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Film Review – MY NAME IS LOH KIWAN (2024): An Emotional Rollercoaster Designed with Powerful Artistic Intelligence

Song Joong Ki My Name Is Loh Kiwan .

My Name is Loh Kiwan Film Review

My Name is Loh Kiwan (2024) Film Review, directed by Kim Hee Jin, written by Hae Ji Cho and Kim Hee Jin, and starring Song Joong-ki, Choi Sung-eun, Kim Sung-ryung, Jo Han-Chul, Lee Sang-hee, Waël Sersoub, and Lee Il-hua.

My Name is Loh Kiwan (2024) is a drama/romance film directed by Kim Hee Jin and written by Hae Ji Cho and Kim Hee Jin. It was humbling, relieving, and deeply moving to encounter this artwork which masterfully, albeit subtly, explored a complex interplay between relationships and culture. Specifically, the film evokes profound empathy as it demonstrates the resilience of love and promise in the face of bureaucracy, corruption, and greed. In all transparency, I was moved to deafening sobs as if someone were sawing me in half. Notably, the film intelligently interweaves cinematography with such technique that the story not only causes the audience to feel, but also introspect on their place in the world. While at times the casts’ heavily lacquered performances and the placement of obvious sensory details give the impression of live theatre, the painful viewing of human suffering is not ultimately over-the-top or depressing since Kim Hee Jin purposefully gives triumph its front-and-center moments to give meaning to Loh Kiwan’s and Lee Marie’s ((Choi Sung-eun) suffering.

Throughout the film, the writers combined drama and romance while keeping the audience unrelentingly hooked onto Loh’s (Song Joong-ki) and Marie’s fates. Both characters carry guilt about their absent mothers and are each subjected to the neglect and/or oppression of apathetic forces which could annihilate them: the immigration system leaves Loh to die on the streets, while Marie’s sharpshooting handler, Cyril (Waël Sersoub) controls her through drug use, money, and threats. Interestingly, Loh Ki’s growing sense of manhood—which stems from his feelings of responsibility for Marie and for his own economic security—motivates Loh Ki to think of the refugee identity differently. It was surprising and respectable how the film exposed the mismanagement of North Korean defection cases and voiced how refugeeism can reenact the sense of isolation from which the person fled in the first place. Part of this exposure happens through the viewer’s gaze on Loh’s homelessness, which, in its abject loneliness, resembles Marie’s silently desperate, exploitative situation. Indeed, by dedicating considerable screen time to the material and emotional austerity which is present in their environments, Kim Hee Jin succeeds in contrasting the brutality with which the world has treated them versus the compassion they grow for each other.

As magnificently wrought as I find the film to be, it has its flaws which contribute to the film’s at time’s live theatre aesthetic and spirit. The sets for the police chase scene seemed too artificial. There were at least two crucial moments when Cyril, as a violent gangster with money and underground power, was unrealistically patient with Loh’s and Marie’s interventions and rebelliousness, respectively. Choi Sung-eun’s prettiness distracted from the film’s mood for the first potion of the film; it was not until her sharpshooter persona emerged that her character presentation fit better in the story. Nevertheless, the costumes for her character were a bit extravagant, and eclipsed rather than complemented Loh. The suggestion that Loh magically cured Marie’s drug addiction by codependently threatening suicide is loudly theatrical; and yet, taken together, these flaws result in enhancing human emotion and connection to character at only a small cost to the soundness of narrative and realism. It is an ultimately worthwhile tradeoff, since the blood and tears present in the movie go beyond sentimentalism and tragedy to instead build hope and give an end to an early adulthood of fear and grief.

Just as the director was intentional in deciding how to display the evolution of the refugee and escapee narratives in the film, what was not shown also mattered, starting with North Korea. The absence of a glimpse into the lives of Loh Kiwan and his mother, Ok-hee (Kim Sung-ryung) in their home country is another surprising departure from realism. The fact that the tragic death occurred in China also further absconds North Korean life into a recondite area of the mind. Perhaps there were legal considerations which prevented even a fictionalized setting to represent the country. From a psychoanalytical perspective, it could be argued that North Korea represents that repressed, tortured memory that the person can only safely process once their citizenship is no longer a matter of life or death. In evoking such possibilities, Kim Hee Jin has created a film that yes, exhibits violence, but also respects the realities of original penury by keeping them off the screen.

Rating: 10/10

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