And you know what I have to say to that? Maybe. I don’t know. Almost all of their interactions are silent, and there are a lot of conflicting messages. Neither of them speaks the other’s native tongue, so when they do converse it’s in a slightly-broken English which neither of them are incredibly comfortable using. So the logic behind a nearly silent movie is sound (heyo!), but it’s still kind of off-putting. With the exception of a single accessory (one which actually goes missing early in the film), nothing seems to be of any significance to the characters or have any connection to the world at large. In fact, there’s almost no reference to the world at large, period. Aside from the boat that the two arrive on in the beginning of the film, pretty much everything takes place on the island. The bulk of the film takes place in or immediately around the hotel (which doesn’t seem to have any other guests, despite being “Full”).

Kim Kkobbi and Kiki Sugino on a bed in Magic and Loss

The hotel is owned by a Korean man (Yang Ik-june), which makes Kiki’s experience much more awkward than Kkobbi’s. Kkobbi has someone else to talk to in her native tongue, and she periodically sorta-flirts with the owner. Kiki is left in the dark, though, and she clearly has no love for the owner. This leads to some uncomfortable moments when the owner takes them out for drinks and dancing. It’s not entirely clear what Kkobbi’s intentions are, as she seems equal parts interested and repulsed by the owners actions while they are out, but Kiki is clearly unhappy. It’s an awkward scene, but it’s interesting, and it gives the closest thing to an actual glimpse into the characters’ personalities when put in a social situation. It’s a case where they’re occasionally forced into conversation, even if it is light and mostly dismissive.

Vagueness for the sake of vagueness bothers me, and Magic and Loss is unquestionably vague just because. There is no narrative benefit to not knowing anything about the characters, because they don’t function like clean slates. The characters have some kind of baggage, but nobody else knows what it is. If they were all amnesiacs and the point of the film was to see them grow with each other into people or something, then that would be one thing, but presumably these characters had lives before the film started, and there is no sense of what those lives were. 

Kim Kkobbi, Kiki Sugino, and Yang Ik-june in Magic and Loss

I knew from the beginning that, even though it shared that same structural problem as Should’ve Kissed, I liked it more, but not too much. The fact that I never understood what was going on bored me, and one moment that seemed like some kind of weird, shocking reveal made absolutely no sense to me. But even so, in the end I didn’t dislike it. I came so very close, but the ending worked for me. It was just as vague and potentially as confusing as anything else in the film, but it answered two of the biggest questions I had had. Depending on your sensibilities, you may or may not be turned off by the apparent end of Kiki and Kkobbi’s relationship, but it really had to go there. There’s not much else that could have happened.

In a lot of ways, it was kind of like my experience with Monsters Club. For so much of it I just refused to accept that there was something there worth seeing, but then it all came together in the final minutes. Whether I understood it or not, I was able to accept what I had been watching. For all of my gripes with the film, I accept what Magic and Loss was trying to do. In the end, it all works out. I think.