January 17, 2015

A Brand New Life: Who's Your Daddy

I, for one, felt uncomfortable watching Ounie Lecomte's semi-autobiographical A Brand New Life because far from feeling sympathetic for Jin-hee, the young orphan girl (Kim Sae-ron) who's been abandoned by her father (Sol Kyung-gu), I felt sorry for the parents that would eventually adopt her. I got that this kid is depressed because she's been ditched and that she's acting out when she throws her food on the floor or rips apart another girl's doll but since she a bit off-kilter even before daddy dumps her at the church-run "child placement agency," I couldn't help but think she was in need of intensive therapy more than a new family.

Why doesn't the doctor (Mun Seong-kun) at the institution do more one-on-one sessions with Jin-hee before he puts her on a plane to Paris? And why wouldn't he give a ticket abroad to one of Jin-hee's infinitely less morose playmates when an opening for adoption came up? Is Lecomte exposing the export of damaged Korean children abroad? Or is she of the camp that believes that Korean orphanages have become baby catalogues for Westerners? Is the zany, Anglo puppeteer who performs half in drag part of an insidious plot to convince young Korean children that white folk are the funniest people around?

I'm guessing Lecomte sees her protagonist'a fate as Tragic with a capital "T." Disagreeing with her feels mean-spirited and uncharitable. But it's also hard to rally around a self-pity party, even if the writer-director's complaints are valid. And maybe my heart would've gone out to Jin-hee had a different young actress been cast in the role. Kim feels incredibly self-conscious and affected. Her fish-eyed stares feel false and the final freeze frame, a cheap reference to The 400 Blows, lands with a thud. I'm not writing off Kim, mind you. Her subsequent film The Man From Nowhere was marvelous. Better luck next time as they say.

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