Fantasia 2020 Review: ME AND ME, a Confounding and Compelling Directorial Debut
An idyllic life in the Korean countryside turns tragic when a beloved local teacher turns out to be hiding a bizarre secret. Soo-hyuk (Bae Soo-bin) shares a lovely home with his perfect wife, Yi-young (Cha Soo-yeon), the two seem like a lovely couple, but at night behind closed doors, Yi-young is another person entirely. Each night she finds herself channeling or possessed by spirits that seem specifically designed to antagonize her husband, and awakens with no memory of the crazy things she's done. Soo-hyuk has found a way to cope with her mysterious lapses, but when a nosy neighbor stumbles upon her as she stalks her home possessed by a judo master, the resulting ruckus riles the town into action.
Rather than attempt any kind of official action, the locals decide that it would be best for Yi-young to be safely locked away each night so she can do no harm. Soo-hyuk can stay with her, but the key to her gilded cage stays with a friend of the family, who comes each morning to free her. It works well for a moment, but when tragedy draws the attention of a big city cop, Hyung-gu (Cho Jin-woong), the story finds itself veering off in some very strange directions.
First time director, long time actor Jung Jin-young (The King & the Clown) goes big in Me and Me, an original story that really doesn't seem to care what its audience is expecting. Jung's film presents and exquisitely plotted puzzle box, with no clear solution. Plot elements appear seemingly at will, characters act often at random, and the twists really never stop coming. It's a fascinating story that definitely has a beginning and a middle, but no clear end, and that's the way it's meant to be.
Me and Me is exceptionally well produced, with high production value, beautiful set design, competent and confident acting, and the kind of tonal dissonance long time fans of Korean cinema will no doubt be familiar with. Moving frequently between thriller, comedy, tragedy, and drama, it's largely up to leading man Cho Jin-woong to hold the ship together, and he does an admirable job of maintaining a firm grasp on his character even as both the character and the audience frequently sit in befuddlement trying to parse the life he ends up living.
Some films are difficult to explain without giving away too much in terms of plot, and with Me and Me that's especially true. A major plot twist around the halfway mark involving Hyung-gu's investigation and circumstance is a bit of a head scratcher, but eventually the viewer settles into the film's new direction, even if we aren't really sure why. Is Hyung-gu's sudden change in position a metaphor? A dream? Is anything happening on screen real? It's tough to say, but eventually patterns emerge and it makes the film engrossing, if not necessarily satisfying in a traditional sense.
If I'm being honest - and that is the job - I'm still not a hundred percent sure about what I saw in Me and Me, but nonetheless I couldn't stop watching. A small part of that compulsion was born of the desire to see the film spell out what it was trying to do, but when it didn't go that far, I still felt as though I'd been through an experience with Hyung-gu, and I think that was part of the goal. Me and Me is a confounding and compelling experience, but one that found me mesmerized and forced my brain into a flurry of activity trying to sort out what exactly it was trying to do. I still haven't quite nailed it, but I know that I'm still enjoying the exercise.