The story starts strong with North Korean migrant Jun forming a bond with Soonhee, a defensive young Chinese woman similarly adrift without any family ties in a foreign country. When the owner of the gas station they both work at makes an unwelcome pass at Soonhee, Jun steps in and is fired for his trouble. Jun tries to be paid for his work through legal means but since he lacks citizenship official channels are closed to him. Unwilling to be screwed over, Jun tries to collect his money and winds up in a lengthy scrap with his violent and abusive former employer. Soonhee intervenes, and "freed" from work, the two explore Seoul.
Initially, a fable she tells Jun about two siblings who climbed into the sky to escape a tiger and became the sun and the moon seems to apply to their situation, but director/writer Kim Kyung-mook has other plans.
The story of Soonhee and Jun fades out without any resolution, and the bulk of the film follows a young gay hustler who was previously introduced in a seemingly random scene in which he films a young lady being tied up and spanked. We learn that the teenager is named Hyeon while the camera follows his every move in exhausting detail, from extensive scenes of him slowly eating cereal to never-ending make-out sessions with his much older, closeted (and married) sugar daddy.
The situations of the two aimless young men are compared and contrasted in the most vague and forced of ways, which is only exacerbated by a confounding structure that sees Jun's character make an unseen leap to desperation from his hinted imminent destitution.
Part way into Hyeon's story, Jun appears as one of the stars of one of the sadistic prostitute's degradation fetish films, graphically giving head to a creepy guy in a bella clava and a business suit in a public washroom. Even after their stories meet up formally in the third act, there's no sense of just why or how Jun sunk so low so fast and Soonhee never returns after the first act fade out.
What's left is a whole lot of naval gazing in place of actual storytelling. Kim Kyung-mook achieves a very specific tone of pointlessness and hopelessness, but doesn't have anything profound (or clear) to say about being trapped by emotional and social conditions.
In all likelihood, Stateless Things will do little more than put viewers in a state of agitation for having wasted their time.
Stateless Things screens on Wednesday, November 7th at 9:15pm at Innis Town Hall. (Alive Pictures)
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