February 6, 2018

Do You See Seoul?: Field Trip to Nostalgia

Does framing an event in the past immediately heighten the nostalgia factor? It would seem so from watching Do You See Seoul?, Song Dong-yoon's soft-focus memory drama about a well-intentioned, somewhat ineffectual school teacher (Lee Chang-hoon) who goes back to his hometown to heighten his recollections of a romanticized class trip to a cookie factory during his youth. It's hardly a warm-and-fuzzy excursion into his earlier carefree days, however, as a few of the children (himself and his young sister included) get lost, are repeatedly caught in the rain, and then eventually forced into some sort of weird child labor situation washing dishes for a cranky restaurant owner. Their own teacher and guardian (Oh Soo-ah) seems less alarmed at their sudden disappearance than she is dogged in her efforts to find them again. When she gets weepy, you sense she's more tired of walking than panicked the kids may be gone for good (and all that implies). I suppose, she could be considering that their home lives aren't so great — the parents are universally gossipy, cranky or drunk. Maybe getting lost would end up a good thing!

That's not the weirdest aspect of Do You See Seoul? either. What's stranger still is that its narrator — while clearly inspired by his elementary school instructor — is also unable to make a similar event happen at the school where he teaches, even as he's confronted by the harsh reality of one pupil whose mom appears to be dying of some disease. The kid desperately needs some joy! And whether that parent survives the summer break during which our protagonist journeys back to the island on which he grew up is also disturbingly unclear. It seems more than likely that this woman has died by the grim way in which the young student relates her supposed recovery for his "What I Did This Summer" story delivered to the class. Perhaps the underlying message of this movie is don't let the tough stuff in life get you down. The world is a beautiful place which you can tell just by looking at the cinematography.

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