Film recalls difficulty of childhood relationships

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Film recalls difficulty of childhood relationships

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“The World of Us” explores the relationship of two 11-year-old girls, Lee Seon, right, and Han Ji-ah. [FILAMENT PICTURES]

“The World of Us,” the first feature film from director Yoon Ga-eun, comes off as rather dull in the sea of films in theaters now with provocative and catchy words like “war,” “wailing” and “ninja” in their titles.

The poster featuring two little girls in a beautiful watercolor illustration also makes the film look like a cute story about growing up. But this seemingly sweet film is packed with raw and dense emotions as it revolves around two 11-year-old schoolgirls who are thrown into a torrent of love, hatred and jealousy.

The story was compelling enough to garner the attention of the Berlin International Film Festival held in February.

The 94-minute film was invited to the generation section, which is dedicated to films featuring children and youth.

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Yoon Ga-eun

It was the second time a creation of Yoon’s was shown at the Berlin festival. Her previous short film “Sprout,” a story of a 7-year-old girl, was also screened at the generation section in 2014, making Yoon known as an emerging young filmmaker.

“This whole story starts from my own childhood,” the 34-year-old director told the local press after a screening event Wednesday at the Wangsimni CGV in eastern Seoul.

“Like these friends [in the film], I had a close friend and thought I shared everything - even my own soul - with her, but we became estranged for some reason that I still don’t know why, and that was one of the most terrible and painful times in my life.”

The film begins with the meeting of Han Ji-ah, a transfer student, and Lee Seon on the first day of summer break.

The two spend most of their time together during summer break and become close friends, but things begin to change when the new semester begins. Han joins another group of students after realizing that Lee is bullied by her classmates.

As the relationship between Lee and Han turns sour, the two girls take turns revealing the secrets shared by the other.

The episodes of the two protagonists are so real and the whole story is relatable and plausible.

For example, there is a scene in which Lee and Han’s class is dividing into two teams to play dodgeball. Two students play rock-paper-scissors, and the person who wins the game names a classmate that he or she wants for their team, and Lee is always the one who is not chosen by either group.

“I’ve been to many international film festivals [with this film] and realized that audiences in other countries also feel the same way Korean audiences do,” Yoon said when she was asked what aspect of the film most appeals to audiences in other countries.

“The World of Us” was invited to many international film festivals, including TIFF Kids International Film Festival in Canada, the Far East Film Festival in Italy and the Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival in Israel.

“I had many children in the audience when presenting this film overseas, and many of them told me, ‘This is happening in my class, too.’”

Yoon attributed the film’s critical acclaim to award-winning filmmaker Lee Chang-dong of “Poetry” (2010) and “Secret Sunshine” (2007). Lee was Yoon’s mentor as she was developing her story ideas into a screenplay.

“We had to deeply look into the world of the kids, and Lee kept asking me questions like, ‘Are these real?’ because we tried not to portray children in the fixed ways the media often do,” said Yoon.

She continued, “Watching many people relate to the story, I’ve realized that building relationships is always hard for everyone whether they are all grown up or not.”

“The World of Us” follows the journey of Lee who doesn’t want to be alone again, and the film asks the audience the question of whether Lee could be part of “us” again with Han.

After the screening event, a woman in her early 40s in the audience stood up and thanked Yoon for making such a realistic film. She was close to tears, saying, “This is what my daughter experienced when she was a fifth grader. I want to believe the girls may be together again.”

“The World of Us” is being released in Korea on June 16.

BY SUNG SO-YOUNG [so@joongang.co.kr]

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