Busan 2023 Review: FAQ, A Young Girl's Surprising Journey Takes a Sci-Fi Turn

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
Busan 2023 Review: FAQ, A Young Girl's Surprising Journey Takes a Sci-Fi Turn

The intense and at times faintly ridiculous extremes of Korea's private education system are laid bare in the disarming fantasy satire FAQ. Morse code and Farsi language classes are just some of the things an elementary school girl is forced to juggle to prepare her for her very distant university entrance exams in this debut film from director Kim Da-min.

Dong-chun is lucky to have supportive parents, who cheer her on and praise her, even when she freezes up during a stage performance. Unfortunately for her, she finds herself in Korea, which means that no matter how well meaning her doting mother is, competitive schooling is a harsh reality that she has to prepare her daughter for.

Her mother strives to give Dong-chun a leg-up in the long scholastic road to adulthood. This includes sessions at a growth spurt clinic for Dong-chun, who is a little short for her age, and a Farsi language after-school program, which she is led to believe by another overeager parent would give her daughter a leg up when applying to Seoul National University, Korea's top university, over a decade in the future.

Already struggling to cope, Dong-chun retreats to the comforts of her imagination, which includes following the advice of her Tellytubby-esque imaginary friends. During a school trip, she wakes up in the middle of the night and finds herself strangely drawn to a hidden bottle of makgeolli (Korean rice wine).

Dong-chun swipes the bottle and jealously covets it, sleeping with it and bringing it with her everywhere. She soon realizes that the milky fermented liquid is trying to communicate with her by oozing bubbles. Later she figures out that the bubbles are morse code and of all the languages in the world, the makgeolli is speaking to her in Farsi.

As Dong-chun begins to follow her new friend's mysterious instructions, she finds herself transported on a bizarre journey. What at first seems like an exhausted child's mere fantasy evolves into something so intricate that it challenges us to question whether what we're seeing may in fact be real.

Twenty years ago, the classic Korean film Save the Green Planet pulled off this same trick and there's no doubt that Jang Joon-hwan's film provides a major influence, particularly when the story approaches its sci-fi-flecked finale.

While FAQ is more simplistic than other Korean indie tales of young school girls struggling to navigate the paths laid out for them by stressed adults and a rigid society, such as Yoon Ga-eun's The World of Us, Kim's social themes ring out loud and clear and are memorably conveyed by the film's lively and unique mix of genres.

Much of the story is conveyed from Dong-chun's perspective but occasionally it pulls back to offer conventional sequences with its adult characters. There's the familiar struggle of the loving mother pushing her daughter too hard (Jung Ji-woo's Fourth Place and a host of other worthy titles come to mind) and also the unsuccessful thread involving the girl's kooky uncle, playing by Kim Hee-woon (of Disney+'s Moving).

Focussing entirely on Dong-chun may have been a risky choice, but its these safer adult character scenes that ground a story that's clearly reaching for the sky.

Still, FAQ is a promising debut for Kim, who also participated as a writer for the upcoming Netflix original series Murder DIEary, and her film's bonkers ending has the surprising ability to both brings a smile to your face and a surprising shudder to your spine.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
BIFFBusan film festivalKorean educationKorean indiePrivate academy

Around the Internet