November 2, 2010

With the Girl of Black Soil: Here We Go Again... Being Poor Is Terrible

In neo-realist films, Murphy's Law applies with a vengeance: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and then some. Yet as a slice of bleak life, With the Girl of Black Soil's bad news buildup never really rings true. Why is that? The circumstances are plausible enough: Single dad (Jo Yeong-jin) loses job in a down-on-its-luck mining town. Mentally-challenged son (Park Hyeon-woo) wrecks a rich man's car then disappears. Rats eat the family's eggs. Pile on the problems: This little family's dire straits never elicit more than a shrug from me. Life sucks. Yeah, and? Frankly, I wonder if I'd like Jeong Soo-il's oh-so-sad movie better if someone turned it into a musical. The material already comes with a few ditties built in: a kiddie song sung by father and daughter (Yoo Yeon-mi) during a car ride, a lip synched pop hit performed by both children over a meal, a worker's sing-a-long belted out at the bar. You can get away with maudlin moments that don't feel that real when you're more entertaining. Writer-director Jeong needn't sacrifice the more depressing aspects of the story either. I'm willing to sob over a self-sacrificing girl who poisons her dad's ramen if you set her not-so-thought-out actions to a really catchy tune. "Eat it! Just eat it!"

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