Busan 2020 Review: GOOD PERSON Compels With Its Dizzying Morality Play

Junk Wook's debut feature is a powerful and compelling thought-piece.

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Busan 2020 Review: GOOD PERSON Compels With Its Dizzying Morality Play

With confident direction in the first few frames alone, this debut feature from JUNG Wook is a masterful mystery. Good Person draws comparisons to European cinema; epic yet intimate portrayal of ethics, morality and human nature in the contemporary. These broad themes are revisited throughout, updated with various perspectives associated with a stolen wallet in a highschool class. The response to this event, questions of right and wrong, good and bad, are analysed from this situation.

Simple decisions have a resounding effect, the intricacies of which could be found in heavy philosophical literature, something akin to Dostoevsky or Kafka. Good Person is much more accessible than this, tying these heady themes to the personal tragedy and character of teacher Kyung-seok (Kim Tae-Hoon) and student Se-ik (Lee Hyo-Je).

The power play and position of authority Kyung has over his class is never exploited, in fact he appears initially calm and benevolent, he gives the victim of the theft money from his own pocket. This decision has consequences that lead him to suspect loner student Se-ik. When lightly interrogated, Se-ik quietly sits in detention, given an hour to write a confession of sorts. At the same time Kyung is asked by his ex to look after his estranged daughter. In this fateful evening glimpses of the teacher are revealed naturally; he is divorced, had a drinking problem, and his daughter is legitimately scared of him. He takes her, putting up with her upset tantrum in the car. He decides to return to school to check on Se-ik, and leaves his daughter alone in the car in the process. When he returns she is gone and his frantic overnight search soon reveals she was hit by a truck at a nearby crossing, and that a student pushed her.

This is only the beginning of this excellent parable, and there are already many elements at work. When the student stops coming to class it almost confirms his guilt, but Kyung conducts an investigation to confirm if Se-ik is really such a criminal capable of this heinous act. With no hard evidence and conflicting perspectives the teacher becomes increasingly unhinged and frustrated, which is conveyed in a unique and realistic way. He cannot relate to people, seemingly doing and saying the right thing to resolve the situation, he only makes choices that somehow negatively impact others.

“I do try”, Kyung-seok says to his ex-wife, exasperated that she is not on his side. This character assessment deepens the guilt by association, everything he does hurts others, knowingly or not. His compulsion to investigate the incident, that put his daughter in intensive care, turns to obsession, sleepless nights and a return to the bottle. 

This uncanny feeling that he is sinking in quicksand with every attempt to right the wrong of neglecting his daughter is executed masterfully, and the title Good Person takes new meaning. The inevitable tragedy of what really played out is gradually exposed throughout, making the viewer reframe the various incidents and trying to make sense of the decisions made in this new context of understanding.

Although Good Person returns to the same scenes, and Kyung questions the same people, the film remains well paced. Conflict ebbs and flows as pieces come together, questions of who should take blame and who assumes it brings fateful consequence.

The actions of people could be perceived as a lie, but perhaps it is their steadfast truth. The final piece of the puzzle is already revealed, the answer there all along. Good Person is compelling because the mystery of what happened is merely a gateway to the possibilities of exploring human nature, reasoning, ethics and morality, of which the film nails, seriously impressed.

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BIFF 2020Busan International Film FestivalGood PersonJung WookKim Tae-HoonLee Hyo-JeReview

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