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Cho-haeng (The First Lap)

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Cho-haeng (The First Lap)

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Su-hyeon, an aspiring artist who is resigned to teaching, and Ji-young, who works in the news business, have been living together for six years. Their generally docile existence is interrupted when Ji-young reveals her period is late. This unexpected occurrence looms over Kim Dae-hwan’s Cho-haeng (The First Lap), the second in his “family trilogy,” following the Busan-winning Cheol-won-gi-haeng (End of Winter).  Shot during the candlelight protests against former President Park Geun-hye, Kim’s film focuses on two family visits, the first to Ji-young’s well-off parents, who live in an Incheon high-rise. There, her mother expresses – in a very cruel way – shame that her daughter hasn’t yet married. The second sees the two trek across the country to the East Coast port of Samcheok, where the meek Su-hyeon finally introduces his long-time girlfriend to his estranged working-class parents on the occasion of his father’s 60th birthday.

But reaching a destination, both in life and literally, is a problem. The film’s clever overarching metaphor relates to Su-hyeon and Ji-young’s placelessness and indecision, as we see them squatted amidst moving boxes, and is often expressed through the couple’s constant struggles with finding their way, as they drive and drive, Kim’s camera perched in the back seat, a child’s toy perched on the dashboard. They’re forestalling maturity, but at the same time, trying to avoid turning into their parents (“We stop, we die”). In this subtle and emotional work, Kim uses minimal means, and a great attention to specificity, to tell a story with universal resonance, an achievement harder than it sounds.

Mark Peranson

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