May 21, 2013

Planet of Snail: He's Deaf, Blind and Happily Married

You don't have to surf too long on YouTube to track down some archival footage of deaf-blind disability-celebrity Helen Keller speaking in her strange, otherworldly tongue. Barely intelligible, she sounds as if she were speaking a foreign, even alien, language akin to English but not quite. That said, her incomprehensible speech registers as something of a miracle. How in the world do you learn to talk if you can't hear or see the words? Is it all vibration and touch? However she did it, you won't find a similarly eerie vocalizing from Korean deaf-blind Young-chan who actually sounds pretty normal in Yi Seung-jun's Planet of Snail. But the truth of the matter is that although blind like Keller, he's not completely deaf -- he hears sounds as if through a fog. Even so, you do get the sense that he too exists on that other planet, as you watch him "hear" other people as they type words out on the backs of his fingers or read braille by way of a device slung over his shoulder like an electric guitar.

Like Keller before him, Young-chan's a writer but whereas Keller was a memoirist, Young-chan is a poet and aspiring playwright. It's the latter that gets the most screen time in Planet of Snail, as he goes to visit a theater company staging a play about a deaf-blind woman (his critique of the lead actress's performance is almost perfunctory) before mounting a kind of bible play himself with some of his friends from a school for the deaf and blind. He's hardly Beckett made real but there's nevertheless a very definite real-ness in the bleak Job-like reality he's put in script form. Throughout his endeavors, whether he's exercising just outside the kitchen or changing a fluorescent light bulb in the bedroom, he's ably assisted by his wife Soon-ho, a lovely hunchbacked midget who recognizes her soul mate even with his limitations of communication and who loves him enough to support his growing independence, even if it means sacrificing her own sense of purpose in life.

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