Featured image: Kang Jinah and Park Hye Jin in The Slug. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)
Directed by Choi Jin-Young. Written by Choi Jin-Young. Starring Kang Jinah, Park Hye Jin, Lim Hojun. Runtime 1 h 38 min. The Slug had its North American Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 12, and plays again at 9 a.m. today, August 14.
In what seems to be an incredibly personal story to director, writer and editor Choi Jin-Young in her debut, The Slug explores the neat idea of being able to talk to your younger self.
Her star character, Chun-hee (Kang Jinah) gets that very opportunity when she’s struck by lightning. Living in her mother’s childhood home, Chun-hee goes about her days selling garlic to her cousin. She doesn’t do much else; largely isolated from people because of past trauma, losing both of her parents at a young age.
When Chun-hee is struck by lightning, she wakes up, stunned; and soon discovers that she is being visited by herself from when she was a kid, the same age as when she first lost her parents. In one of the film’s tenderest aspects, this version of the character is called Chun-hee’s Childhood (played by Park Hye Jin).
Moments of flashbacks are shown throughout the script, as we get further insight to the character of Chun-hee. It’s neat for the structure, as moments in the present, like the knock at a gate, shows us something similar to it in the past. These flashbacks can answer how our actions are shaped today. In Chun-hee’s case, the slug representing her attic bedroom and not being wanted. This is likely the source of her isolation today.
Kang Jinah as Chun-hee in The Slug. (Courtesy of Fantasia)
Though The Slug invites introspection from its audience of what they may say to their younger self, I did expect a bit more introspection within Chun-hee herself. We get some of this, but this is mostly saved for the third act. Therefore, the film gets a bit to get into it.
I was expecting to be more emotionally attached to most of her beats as I feel like I am in a similar “failure to launch” portion of my life. There are some moments towards the end that hit hard, where Chun-hee feels worthless (“I shouldn’t have been born,” she confesses), as well as moments of acting by Kang Jinah that are very powerful, especially a moment at a restaurant.
For a film with such a premise, it’s impressive how realistic it feels in a film where a character gets struck by lightning and is visited by her younger self. It feels human; and therefore mundane and not always cinematic. Life is always mundane; and I think that’s why by the one-hour mark I was still waiting for something flashy to happen.
This was my first mistake. I believe I expected a bit more whimsy and high fantasy from such a concept, as there is a flair in this film that I felt was missing. The film is also patiently paced, meaning there are stretches where it’s either boring or not much happens. Perhaps in my first foray into South Korean fantasy, I was not expecting it to be just this grounded.
I believe this is the first drama/fantasy I’ve watched from South Korea thus far, as I’ve only explored some of the popular genre films (I Saw the Devil, The Host), and of course Parasite.
Here, I like seeing how at least Choi Jin-Young explores this story and fantasy and realism. I’m even more curious now to check out more fantasy/dramas from South Korea, just to see if the realism is in most of these kinds of films or if Jin-Young just forged her own path in that way.
I very much enjoyed the romance that sneaks into this film, with a man named Wonseok (Lim Hojun), who Chun-hee meets at a trauma support group. One of my favourite moments in the film, and where I really first felt “sparks,” is when Wonseok observes that Chun-hee’s name means “spring” (Chun) “joy” (hee). She says that it’s supposed to be “her,” but her parents misspelled it on the birth certificate. “To me, you are a joy,” he tells her.
This is a moment where the film flashes its heart, and the best character moments are between the two of them. When Wonseok is there, too, the film’s at its strongest.
The film is also strong when it’s the two pairs of Chun-hee’s, reflecting, but never really unpacking as much of their (obviously) shared trauma as one might expect them to. I think that only some strong emotional beats made this feel too lite for me, but I enjoy the idea of the film so much. It’s a creative concept assisted by some strong acting, so I’ll happily keep my eye out for Choi Jin-Young’s next project, with the added expectation of slower pacing.
The Slug had its North American Premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on Aug. 12 and plays again this morning at 9 a.m. Find tickets here.