December 6, 2017

Samaritan: Nowhere to Be Found

For some reason, the French composer Erik Satie's earworm-y "Gymnopedie No. 1" periodically pops up in Korean movies. You'll hear it in Kim Ki-duk's grim drama Samaritan Girl and Kwak Jae-young's romance Windstruck, two very different films tonally and subject-wise. You'll also hear the melody in Ko SangJin's super-short "Samaritan" (a reference to Kim?) for which the Satie tune constitutes the entire soundtrack. As you might guess if you're familiar with the composition, the content is melancholic at best.

Like the musical accompaniment, the imagery here is simple and repetitive but not annoyingly so. The camera is fixed on a young homeless man (Teja Swaroop) sitting on newspapers, garbage strewn around him. A brick wall is directly behind him; a fairly large teddy bear directly in front; and in front of the teddy, a sign which "Hungry Help Please." Slightly to the side is an styrofoam cup with $ drawn on it but not $ in it. In short, the help is not forthcoming. If you live in a city, you've seen this scenario before in real life. You may see it every day. People — viewed only from the waist down — walk by. No one offers to help. No one tosses any change. A shadow seems to creep in from the side. Suddenly, the man is lying down. People begin to gather. Is he asleep? Is he passed out from hunger? Is he dead? Are the bystanders there to help or to harm or just to watch? A brown leaf the size of his head floats down from above then settles silently beside him. As omens go, it's not a particularly hopeful one. Homelessness truly sucks.

"Samaritan", which came out in 2013, is one of three short films Ko has made in the last five years to win awards stateside, the others being "Milkshake" (2014) and "Last Day on Earth" (2016). This particular one took home the Cinematographer of the Month award from the 12 Months Film Festival.

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