May 22, 2020

The Net: The Naturalism of Politics

Director Kim Ki-duk's films have always felt intentionally abrasive to me. I don't level that comment as a complaint. I'm a huge fan of movies like Bad Guy, Arirang, and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring. Indeed, his agitating output feels as distinct as the slices of life from Hong Sang-soo or hyper violent thrillers of Park Chan-wook (though Kim's cinema generally lacks the veneer of either of these peers). Sometimes his "art is a hammer" aggressiveness works in his favor. But with The Net, those rough parts are working against him. The key to a great Kim film may be the cast's ability to get to its raw emotional core. But most of the actors here — especially those playing members of South Korea's spy-catching team — are giving amateurish performances that feel unrehearsed without feeling improvisational. The ham factor is high.

The one exception is Ryu Seung-beom, who as a North Korean fisherman who accidentally drifts below the 38th parallel, is so naturalistic in his performance you'd think Kim had discovered him in the exurbs of Pyongyang. Even as the plot lurches into implausible places and the dialogue serves up unnecessary cliches, Ryu stays committed to the humility, confusion, and desperation of his character who just wants to be sent back home. The Net has plenty to say about the blind hypocrisy of capitalists when it comes to ideas of freedom and the better life but I caught myself shouting "That's so stupid" at the monitor more times than I'd care to admit.