Things move slowly in Zhang Lu’s meandering drama.
“Have we met before?”
The oft-repeated phrase is a curious inclusion in Ode to the Goose, a film about a young man (Park Hae-il) who falls for divorcee Song-hyun (Moon So-ri), and invites her on a trip to the slow-moving, near-ghost-town of Gunsan. The phrase is used so often that it starts to illicit a sense of deja-vu to the audience, a theme which is more present than ever once the film starts looping back on itself – more on than in a moment. But, when it becomes apparent that Song-hyun isn’t interested in the protagonist, the phrase almost sounds like it’s a request for connection in a world where alienation and isolation is inevitable.
Director Zhang Lu – a Korean-Chinese man – imbues what may be a lot of personal drama into this film, one that talks about and shows a lot about the plight of Korean-Chinese in their own country, rejected by their own people. Main character Yoon-hung may not share in those traits, but his rejection by the world for his aloof (and sometimes unpleasant) attitude is definitely a mirror. “Have we met before?” He asks people, as if trying to find a friend, or even himself, in strangers.
But where the themes are very strong, and immediately obvious, it is the structure of this film that’s rather bizarre. The fact that it starts in media resis an interesting choice, made all the more so by the fact that the audience isn’t really made aware of that until the title card shows up about halfway through the story. Why this stylistic choice was picked is difficult to say – I honestly can’t imagine the movie being any different is structured in a more traditional fashion – but it’s not really a detriment, it’s just a bit weird.
And that’s a good way to sum up the entire viewing experience. It’s not like nothing isn’t cohesive – far from it – but the film has plenty of little moments that make you wonder what exactly is going through the character’s mind. Sometimes it makes itself clear (such as Song-hyun needlessly antagonising a barista because her ex runs the shop), but this isn’t always the case. People are complicated, and these seemingly out-of-nowhere moments feel real but they also don’t necessarily gel with the flow of the picture.
It’s hard to tell whether I liked Yoon-hung as a main character. Some of his traits are extremely irritating, and somewhat off-putting, but they’re also his most human and frustratingly relatable ones. The humanity is one of the movie’s most defining aspects, but with it comes the inevitability that some people just sort of suck sometimes. It’s not just Yoon-hung, but also Song-hyun who displays these varied aspects: that they remain watchable and even likeable is not only down to the writing but the performances by Park Hae-il and Moon So-riu. The only who doesn’t have these moments is Jung Jin-young’s affable but stern innkeeper character, whose role helps us place the two leads’ moral views.
Ode to the Gooseis a slow burn, and does sort of drag on a bit in places, but it’s still a good time and a decent dive into human quirks, notably the way one behaves when dealing with unreciprocated feelings. It’s nothing too special, but it was never designed to be a game-changer in the way we depict everyday life. Instead, it is happy telling a small story about two people, and the way they deal with their own and each other’s shit. And for what it is, there are certainly worse ways to kill a couple of hours. The writing is solid, partnered with good cinematography and a great cast so and if you find yourself feeling like Yoon-hung, this is the film for you.
Verdict: Ode to the Gooseisn’t incredible, but it stands out above its peers with realistic human portrayals and a bizarre structure.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Sex: Sexy collarbone touching/10
Human logic: 4/10
Out of nowhere arrests: 1
Timelines: 2? 1?
Tai-chi: Best at night, drunk
Ode to the Goose (2018)
Also known as: 군산: 거위를 노래하다; (Gunsan: Geowileul Nolaehada)
Director: Zhang Lu
Writer: Zhang Lu
Park Hae-il – Yoon-young
Moon So-ri – Song-hyun
Jung Jin-young – Innkeeper
Park So-dam – Innkeeper’s daughter
Moon Sook – Lily