A Haunting Hitchhike (Korean Film Festival in Australia)
Noh Jeong Eui, Park Hee-soon, Kim Ko-eun
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…a finely tuned sense of melancholy…
With her father (Kim Hak Seon) dying of cancer, 16 year old Jeong-ae (Noh Jung-eui) sets off to find her mother. Instead, she forms a connection with a policeman, Kim Hyung-woong (Park Hee-soon), who may be the biological father of her school friend, Hyo-jun (Go-eun Kim). As she struggles to care for her father, who has given up on treatment and advises her that life is better when it is lived without hope, Jeong-ae gets drawn into the cop’s life, and is presented with two possible paths in life: the dour fatalism presented by her father, and the glimmer of hope inherent in Kim.
A Haunting Hitchhike is an odd but, appropriately enough, haunting viewing experience. It takes its time to get where it’s going, being more of a character study than a plot-driven piece. The nominal “rules” of narrative form are barely paid lip service, the film pivoting from scene to scene in unexpected directions – at first we’re looking at a teen coming-of-age drama; then, for a brief couple of scenes, we’re in thriller territory, as Jeong-ae and Hyo-jun evade an attempted kidnapping; we settle into mystery mode as Jeong-ae tries to figure out if Hyung-woong really is Hyo-jun’s father, before circling back around to coming-of-age territory again.
It’s all carried out in a fairly understated manner by debut writer and director Heejae Jeong, and the result is that, if you’re beholden to the comforts of traditional dramatic narrative, A Haunting Hitchhike could be a somewhat opaque and frustrating affair. It’s not experimental as such, it just drifts along at its own pace. What rescues it is a finely tuned sense of melancholy, and some very strong performances, especially Noh Jung Eui’s nuanced turn as Jeong-ae.