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Juvenile Offender - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2012


Kang Yi-kwan

Seo Yeong-joo
Lee Jeong-hyeon
Kang Rae-yeon
Jeon Ye-jin
Jeong Seok-yong

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Juvenile Offender

Story: Ji-gu (Seo Yeong-joo) is 16 years old and lives at his sick grandfather's place. He has false friends and without knowing it he breaks into a house alongside them and gets caught. Since he is already on probation he is sentenced to ten months at a detention center. During his imprisonment his grandfather dies and so he has no one to find shelter at when he gets free. However, the detention center manages to find his mother Hyo-seung (Lee Jeong-hyeon) who he then meets for the first time in his life. She takes him with her to her home, though she is momentarily staying at her friend's (Kang Rae-yeon) place. She is also working at her friend's hair salon, borrows money from her on several occasions and makes false promises, but she actually seems to be serious about taking care of her son. At the same time Ji-gu tries to track his girlfriend Sae-rom (Jeon Ye-jin), who he hasn't seen since his imprisonment. From his friends he gets some news that will alter his life forever, and Hyo-seung doesn't seem to be up to the task concerning her new life at all...

Review: "Juvenile Offender" is one of those character-exploring dramas that manage to capture you despite its slow pacing. It still has to be pointed out, though, that you actually should be into such subtle dramas to fully appreciate the movie and get something out of it. Because the story is solely carried by the characters, there is no arc of suspense and also no melodramatic moment. Latter one is playing into the hands of the film as it has a naturalistic, almost humanistic flair thanks to it, which can have a deep impact on you. Last but not least the drama also works so well because of a well-created atmosphere that offers melancholy, but doesn't lack that last remaining silver lining which gives the protagonists the power to go on.

Juvenile Offender - Film Screenshot 11

Director Kang Yi-kwan has already proven with "Sa-kwa" that he is capable of shooting art-house dramas that deserve the name and aren't just an excuse for sleeping pills disguised as movies, as it sadly is the case often enough. Those who liked his former work will instantly find "Juvenile Offender" compelling as well. The mood is similar, although you get the feeling that there is even a little bit more darkness that has creeped into his drama. But there are also some warm and cozy moments, in which the relationship between mother and son bears first fruits. Naturally, Ji-gu is very reluctant and sceptical when it comes to his mother. Why has she never contacted him? What kind of a person is she really?

Juvenile Offender - Film Screenshot 12

The answer to that is the reason why you can warm to the story. Ji-gu had tough luck all of his life and apart from his naivity in certain respects you can't blame himself for anything. He is just still a child, although a big one. His mother on the other hand... is very similar to him at a closer look. She is a hypocrite and a liar, but not really a bad person. She simply wants to get by somehow. Yes, the reason why she never contacted her son is most likely that she couldn't shoulder any responsibility for him, after all she can't even manage taking care of herself. How complex especially her character really is becomes apparent in many subtle moments, e.g. when she thinks that it is beneath her to work for a little bit less money or when she also becomes picky about her customers.

As a viewer you want to see the protagonists step out of their pitiable vicious circle. Ji-gu finds out that the fate of his mother is starting to get reflected in the life of his girlfriend and in one of the few emotional scenes he even shouts at his mother that contrary to her he actually wants to accept his responsibility and doesn't think of relying on others, but wants to take actions himself. Big words, even the more since Ji-gu may think to act more responsible than his mother, but isn't really consequent when it comes to it. If just one of the two would pull himself/herself together for a change, would just grit his/her teeth in order to get out of this crisis, life would be a lot easier for them. But they simply have their weaknesses and those are very believable and thus make the drama extremely credible as well.

Juvenile Offender - Film Screenshot 13

Apart from a few drama shows actress and singer Lee Jeong-hyeon has just played in "Night Fishing" until now, although she proves to be an extraordinary actress, particularly since she carries some of the more emotional scenes quite well. Seo Yeong-joo ("Moebius") acts in a more subtle manner, but does a similarly good job. Technically there is nothing to criticize about the film, because athough a handcamera may have been used you can't tell. The pictures are crisp and the colors aren't too cold. Ultimately, "Juvenile Offender" is one of those dramas that slowly drill their way into your head and that make you expect an open ending. Despite that it can still be a bit unsatisfying to see one, but after all this is the story director Kang wants to tell us. Nothing more and nothing less. A humanistic view on a small family that carries its everything but trivial share of problems.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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