Review: A Distant Place

Written and directed by Kun-Young Park, a sheep farmer whose remote and quiet life is disturbed by the arrival of both his lover and his twin sister. Starring: Kang Gil-woo, Sang-hee Lee, Ju-bong Gi, Kim Si-ha, Ki Do-young and Kyung Hong.

The compelling and affecting quality of Kun-Young Park’s direction and Jung-hoon Yang’s cinematography is immediately noticeable. It plays perfectly into the isolated and natural location, and uses a good variety of wide and distanced shots to make the most of the aesthetically rich setting. It also helps to bring through a great amount of colour, using a heavily green palette which adds a classic and intimate style. It’s surprising that this is only Park’s second feature, directorially it feels much more established and there’s a skilled hand at the wheel, making a fairly slow moving story feel paced out extremely well.

One of the other elements which is clear quickly is the charm of the writing, it’s so easy to be won over by these characters. Particularly Seol (Kim Si-ha), who could give Minari’s David a run for his money. It lovingly mixes the simple country life with complex emotional issues, bringing through a solid tension which colours the film throughout. It deals with a lot of typical gay issues, being closeted out of fear and pushing away what matters because it’s easier than facing the potential conflic. However, when it introduces Eun (Lee) and the difficulty of her wanting to finally become a mother to Seol, it deals with the emotions overly simplistically. It glosses over them rather than dealing with the change and what it means for all their lives, or preparing Seol for the uprooting of her life. It’s a shame as it doesn’t fit the otherwise graceful, understated and elegant style to the story.

The same could be said of the performances, mostly that of the lead Kang Gil-woo, when he’s typically closed off and restrained, it’s a strong, captivating portrayal. Although when the moment calls for a touch of dramatics, he takes it a touch too far and loses his sympathetic edge and sets the film off down a less satisfying road. On the other hand, Kyung Hong is superb throughout, there’s a sensitive and compassionate quality to him that’s undeniably sweet. Kim Si-ha is utterly adorable, she’s a joy to watch and the perfect piece to pull the family together. Sang-hee Lee plays the complicated emotions of her character perfectly, having to acknowledge her shortcomings and try to prove she’s changed. Ju-bong Gi and Ki Do-young then round out the cast very well, there’s the additional exploration of their father-daughter relationship, as well as how they relate to the others, it’s done subtly but there’s plenty to say, and they both give great performances.

A Distant Place takes full advantage of its beautiful setting to create a quietly moving drama. It blends isolation with intimacy and deals with both family and sexuality, creating a number of characters who are easily sympathetic and enthralling. It’s only a shame that it doesn’t see that more restrained style through to the end, giving in to more dramatic moments in favour of working through the emotional issues at play. Despite that, there’s a hugely established style at work here which is impressive for only Kun-Young Park’s second feature and he’s certainly one to watch.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2022

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