What if you find yourself stuck in your own nightmare? You could wait until you wake up, but what if you’ve lost your way out of the labyrinth that your mind has constructed?
BY YOUNG FILM CRITIC ARCHANA NATHAN
Filmmaker Park Hongmin asks this question in his film, Alone(Honja). Standing on his balcony, Sumin (Lee Juwon) happens to witness a murder across the street. He grabs his camera and takes pictures of the crime. But the killers spot him clicking photos and what follows is a chase. Sumin tries to flee but they find him. Desperate to save his life, he attempts to escape. He runs. However, the masked killers always seem to know where to find him. And just when he begins to think he is doomed, he wakes up. It dawns on him that it was all just a dream, a horrible nightmare. Well, perhaps it was one.
He finds himself in one of the alleys of a labyrinthine residential area opposite his house. Tired and groggy, he begins to walk back home. But, on his way back, he has a series of bizarre encounters. A little boy approaches him with a knife, he sees his girlfriend crying and he meets his mother too. He tries to placate all three of them. There is a bizarre burst of blood trickling down from his girlfriend's head. She runs from him. He runs after her in panic. He wakes up again, sweating and panting. And he finds himself in the same alley as the first time. Convinced that this time he has really woken up, he starts to walk home again.
Has he really woken up?
Hongmin’s Alone invites the audience to be a part of this thrilling nightmare that Sumin seems to be stuck in. Right from the opening frame, we, like Sumin, feel as if we are stranded too. Knowing no other way out, we follow Sumin, trying to escape his oppressive nightmare.
the residential area was like my brain
Talking about why he made the film, Hongmin says, "Sumin’s house in the film is where I live and work in, in Seoul. There was a long period of time when I couldn't make films. There were budgetary issues and I was going through a difficult phase in my life. I used to often spend hours staring into the maze-like neighbourhood opposite my office (the same one that we see in the film). It was then that I realized that the residential area with all its secret alley ways, was like my brain. A lot of what is in the film was, therefore, born out of my own experiences and was a result of all that I felt during that phase of my life."
The urgency of the nightmare-struck mind
The beauty of Alone lies in the fact that it manages to project the inner demons of Sumin’s mind onto the landscape in Seoul. Hongmin's use of close-ups and swift movements carries the urgency of the nightmare-struck mind and lays it out on the screen. Theatre actor Lee Juwon too slips into the character and delivers an intense and realistic performance. Was Hongmin ever worried about narrating such a complex personal and psychological story? "Before worrying about being embarrassed or exposed or even vulnerable, I felt I needed to make this film as a means of self-healing or therapy. That was my main motivation," he adds.
I needed to make this film as a means of self-healing or therapy
Hongmin was also struggling to get funders for the film. "A friend of mine said that instead of making this film, I should narrate a story that was more commercially viable. It was then that I realized that it was more important for me to prove myself. I sold a few computers and other belongings and made this film. I needed to know that my idea of filmmaking and cinematic language can get audiences too," says Hongmin.
For two months, Hongmin spoke to his lead actor, confided in him about the origins of his story. "During a lot of our conversations, my lead actor would comfort me. He understood me very well. And he felt that it was important for him to perform well and make me and my cinematic method known to the world."
Hongmin’s Alone manages to consistently keep the viewer engaged. It strikes a rather unique balance between content and form, with the content often becoming the form and vice-versa. Alone makes you uncomfortable and does that well, but somehow, wandering along with Sumin, also proves to be a cathartic process. Just like it was for Hongmin.