[originally published in Schema Magazine]
Dir. Ounie Lecomte | South Korea 2009 | 92:00 | Korean w/ Eng. sub. | Cast: Kim Sae-Ron, Park Do-Yeon, Ko Ah-Sung
Screens SAT MAR 5 | 7:00 PM & SUN MAR 6 | 9:30PM at J.A. de Sève Cinema, Concordia University
In A Brand New Life, Korean-born and French-raised director Ounie Lecomte draws from her own life experiences to convey the hidden stories of Korean orphans waiting to be rescued by the kindness of strangers at a Catholic orphanage near Seoul.
The film opens with a smiling face of a young girl, out and about on errands with her father, whose face is obscured. She buys new shoes, a new coat, and a new dress – what seems like a typically uplifting day out with dad. But little after the credits, Jinhee is on the bus, and is dropped off at the orphanage, where her father exits with a weak excuse of going travelling.
Jinhee stubbornly holds onto the notion that she does not belong at the orphanage because she is not a real orphan. But slowly she comes to realize the true meaning of her father’s departure, and her new life purpose of finding new adoptive parents before her teenage years.
Through her matter-of-fact storytelling that stays away from melodrama, Lecomte portrays the less-than-ideal condition of the orphanage. There aren’t enough real plates (instead of metallic trays used for meals) when the children are having cake; the children also display a uniform look of mismatched sweaters and bowl cuts.
There are more blunt heartaches portrayed as well, such as the only teenaged orphan with a bad leg facing a romantic rejection, leading to an attempted suicide. In one of the truly extraordinary scenes, Jinhee decides that life is not worth living anymore after her only friend is adopted by a British couple, and decides to end her life by burying herself.
The emotional credibility of the film would of course be impossible without the talented young actresses, especially Kim Sae-Ron, who plays Jinhee. Kim’s expressive face shows amazing diversity and emotional maturity for such a young actress.
The sparse soundtrack and the understated cinematography capture the modest and quietly heartbreaking reality of the orphanage beautifully. A Brand New Life is a superbly rendered story of a sad reality in Korea that has been under-reported for too long.
[image from Amérasia Festival webpage]