We had the opportunity to watch many great films at the Busan International Film Festival. We have decided to release a new film review once a day, so make sure to keep checking back with us and see what film we are talking about!
- Mai Ratima is the directorial debut of Yoo Ji-tae.
- It made its premiere at the 17th Busan International Film Festival.
Mai Ratima (played by newcomer Park Ji-soo) is a mail order bride from Thailand. Her husband is mentally sick, and she is constantly sexually harassed by her brother-in-law. To top it off, her mother-in-law ignores her existence, and wishes the family would have saved money on raising a grandchild, rather than spend it on bringing Mai to Korea. In fact, nobody in the family (besides her husband) treats Mai as a member, as they fear that she will run away ones she attains citizenship.
Though her brother-in-law constantly harasses her, she must put up with it if she ever hopes of him agreeing to sponsor her visa. However, Mai’s resistance angers her brother-in-law, who beats her in public in front of many observers. Soo-young (played by Bae Soo-bin), a drifter on his way to Seoul in hopes of making it big, is the only one who steps in and saves her. Mai is reluctant to receive his help at first because her brother-in-law’s sponsorship is the only way she can live and work in Korea and send money home to her family. Eventually, he convinces the panicked Mai to run away with him to Seoul.
As the two dodge the authorities and attempt to find work in the big city, they live in abandoned buildings and steal food from the back of delivery trucks. How will the two runaways and their budding relationship fare with the temptations and troubles running rampant in the busy city?
The Good, The Bad, and The Surprising
Yoo Ji-tae is one of the few Korean actors who have decided to make the jump into the director’s chair. Many of us in the West know him as the bad guy in Park Chan-wook’s 2003 thriller Old Boy, but with the many approving reviews that Mai Ratima has been getting, we might see him as a successful director in the future.
The center of the story focuses on the unfortunate treatment of low-class immigrants in South Korea. The titular Mai Ratima, who is Thai, is greeted with “dirty foreigner” faces and snide comments from the people around her. She is mistreated by her new family who suspects her of scamming them. Could this be a commentary on how it really is in Korea, where poor non-Koreans are treated the same as dirt?
Park Ji-soo, the girl in the title, is a newcomer on the silver screen; however she did well to portray the lost foreigner in a sea of Koreans. Being of Korean decent, she can prove to be very convincing to the average viewer that she is Thai. Hell, I was fooled. With her performance that will pull the audience in, her character’s journey will leave the audience enraged and shocked. It gives us a lot of reasons to be sympathetic with Mai and cheer for her as the story progresses.
Bae Soo-bin represents the desperation in humans, easily discarding his past once a new opportunity rises up. The drifter is so poor that he can’t even afford the renewal of his national ID. However, he rises in the social ladder, landing a job as a janitor but making his way to being an escort of high demand with the help of hottie Young-jin (So Yu-jin), who helps restart his life in demand for his companionship and loyalty. The choices Soo-young makes make him out to be despised, but rather, he is flawed like any other human.
This film is definitely not for the popcorn movie watcher who is looking for a textbook Korean romantic-comedy. The characters take a bit of time to understand, but their on-screen chemistry felt really natural. However, it did feel that the characters themselves were spiritless; rarely showing much emotion unless it was very extreme.
The challenges the characters go through hit home for many of us; they make their way into the big city bright-eyed and naive, only to be end up jaded with destroyed dreams.
The film, clocked in at 123 minutes, feels a bit too long with scenes here and there dragging out. Ironically, it felt like the build-up to the relationship between Mai and Soo-young happened too quickly. It just…kind of happened…on the the train ride into Seoul.
This film was anticipated in that it is the directorial debut of Yoo Ji-tae. Was it anything revolutionary? No. Did it tell a story that will have you thinking? Most definitely. Yoo Ji-tae’s future directorial works are something to look forward to.
Watch this film if…
…you have enough energy to stay awake, because it does feel about 30 minutes too long. Half of the viewers who watch this will pause for a moment to let the story sink in, while the other half will question why they spent the two hours to watch it when they could have watched something else.