Story: Seon (Choi Soo-in) is in fourth grade and an outsider. She always gets picked last into sports teams and during recess everybody avoids her too. The reason for that is the most popular schoolgirl in her class, Bora (Lee Seo-yeon). She makes sure that Seon is bullied by the others. At home, nobody knows about it, mostly because Seon's father (Son Seok-bae) and her mother (Jang Hye-jin) are always working in order to make ends meet. In addition, her grandfather is in hospital and even if her father does not want to visit him because of his ugly childhood, he still has to pay for his treatment. Because her parents work so much, Seon also has to take care of her brother Yoon (Kang Min-joon). On the last day of school before summer break, the little girl meets a new classmate, Ji-ah (Seol Hye-in), who is going to be in her class next year and wanted to have a look around the school beforehand. The two quickly become friends and spend almost every day during summer break with each other. Ji-ah seems to come from a completely different world than Seon. Her mother works in England and she lives with her grandmother because her father is pretty successful and works a lot. For her it is also not a financial issue to visit a tutoring school. However, Ji-ah also becomes friends with Bora there. Seon's worst fears become true because when school starts again, Ji-ah behaves as if she and Seon had never been friends...
Review: If you let chance decide about your movie choice in the evening, sometimes hidden treasures surface unexpectedly - this was the case with "The World of Us". However, the high quality level of the drama is not that surprising as the movie was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival and received a lot of praise by critics. The reason for that is pretty simple: We get to see the typical world of two kids with all their problems in a modern world through the eyes of a fourth grader. This view at the world is astonishingly clear and surprisingly complex at the same time. That is not only because adult viewers, to whom the movie is obviously addressed, can relate to the situations the children find themselves in more than Seon herself because of their experiences, but also because the school kids' lives are more complicated than we are first aware of. Children should just play. But for them the world is not as simple as that.
We soon realize how dark the world can seem for kids. Seon is bullied in school and doesn't talk about it at home even when her mother asks her if everything is alright. And while her family is actually pretty loving, there are also enough problems at home. The father is one step away from being an alcoholic, the mother has little time for her kids and Seon therefore has to take care of her little brother, a little rascal, who you will instantly take a shine to. The child actors are all terrific, especially Choi Soo-in ("I Can Speak") convinces with her subtle acting. The camera almost always stays on her and through little changes in her facial expression or her behavior we get to see exactly how she feels. Seol Hye-in as Ji-ah completes the great cast and we soon realize how different the two friends are.
If there is one negative thing to be said about the movie, then it's only the fact that the script provides a lot of coincidences. Seon crosses paths with her friend Ji-ah one too many times just because it's convenient for the story. In addition, one could criticize that the topics dealt with in the movie are not really new and a lot of developments are even predictable. However - just how it should be with a good story -, the way everything evolves in the movie is what fascinates. Everything has a natural flow. The falling-out between the two friends as well as the kids' imperfect parental home is portrayed realistically. We only get to see Ji-ah's father in one short scene and instantly know why she is dissatisfied with him. And when it comes to her mother, we only get to hear Ji-ah's side of a phone call. As a child of divorce, Ji-ah did not have it easy at her school and in order not to become a mobbing victim at her new school as well, she crafts some nice strategies.
Seon, on the other hand, is poor and that is enough to make her into a mobbing victim at her school. The psychological pressure the kids have to endure is extreme and school grades also do their bit. It is shocking how much likeness the kids' world has with that of adults' and that is exactly what "The World of Us" wants to show us. In contrast to most adults, kids can still grow intellectually and as a human being so that there is hope everything could take a turn for the better. The drama is surprisingly warm all throughout and never pulls at your heartstrings. In spite of that, or maybe even because of that, there are a few scenes, which can actually move you to tears. These are particularly moments, in which the kids show us that they can change something about their behavior, whereas adults are already set in their ways and are too proud and stubborn to do something about the situation at hand. The most touching scenes of the movie often happen when you least expect it.
Female director Yoon Ga-eun shot an indie-drama which doesn't really feel like one. The camera always stays with Seon, but in its portrayal of the everyday life of children the movie is surprisingly entertaining and also has some humorous elements. The images are also by no means gloomy, but instead oftentimes pretty bright and pleasant. Therefore, "The World of Us" doesn't feel as depressing as a normal drama. The style is reminiscent of "Thread of Lies". Especially one scene with Seon's little brother reveals the kind of childish innocence, which puts a simple truth in a nutshell and is both funny and moving. Seon can still learn from that, but can we? A wonderful film whose ending might have been frustrating in other movies, but here it just feels right to be left behind both sad and happy.