BiFan 2019 Review: FILM ADVENTURE, Well-Performed Drama Less Exciting Than Its Title Suggests
The accomplished young actor Cho Hyun-chul returns to screens as a neurotic actor who embarks on a pensive journey peppered by unusual encounters after a row with his girlfriend in Film Adventure, the second feature film by Lee Sang-deok, following his 2016 debut Write or Dance, which premiered in the Korean Fantastic Competition of this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan).
Young-hwa is a young actor who has experienced some success but remains unsure of himself, particularly as he goes about trying to land his next project. He lives with his girlfriend and their cat but after embarrassing his partner in front of her friends over drinks one night, the two have a major argument, which ends with Young-hwa kicked to the curb. Out on the street in his pyjamas and nothing else to his name as the sun begins to rise over Seoul, Young-hwa sets out on foot on a journey that will see him meet with friends, family and new acquaintances, all the while grappling with an early mid-life existential crisis.
With his sophomore work, director Lee combines memory and fantasy into a day-long odyssey through the mind, heart and troubles of an arrogant and vulnerable young man. The film falls somewhere between the neurotic energy of Woody Allen's output and the whimsical fantasies that have marked many Korean independent films that don't fall into the stark social drama category.
Cho plays Young-wah, a character who appears to be a stand-in for the director himself. He has shown accomplished performances on screen several times before, namely opposite Kim Sae-byeok in Kim Dae-hwan's Jeonju Cinema Project The First Lap or in the disaster film Tunnel, yet he lacks the same magnetism here with his young Allen-esque schlub. The naturalism he possesses as a performer is still evident in spades and makes him a watchable lead, but there's an artifice to the character and a stiltedness to the dialogue that ultimately undercuts his naturalistic performance style.
Beyond that, it might just be that for a character type that we more readily associate with Woody Allen and Albert Brooks in their late 30s and 40s primes, Young-hwa is too young a protagonist to be a convincing sell. Furthermore, since the film and this character deliberately channel feelings of doubt and uncertainty, the narrative is also tinted with this same feeling of aimlessness.
Lee crafts watchable vignettes, as Cho faces off with four other strong actors, but beyond the girlfriend role, it's not immediately clear what tangible benefits the other encounters bring to the overall story. In that sense, the film occasionally feels like an omnibus project, a format that is extremely popular within Korea's low-budget film realm. Some directors like Kim Jong-kwan can successfully combine disparate stories into a satisfying whole, but even with a clearer overarching narrative, Lee's film occasionally feels very directionless.
Film Adventure could be read as a chronicle of its director's career-to-date, with all the frustrations and uncertainties that naturally go hand-in-hand with a film job, but as a feature it doesn't offer more than a few good performances.