Would You Rather Die than Lead an Ordinary Life?
It happens, every once upon a film festival moon. Those of you who have visited a film festival or two – especially if you were there as press – know what the usual rhythm is like. You dig and tread and boot and occasionally half-sleep your way through the deep-end festival waters of countless film productions that range anywhere from entertaining to acceptable to horrible, and yet sometimes, rarely, when you sit down again in the dark theater without any expectations whatsoever, a film promptly blows you away. It may be because the film is beautiful in its detail, or because the cinematography is breathtaking, or it could be that the dialogues are just perfect; or perhaps it is one of those rare occasions when the author of the film found the exact right frequency to convey the thoughts and worries of his or her generation. We Will Be Ok, which Baek Jae-ho painstakingly made – as a screenwriter, director, cinematographer, editor and producer, with the smallest possible production budget – is exactly the latter. We were lucky enough to see it during the 10th London Korean Film Festival.
The first impression might be that the film has a very specific, film-making audience in mind. The story follows Sang-seok (Kim Sang-seok), whose life appears to be slowly crumbling: he dreams of being a successful actor, but there is little hope of it happening in the near future. He shares this fate with his friends Jae-ho and Tae-hee (Baek Jae-ho and Kim Tae-hee respectively), and it is the Jae-ho in the film who comes up with the idea of them making their own breakout film. However, their attempt is as poorly organized as it is desperate – it falls apart, which takes a further toll on Sang-seok and his psyche. As Sang-seok with his wreckage of a love life and abundant health problems reaches his breaking point, the film veers off in a completely unexpected direction; it upgrades itself with elements of science fiction as we, the audience – along with Sang-seok – await either salvation or the end of the world, his or ours; and the ending of the film is, quite simply, brilliant.
In the past few years, career struggles and suicide have been among the most film-tackled topics in South Korean film production, which comes as no surprise. South Korean society is among the most competitive in the world, and has the highest suicide rate in the world among OECD countries. But in the sea of films dealing with these topics, We Will Be Ok still manages to stand out. While the film is not without flaws – how could that be even possible on such a low budget – it did manage to communicate the situation of young, struggling people in a truly fresh way, and it achieved that without becoming too heavy.
At some points, the film feels a bit like a documentary, conveying the struggles of modern actors and filmmakers, but its story reaches beyond the filmmaking world and even beyond the borders of South Korea. By evolving around the power of the statement “I would rather die than live an ordinary life”, We Will Be Ok also speaks to all of us members of the ‘lost’ generation that have (according to the old rule-book) reached an age where we are supposed to have achieved a certain level of success, may it be in career or in love life – and not that many of us have done so. Of course that does not mean that our dreams of lives less ordinary are gone; they are just hurt and shivering in the unheated corner of our minds. As Sang-seok does, we fight and win and lose in the game of growing up, and we all face the choices of either continuing to play the game of life or retire prematurely and bow out – some unfortunately taking themselves out of the game completely.
We Will Be Ok does not offer us solace or hope; neither does it offer any particular solutions or salvation. But with its likeable and relatable characters, it successfully gives off the feeling that none of us is alone in the struggle, while the mere existence and continuing success of this film, which will receive its wide release in South Korean market on December 10th 2015 – a huge success for a low-budget indie film – serve as a reminder to everyone: dreams can come true and there are many different ways to achieve them; even if that means filming an entire feature on your iPhone.
Written by Sanja Struna
Picture © Baek Jae- ho