Moving On (South Korea, 2019) [Reel Asian 2020]

Yoon Dan-bi is another addition in the increasing list of female South Korean directors that are making the international film festival circuit. Her feature film debut, Moving On, a story about a family connecting amid financial hardship, has found great success in festivals such as Rotterdam, Vancouver, and now Toronto. Moving On is a film that showcases Yoon’s talent for directing actors as well as her impressive understanding of the intricacies of the modern Korean family.

The story focuses on Okju (Choi Jung-woon) and Dongju (Park Seung-jun) as they move into their grandfather’s (Kim Sang-dong) house after their parents’ divorce. Their father (Yang Heung-ju) is left completely broke after the divorce and can barely make do by selling knock-off snickers from his minivan. Soon after, Okju and Donju’s aunt (Park Hyun-young) also moves into the same house as she’s going through a contentious divorce with her unstable husband. For the first time in a while, the whole family is gathered under the same roof, with a fresh opportunity to reconnect. In many ways, this is a normal family. They have dinner together, dance, and even fight when the occasion arises. The children are at first uncomfortable in their new home, but soon they begin to grow fond of their family and especially their grandfather whom they had never met before. This harmony is shaken, however, when the grandfather falls ill, and the economic and personal hardships of the family begin to emerge.

Moving On is a film that both venerates the Korean family unit while also pointing out the inherent flaws and hypocrisy of such a unit in modern times. The kids never met their grandfather and when they finally do, he is clearly not his best self. It is also clear that their father and their aunt love each other as siblings should but are at odds when it comes to who’s inheriting the grandfather’s house (whom they plan to put in a nursing home). Yoon’s script masterfully examines the complex dynamics of this family, showing that despite plenty of wishful thinking, economic hardships and capitalism always seems to come up on top. The story of reminiscent of the films of Hirokazu Koreeda, focusing on mundane realism rather than heightened drama. Yoon’s take is perhaps a bit less subtle, though it still manages to portray the key features of the family unit with remarkable skill.

The story and character realism are further underscored by the cinematography and production design, which through their mostly colourless simplicity emphasize the conventional Korean home and the family interactions within it. The film’s visual aesthetic only reinforces the complex family dynamics. Close-ups are used sparingly, with the majority of shots featuring ensemble staging that highlight the relationships between the characters. When Okju and her father ride in the car together after her arrest, for example, the camera follows them both all the way, and despite the sparsity of dialogue, their emotions are clear to the audience.

Great credit must also be given to the acting, as well as director Yoon’s ability to extract excellent performances from all member of her cast. The two child actors, Choi and Park Seung-jun, display great chemistry as the brother and sister duo, with Choi being the particular standout in the film. Their relationship is aptly mirrored by another brother-and-sister team, Yang and Park Hyun-younh, playing the father and the aunt respectively. Their familiarity feels lived in, and when the tension between them finally comes up, the actors are able to shift their emotions seamlessly to the appropriate tones.

Overall, Moving On is a noteworthy first feature from Yoon, which deserves the attention it is receiving on international festival circuit.

Moving On is streaming as part of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival from November 12-19.