A struggling young girl finds help in an unlikely place in Cha Sung-duk’s tragic drama.
“We just have to go on with our own lives, OK?”
Moving on after losing a loved one, for fear of sounding reductive, is hard. There are a lot of adjustment that need to be made, both physically and emotionally, which can take years to do. For a child losing its parents, this can be especially difficult and the toll it takes can often lead to worse problems. This is true in Youngu: Young-ju (Kimg Hyang-gi) is a 19 year old girl whose parents’ sudden death some years ago has forced her into a motherly position within the house.
Living alone with her younger brother Young-in (Tang Joon-sang), the two are able to get by, although with difficulty. When Young-in is arrested for fighting, his bail is set too high for Young-ju. With her financial situation worsening, she decides to see the people responsible for her parents’ death: Sang-moon (Yoo Jae-myung) and Hyang-sook (Kim Ho-jung). She takes a job at their market stall, slowly finding a connection with these people, but doesn’t tell them who is.
Younggu is a story that deals with a lot of sadness and heavy issues such as loss, grief and forgiveness but tells it in a way that feels fresh. How would someone react when, faced with no other choice, they have to go to their parents’ killer for help? Director Cha Sung-duk keeps the scope small, giving us only a handful of characters which allows the audience to really connect with them. It’s vital to do so in this type of character piece, and a lot of the effort is put into spotlighting the sorrow experienced by everyone, and this is going to be down to two important factors: the writing, and the acting.
While it’s not fair to say that Kim Hyang-gi carries the whole film (all of the performances are top-notch), as the primary focus a lot of the story’s weight falls on her shoulder, both as a character and actress. Kim Hyang-gi has been working since she was 6, and in the last dozen years has amassed more credits than some people get in a lifetime, and the experience really shows. She shows the weariness and stress that befalls many single parents, except she’s thrown completely in the deep end and has her own grief to care for. That takes serious acting chops to pull off, and Kim does it fantastically.
The story works by giving all of its main characters humanity. Young-in acts out and seems to not respect the work that his sister puts into helping him, but it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from. He’s a kid and takes things for granted, and even though it’s been years you can tell the death of his parents actively affects him still. Sang-moon is never shown as a bad guy, instead as a complex individual who knows he can’t undo what’s been done.
You shouldn’t go into Youngju for a light-hearted, easygoing time. It delves deep into the reality of the situations, and the harsh lessons that Young-ju faces each day. She wants so badly to find another family with Hyang-sook and Sang-moon, and a lesser film might have leaned on the cheesiness, but this isn’t that movie. As in life, there are moments of bliss, happiness and joy, but inevitably, you can’t hide from tragedy. There will be problems, and some of them can’t be ignored, buried or forgotten.
Verdict: Emotionally heavy and perfectly cast, Youngju is study in pain, desperation and family that’ll have you hooked from start to finish.
Overall entertainment: 9/10
Loans: Don’t just trust any random posted bills
Bank transfer machines: Are those common in Korea?
Also known as: 영주
Director: Cha Sung-duk
Writer: Cha Sung-duk
Kim Hyang-gi – Young-ju
Kim Ho-jung – Hyang-sook
Yoo Jae-myung – Sang-moon
Tang Joon-sang – Young-in