My Right To Ravage Myself (2003) trailer
directed & written by Jeon Soo-Il
starring Lee Soo Ah, Kim Yeong Min, Jeong Bo Seuk, Choo Sang Mi, Jang Hyeon Seong
Korean with English subtitles
Out of all the Jeon Soo-il films that were screening, I wanted to see this one the most because of its unique subject matter. The story follows a man who along with his regular job is also a suicide designer who helps people commit the perfect suicide. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Kim Young-ha which has been translated into English under the title “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself”. At the time of the original Korean novel (1997) and this film adaptation (2003) the topic of suicide was taboo in Korea and rarely spoken about openly even though it’s a serious problem where it’s estimated that on average 20 Koreans commit suicide per day. Today there might be some discussion especially with the recent rash of Korean celebrity suicides but clearly this is an issue that still needs to be addressed.
The film starts out with a rather shocking and bloody scene that will certainly elicit a strong reaction from the viewer. Although I figured some bloody scenes would occur, I wasn’t expecting some of the graphic sex scenes and nudity in the film which seem to dominate the first 20 minutes or so. After that the narrative progresses in a non-linear way weaving back and forth in time. For the most part it makes sense although it does require the viewer to piece the puzzle together and fill in the blanks. The cinematography is excellent throughout with some really nice shots of different outdoor locations. Although the pace of the film is not fast, there’s a good balance of quiet moments with loud, tense ones which keeps the story moving. Jeon Soo Il has a firm grasp of how long a scene should last as well as when to have ambient sound and when to have a musical score playing in the background. If a scene lingers it’s for a reason and not overindulgence on the director’s part.
There isn’t a lot of dialogue but there are certainly a few memorable lines, one being a Shakespeare quote. What is said and shown gives us a good glimpse into these characters’ lives but what seems to be lacking at least on the surface are deeper motivations for committing suicide. One person does it because they’re bored of life, another wants to die like a rockstar and the last one, I have no clue. It’s difficult for me to sympathize with these characters when their rationales seem so ill-defined or misguided. I am certainly no suicide expert but I doubt that the majority of suicides in Korea would be a result of any of these reasons portrayed in the film. Furthermore in the Q&A afterwards, one audience member keenly pointed out that the film did not deal with religion as a possible factor.
If I may deviate from the review a bit, the audience was lucky enough to have the director himself appear after the screening for a Q&A having just gotten off the plane. Although Jeon did study in France for a few years and spoke in French, he was obviously quite rusty. My French isn’t great but I had trouble understanding him and wouldn’t be surprised if others did too. Without a capable French-Korean translator, he wasn’t really able to answer any of the audience questions well. It didn’t help that most of those questions were rather complex.
I do not know if I will have a chance to see any of Jeon’s other films but I was sufficiently impressed by this one that I would not hesitate at all to watch any of his other works. This one was well-made and thought-provoking with some striking images that will no doubt trigger some strong reactions and generate discussion. According to Jeon, this film is quite different from the rest of his works so it may not be representative of his general style but regardless this is a compelling piece of work that deserves to be seen by more people.
For those of you lucky enough to have the Jeon Soo-Il retrospective come to your city, if you have a genuine interest in Korean cinema that goes beyond the mainstream then I would strongly encourage that you to at least see one of the films whether it be this one or any of his other award-winning features.