Busan 2023 Review: THAT SUMMER'S LIE, Teen Pregnancy Rears Its Complicated Head in Wry, Audacious, Surprising Debut

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
Busan 2023 Review: THAT SUMMER'S LIE, Teen Pregnancy Rears Its Complicated Head in Wry, Audacious, Surprising Debut

The lines between truth and fiction blur marvellously in the audacious New Currents competition title That Summer's Lie, the debut film of director Sohn Hyun-lok. Other slippery lines toed by this surprising tale include the one between childhood and adulthood in a story that slaloms with furious abandon between teen pregnancy, social propriety and trying to do the right thing, or at least figuring out what the right thing is.

Da-young is a high school freshman who has just returned to school following summer vacation, and an unusually memorable one at that, if not for the right reasons. She has handed in an assignment detailing her most memorable experience during the holiday, the content of which is brazen enough to arch her homeroom teacher's eyebrow. She is compelled to write out several more accounts of her torrid summer, as the teacher tries to find his way to the truth.

Between these sessions with her teacher, the film jumps back, introducing us to her boyfriend Byung-hoon, who wants to break things off with her to move on to another girl. He breaks up with Da-young and announces his infidelity in tears, but starts berating her for not reacting emotionally. Eventually, he storms out of the cafe they sit in.

The inscrutable Da-young may not seem devastated on the outside, but her reaction involves impulsively going to her math tutor's home for a lesson where, after briefly meeting his pregnant wife, she very aggressively attempts to seduce him. The tutor initially rebuffs her, but in the end the tenacious Da-young succeeds.

Da-young later stumbles upon Byung-hoon and his new squeeze, and after causing a scene she blurts out the truth about her encounter with her tutor. Livid, Byung-hoon storms over to the tutor's apartment. This is only the beginning of a summer holiday that is only going to get more and more complicated for Da-young.

We don't know what Da-young is writing down for her teacher in the present, but her statements don't seem to match with the flashbacks that the film shows us, prompting us to parse out the truth of the images on screen. However, the film is much less opaque than that makes it sound. What the curious framing device succeeds in is placing us right into the headspace of a malleable teenager's mind, as she grapples with her hormones and her confused desire to be a grown-up.

This desire manifests itself in a series of fascinating, uncomfortable and wryly amusing ways, as Da-young and Byung-hoon blindside adults with their naive attempts at being frank and responsible. These include several standout kitchen table scenes with the young couple sheepishly facing weary adults before bluntly dropping huge truth bombs on them, whether exposing an illegal infidelity or announcing a teen pregnancy.

Unfazed or at the very least not able to full aware of the devastation they leave in their wake, the teens march around their small seaside town as they try to make sense of their own relationship and circumstances, which are volatile to say the least.

With the help of his naturalistic cast, director Sohn crafts a layered, fresh and compelling coming-of-age story in this strong first outing.

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BIFFBusan International Film FestivalKorean indie dramateen pregancy

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