Busan Film Review: ‘Our Body’

The health of the Korean film industry, to an outsider’s eye, can hardly be in doubt, as it’s one of the rare national cinemas that finds international acclaim for a broad spectrum of offerings that range from festival darling Hong Sang-soo to genre auteurs Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. The trickle-down effect has recently seen the more lo-fi end of that spectrum yield some promising titles, such as Kim Dae-hwan’s delightful quasi-mumblecore “The First Lap.” And now, with “Our Body,” first-time director Han Ka-ram goes even lower-key, so much so she almost slides off the keyboard altogether, examining contemporary Korean social issues with committed but also frustrating fidelity to the unpatterned, episodic langor of real life. Her drama about the revitalizing effects of running is infected with the lethargy of the couch potato.

“You get on top,” Ja-young (Moon Choi), the film’s disaffected early-30s protagonist, is instructed during a casual sexual encounter, shot with unprudish, unromantic realism. It perhaps serves as a metaphor for a patriarchal society that only allows women to rise on its own terms, but mostly it is our introduction to the passionless life of Ja-young, a kind of Korean anti-Frances Ha, who even during sex appears to be going through the motions rather than actively pursuing her own desires. Ja-young is not only unmarried, which at that age is already a major barrier to social betterment for women in Korea, but wholly directionless, suffering a sudden complete failure of ambition just before the civil servant exam for which she had been studying for years.