[Korean Movie Night NY continues with Moon Si-Hyun’s Home Sweet Home. If you live in New York City, you can see this film for free at the Tribeca Cinemas tomorrow night (September 25th) at 7 PM. More information can be found here.]
I’ve found it to be a good rule of thumb that so-called “indie” movies have a tendency not to explain “why.” Not “why” things happen, “why” characters do what they do, or even “why” it’s worth watching said characters do what they do. There are exceptions, sure, but expecting some obvious explanatory payoff from an indie film is kind of silly. They often start ambiguously and end even moreso. Sometimes I can handle that, but usually it’s just grating.
I don’t know why I thought that Home Sweet Home might be any different. I guess that film schools in Korea teach the same lessons that they do in America.
And that’s a damn shame.
Home Sweet Home (Hom Seuweiteu Hom | 홈 스위트 홈)
Director: Moon Si-Hyun
Country: South Korea
Tae-Su (Kim Young-Hoon) is a recently unemployed businessman who, at his wife’s behest, fakes a divorce for reasons that are not entirely clear. He attempts to convince her to sell the house so they will have some money, but she refuses on some rather paranoid grounds. For whatever reason, Tae-Su accepts this all and leaves. Without any money, he is forced to move into a lodging house, which seemed like a college dorm room, except the rooms are about the size of solitary confinement cells. (Fittingly, all of the patrons are referred to by their room numbers.) Although it seems like a rather large building and there is the implication that it’s crowded, only five of its residents are ever seen. Of them, only one of them is particularly important, and that’s Se-Ra (Yoo Ae-Kyung). Se-Ra is a student of some kind, but her age is sort of nebulous. Either way, she and Tae-Su start getting romantically involved and then whatever.
One of the biggest problems with Home Sweet Home is that none of the characters have anything worth expressing or, for that matter, anything resembling actual personalities. They just are. They do things and say things, but there’s no real sense that they think things or continue doing things when the camera turns off. This is much worse for some of the characters than others, but even Tae-Su is just kind of a nothing character. Everything he says is almost instantly forgotten, and his issues seem to be almost entirely self-inflicted, so there’s not much to really attach to and care about. He also doesn’t seem to do much to actually solve any of his problems. Then again, maybe he is. I never figured out what he really wanted from anything or anybody. That goes for everyone, pretty much. I didn’t know what anyone wanted or why they wanted it. Considering it seems like a character-driven story, that’s not so good.
Things take a turn about two-thirds of the way in, though, and at that point it seems like Home Sweet Home is a completely different movie. I will admit that I found this different movie more interesting than the first one, but given my complete disinterest in that, I don’t know how much that means. Unfortunately, I knew that the twist (if it can be called that) was coming, and I actually expected it to come earlier. I don’t know how surprise would have impacted my feeling of it. Maybe I would have liked the whole thing more, but I think I probably would have liked it less. The film takes a really dark turn out of nowhere, and it stays on that path. In context with everything that had happened up until then, it didn’t really work. But the film needed something to shake it up, and I guess that did it as well as anything else, as confusing, weird, and meaningless as it was.
But it all came to a head near the end of Home Sweet Home, when one of the characters begins to monologue about just how hard life is. He blathers on and on about how he has to do all sorts of terrible things or else he’ll be thrown onto the street. In fact, he’ll probably still be thrown onto the street, according to him. But it was completely meaningless to me. I didn’t care about this man’s plight. He was a terrible person, and he deserved to rot on the street. He said, “I know it must be hard to sympathize with people like me,” and I nodded in agreement. I know he was referring to the lower class when he said “like me,” but that didn’t resonate. I’m being completely serious when I say that Bane (yes, that Bane) is a more likable voice for the poor than this guy. This man was not a voice for the poor. He was a voice for the sick and depraved. Nobody in their right mind would follow this man or allow him to speak for them.
In a way, it was a perfect moment that encapsulated all of my problems with Home Sweet Home. What I was seeing and what the film thought it was projecting were two vastly different things. We were on completely different wavelengths, and it took me until that sentence to really understand that. Maybe somewhere in the film everything did make sense. Maybe if you’re the kind of person who could sympathize with such a disgusting character you will think, “What the hell was Alec guy talking about? This is such a powerful statement about the way the upper class has treated the poor in this country (and all around the world!” And if you can get that much meaning from Home Sweet Home, more power to you.
But I couldn’t. I really, really couldn’t.