Written and directed by Anna Park, a Korean father, mired in his deceased wife’s debt, resorts to extreme measure to protect his children. Starring: Phil Nee, Zoe Manarel, Jaden Tran, Felice Choi and Yoon Kil Shin.
While the synopsis for Appa Appa Appa does give a view of the most dramatic side of the story, it certainly doesn’t feel like the key focus here. It’s an extremely understated drama, slowly wandering a realm of grief, poverty and raising children as a newly single parent. The way that the story moves lets its emotions be implied rather than stated overtly, so that you can interpret their sorrowful past and current limbo-esque state. Its themes are relatable and familiar but it adds another layer to present it through the eyes of an immigrant experience and the Korean community. It refreshes the familiarity of its story by adding a fresh perspective.
However it does feel as though there was more room to capitalise on the emotions of the story. Firstly, its choice to not use a score holds it back from building a more tangible atmosphere or clear tone from the beginning. Secondly, the editing feels a little soft, the story could pack more of a punch with a sharpness to the way it moves. Some shots linger slightly long, limiting the effectiveness of its scenes. On the other hand the direction is extremely solid throughout, which is especially why it’s a shame that the other elements don’t bring through a grit, darkness or intense sadness, to really emphasise that strength.
The performances are well done, understated much like the rest of the film but the actors all portray the different emotions their characters are dealing with in a subtle yet effective manner. Phil Nee particularly brings the deep hurt and frustrations of his character in a toned-down way, even in his most intense moments, he sincerely keeps his composure. Zoe Manarel brings a classic teenage portrayal but it’s mixed with an added touch of emotional maturity beyond her years. Jaden Tran rounds out the trio nicely as the only one existing in a form of blissful ignorance, young enough to not yet feel the impact of what’s happening.
Appa Appa Appa is a moving, relatable story but one that is undercut by choices stopping it from reaching its potential. The quietness and slow movement prevent it from a larger emotional impact. It’s well directed and a solid story but it’s missing that something extra, a darkness or grit to bring it all together and tie in with its final moments.