October 11, 2008

Stray Bullet: The Story of an Aimless Life

It's not enough to be burdened with a prostitute sister and a shiftless war vet of a brother (Choi Mu-ryong). No. Stray Bullet's protagonist (Kim Jin-kyu) has to have a crazy mother, two hungry kids, a pregnant wife (Moon Jeong-suk), and a nagging toothache too. Akin to Italy's postwar neorealist films, Yoo Hyun-mok's black-and-white, working class drama illustrates with quiet poignancy that you may follow the precepts of Confucius and be the good son, the good husband, the good father, and the good worker and still end up with a fairly shitty life. When you're poor, taking the high ground of self-sacrifice means being one small step from the gutter. Given its strong social realist message, you'd almost think that Stray Bullet was a product of North Korea. But it's hard to imagine that country's movie industry telling this downer without an uplifting Communist coda. There's no propaganda here. Instead, witness the chilling scene in which the son, a paperboy, is seen running with a stack of today's news, the cover of which is a crime committed by his uncle. The downtrodden must capitalize even the darkest of moments. When life's anything for a buck, your conscience is a cage.

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