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Alice in Earnestland - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Seong-sil-han na-la-eui ael-li-seu

South Korea 2015

Genre:
Drama, Crime

Director:
Ahn Gook-jin

Cast:
Lee Jeong-hyeon
Lee Hae-yeong
Seo Young-hwa
Myeong Kye-nam
Lee Joon-hyeok
Bae Je-gi
Lee Dae-yeon
Ji Dae-han
Jeong Yeong-gi


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Alice in Earnestland

Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Soo-nam (Lee Jeong-hyeon) ties up Kyeong-sook (Seo Young-hwa), a volunteer counseling mentally exhausted women, and tells her her life story. She once had to decide between a life as a worker or further education. She chose the latter, but all her commendations were worth nothing on the job market so that she eventually ended up working as an accounting clerk in a small factory. There she meets her future husband Gyoo-jeong (Lee Hae-yeong) who wants to postpone the honeymoon until they can afford a house. Unfortunately, he also loses the last bit of his hearing sense and needs to undergo surgery. But since the surgery is very expensive he at first refuses to get his hearing sense back since a house has top prioriy for him. Eventually, Soo-nam convinces him to do the surgery, though. Back at work his implanted hearing aid troubles him while working at a machine. He loses a few of his fingers and from that day on suffers a deep depression. Thus, for nine years Soo-nam works day and night so that they can afford a house and for Gyoo-jeon to finally being able to enjoy life again. But Soo-nam's husband tries to commit suicide and now lies in a coma...

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Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 4

Review: Despite the poster, which already gives you a glimpse of the bloody side of this flick, I somehow expected a comedy, yes, maybe even a romantic flick with this film. But you shouldn't, otherwise you will be quite disappointed. "Alice in Earnestland" is a scathing drama, after all. And this even though there is actually a love story in its core. But black humor doesn't get a raw deal either. The humor is in fact the biggest strength of this movie. Yet, you should have the ability of warming to the black humor and the sarcasm, if you don't want to be simply flabbergasted by the tragic fate the female protagonist has to deal with. And somewhere within this flick there is even a bit of social commentary. Although the individual aspects of the film could have matched more ideally, this is still an inventive drama where murder doesn't fall by the wayside either.

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Interestingly enough, "Alice in Earnestland" didn't really get bad reviews, but many critics can't seem to warm to the flick. This is probably because of the surely odd humor, which you can't call any different but pitch black, and the great amount of blood which you get to see in this drama. A problematic aspect for most critics is that the movie's message isn't clear or can be pinpointed. I don't second this line of thought at all. Soo-nam has only one wish: Leading a normal, happy life with her husband. But an unjust social framework and bad luck make Soo-nam and her husband get the short end of the stick, having to get by through life by working until they drop. So is it really odd that Soo-nam more and more falls into madness? It's particularly commendable that this is depicted as a slow process.

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Soo-nam's first murder is an accident after she wants to take revenge on the man who hit her. The second murder she commits after having been hold captive in a basement while being tortured (she without a doubt left some part of her sanity there). From then on it's a downward spiral of violence. With every murder Soo-nam more and more desperately clings to her dream of a perfect life with her husband. What's not to understand about that? The protagonist is a tragic heroine and accordingly it's easy to sympathize with her. Later on her actions may be more ruthless, but that's just her desperate attempt of fighting for a life that she is denied by society. Lee Jeong-hyeon ("The Admiral: Roaring Currents") delivers a nicely nuanced performance and her drifting off into madness is acted out step by step.

Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 7

However, there is a big problem with the story and that is the actual hook of the plot. The love story between Soo-nam and her husband simply lack any sort of credibilty. The two are supposed to be linked by a strong bond of love, but there is no chemistry between the two. That's also because there are no scenes between the two in which their relationship is built up in a believable fashion. Thus, you are later on wondering why Soo-nam is fighting for her happiness in marriage with such conviction. Apart from that the sociocritical subplot revolving around the unequal distribution of property doesn't fit seamlessly into the film. Yet, you can't argue that the film's message is quite clear. Moreover, the black humor manages to make the story's tragedy more bearable. Otherwise, you often enough would have found yourself wanting to cry.

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In some way the movie feels like a mix of "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Dream Home". Still, "Alice in Earnestland" isn't as gory as the latter one. Although we get to see an ear operation in full detail and the dismembering of a fish. Next to that the bloody killings are almost tame. The story is told in the shape of flashbacks most of the time and Soo-nam is appearing as a narrator so that we are forced to see things from her perspective and not just simply judge her for her actions. The individual developments of the story are in part quite inventive and with a running time of 90 minutes the drama isn't stretched too much either. In the end, it might be difficult to understand every single action of the protagonist, but the last image, even though predictable, doesn't leave any doubt, why Soo-nam did go to such extremes.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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