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Original Title:
Piteopaeneui gongshik

South Korea 2005


Cho Chang-ho

On Ju-wan
Kim Ho-jeong
Ok Ji-yeong
Park Min-ji
Jo Seong-ha
Park Yong-jin

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The Peter Pan Formula

Story: Han-soo (On Ju-wan) is an excellent swimmer and has already won quite an amount of medals for his school team. However, one day he decides to quit, as he doesn't think that he will find fulfillment in this kind of sport. Shortly thereafter, Han-soo is informed that his mother tried to commit suicide, because she couldn't bear with her inner emptiness any longer. She is lying in a coma now and Han-soo has to take care of her. Moreover, he somehow has to pay for the hospital bills piling up, as the insurance doesn't cover suicide attempts. At the same time, other debt collectors knock at Han-soo's door, too, so that he doesn't know what to do anymore and eventually raids some small shops.
Even though Han-soo has to take care of several problems, his interest for his neighbor In-hee (Kim Ho-jeong), a married woman working as a piano teacher, starts to grow stronger and stronger, so that he engages into a strange relationship with her. The problems that keep coming up, however, force him to look for his father of whom he didn't knew until the suicide attempt of his mother. Yet, when meeting him he still doesn't find anything to dissolve his loneliness...

Review: "The Peter Pan Formula" is an interesting coming-of-age art house movie and moreover features some food for thought, which (hobby-)psychoanalysts will have some fun to work with. Why the movie feels a little bit too cold and therefore also creates a certain distance to the viewer is easy to explain. First-time director Cho Chang-ho has worked under Kim Ki-duk in some of his movies before and without a doubt adapts quite some elements of Kim's style. Therefore, we don't just get some symbolism and alienating scenes, but also some small disturbing scenes, which nonetheless seem plausible within the frame of the movie and the characters presented. At any time, the characters' patterns of action, even though estranging, are still more comprehensible than let's say in some of Kim Ki-duk's movies. Yet, there is a big problem when it comes to the script since it is overloaden with additional side-motives and stories which lead to the fact that the movie can't convince as a unit. That's sad as there is really some valuable things to be found here.

The Peter-Pan-Syndrom in psychoanalysis marks a condition in which the patient is unwilling to grow up resp. in which men display a childish behavior. Symptoms are lack of responsibility, fear, loneliness or a sexual role conflict. These are symptoms of which only a few apply to Han-soo so that the movie's title remains somewhat questionable. After all, Han-soo is at an age at which he needn't necessarily be grown up already. External circumstances may force him to, but is this really a reason for him to need growing up? Anyway, it's a fact that Han-soo, like his mother, is tormented by an inner emptiness. He is lonely and hurt. What he is searching for is security and someone who protects him. Therefore, it's not that much of a surprise that he falls in love with his neighbor, whom he tells straightforwardly that he wants to sleep with her. She is married, though, and therefore doesn't want to, but she still pleases him, even though it's significant that she can't look at him when she does and demands of him to close his eyes, too. First, we believe that she does this out of pity, but later on we get to understand that she may have similar feelings like Han-soo.

This all leads to situations, which would stand as nothing special within the framework of a therapy session, but might put off some viewers of the film. Some critics pointed out that Han-soo washes his mother a little bit too affectionately, but to imply that he has an Oedipus complex just because of this would be wrong. Nonetheless, it's true that he yearns for protection and security so strongly that he would like to return into the womb of his mother. At the same time his thinking also works on a worldly level. He watches a woman, whom he meets regularly at the hospital, because she, too, has a mother lying in a coma, breaking down under the burden and responsibility she has to carry on her shoulders all by herself and who then kills her mother. He watched her secretly when she did so and at a certain point in the film decides to go to the police. Interestingly, he raids a shop one day, at which just this very woman works as a cashier. Despite his mask (a garter the woman lost and he picked up after she had sex with a man, who most likely financially supports her) she recognizes him, yet doesn't say a word and willingly hands out the money, probably because she knows exactly what situation Han-soo is facing at the moment.

Therefore, Han-soo can't tell the police about the woman's murder, especially not since the two are somehow linked by a strange cord. Instead he, too, thinks about killing his mother in order to escape his financial problems.
The pressure Han-soo has to endure is enormous. Oftentimes we are presented with some dream sequences, that are thrown into the movie without any warning. These scenes can be a little bit confusing, but remain within the borders of what you can mentally digest. It gets problematic, though, when his friends of the swimming team come for a fast visit, and we are also told about the fate of his former coach. Small stories that put an unnecessary load onto the movie, especially the side-plot pivoting around In-hee's step daughter, which actually seems to serve no purpose at all. Here, less would have been more, since we get the impression that these are merely half-baked ideas, which could have been something with a little more effort, but not in one and the same movie.

The directing isn't too contrived for an art-house movie, yet features some offbeat camera angles, only some of the zoom-ins may be irritating for viewers. However, it remains without a doubt that the film creates a certain distance to the audience. We might be interested in Han-soo's fate and we can understand his inner emptiness, but no matter what happens on screen, we aren't feeling touched by it or at least somehow connected to the events portrayed. Maybe this is just part of such a movie, still, it would have been nice if director Cho wouldn't have sticked so close to Kim Ki-duk's style and instead would have created something more warm. Furthermore, the ending seems a bit too pretentious. There might be a lot demanding reflecting on it, and you will be surprised how much you can read out of the movie when you have a little bit of practice with that, but wouldn't it have been nice if the movie would have stayed in our world until the very end, and thus would have provided us with more space to sympathize and suffer along with the characters? In addition, if the script wouldn't have been filled with so many half-baked ideas "The Peter Pan Formula" would have had the potential to be a really good drama.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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