A young girl can’t quite fit in with her family in Kim Jin-yu’s appealing drama.
“I wish I was deaf.”
As glad as I am that the London Korean Film Festival has managed to continue its screenings this year, it really has gone by quite quickly. Maybe it’s because most of the films were shown online, without a tonne of fanfare around them, or maybe it’s because all the days just ended up blending into one long mess. Hard to tell, really. Either way, that’s it for another year, and they’ve ended this iteration of the festival with a film not entirely unlike its opening.
Bori is also the story of a young girl much like Pawn was, but while the opening gala film told the story of a girl accepting strangers as her family, Bori is almost its exact opposite, giving us a protagonist who feels more and more like her own family are strangers. The titular character (Kim Ah-song) is the eldest child and the only hearing member of her deaf family. Despite the differences in communication, they all get along very well, and she loves them deeply but sometimes finds herself feeling a little isolated. In her eyes, she’s the outsider of the family, the one who doesn’t quite belong and feels like she’s sometimes just useful as the girl who translates sign language and orders food delivery by phone. In short, she wishes to be deaf in order to belong.
The film’s premise will definitely feel a little familiar to anyone who’s seen any sort of family drama, especially one about disability but where Bori finds new ground is in making its titular, alienated character abled – which allows for a different point of view. The struggle doesn’t come from being different in a world that doesn’t understand you, as so many movies of its ilk are wont to do, but rather from being different in just this one small – but emotionally massive – part of your life. Bori doesn’t struggle anywhere else, not more so than anyone else her age, but being the only hearing member of a deaf family adds pressure she doesn’t necessarily want.
This allows her a unique perspective on the world and makes for a compelling main character. Kim Ah-song plays it excellently, even if she never gets a tonne to do save for the occasional crying scene, as does her whole family. But the film feels aimless by design. It’s pure slice of life, and the drama comes from Bo-ri’s everyday interactions . Summer vacation looms, and Bo-ri is looking forward to it, sure, but it’s also quite daunting for her because it means seeing less of her friends and more of the people she loves but struggles to connect with sometimes. Because of this, it’s hard to tell at times just where it’s going, or at least the steps it’s taking to get to its ending.
The film was, I understand, based around the director’s real life experiences growing up in a deaf family, and the realism shows. The way it’s written doesn’t allow for a tonne of dramatic contrivances (except for the big one at the halfway point and then the second bigg(ish) one a bit later), but that’s one of Bori’s strengths. It doesn’t need to fabricate over the top bullies or stigmas for drama, instead choosing to understand the real problems people have when living with disabled family members. Bori chooses to treat its subject matter and characters with respect, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Verdict: Bori is a well-intentioned if sometimes ambling drama that looks at disability through an honest, refreshingly everyday kind of honest.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Cooking: Who cooks? Just order
Deafness: Bori should know that being deaf doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t speak
Fireworks: Always wish on that biggest one
Director: Kim Jin-yu
Writer: Kim Jin-yu
Kim Ah-song – Bo-ri
Lee Rin-ha – Jung-woo
Kwak Jin-seok – Father
Heo Ji-na – Mother