Castaway on the Moon is a hard film to write about. It’s kind of an odd-ball love story wrapped in a “stranded-on-a-deserted-island” premise. It’s Cast Away (2000) directed by an unhinged Michel Gondry with a South Korean bent. It shifts from whimsical to hysterical and veers off into all sorts of bizarre tangents but manages to pay-off at the end. Baffling and exhausting to keep up with at times, but at its core is a surprisingly moving story about the need to connect.
The film begins with Kim (Jung Jae-Yeong), a desperate man trying to evade his financial woes by jumping off the Seogang Bridge. Being the luckless man that he is, Kim’s suicide does not go according to plan. After taking the leap, he wakes up in on a tiny islet in which the city is visible but the only thing in his way is the Han River. What keeps Kim stranded on Bamseom island is the fact that he can’t swim, so he’s forced to adapt to his new environment. Scenes of Kim frantically trying to get himself rescued parallel how disconnected he is to society. We see Kim try in vain to get the attention of a tourist on a passing boat. He calls an ex-lover on his cell phone only to have her hang up on him. Even his “HELP” message written on the sand seems to go unnoticed.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we are introduced to another character named Kim played by Ryeo-Won Jeong. Though not stranded on a deserted island, she’s just as equally closed in by her surroundings as the other Kim. She’s been a shut-in for 3 years, confining herself to a filthy room and barely willing to even peep out of her window. It’s only through happenstance that she spots the other Kim on the island while looking through the telephoto lens of her camera. She mistakes him for some sort of alien and slowly becomes obsessed with him.
It’s a shaky premise that threatens to crumble in its quirkiness, but thankfully director Hae-Jun Lee (Like a Virgin, 2006) skilfully balances the hijinx with an emotional heft that serves as the film’s ballast. Things such as Kim’s craving for jjajangmyun (A Chinese/Korean dish of noodles mixed in black bean sauce) and the series of events he goes through to get some on the island is played mostly for laughs, but it also comes to represent the character’s deep emotional tie to his old way of life. This ends up becoming a catalyst for the change his character eventually undergoes. The same can be said about the zany actions of the other Kim. At first, her obsession with taking pictures of the stranded Kim seems contrived and ridiculous, but it strangely takes on more resonance as it becomes the only method for her to overcome her own isolation.
By the time the film reaches its emotional ending, both Kims have changed and aren’t stuck in the same rut as they were before. Together, both characters have gone through a wild but cathartic experience that’s genuinely affecting. As the water settles and new possibilities wash ashore, the message written in the sand is ultimately an optimistic one.
David Lam is many things. Playwright, film sponge, casual blogger, illustrator, photographer and overall purveyor of excellence. He spent many years in a Buddhist monastery where he mastered the art of the one finger handstand. He and Haruki Murakami are good friends and are often spotted running together. He occasionally writes for the Toronto JFilm Pow-Wow and Exiled Film Reviews.