A world-weary factory worker befriends a homeless boy in this debut from Kim Tae-hoon

Big Sleep

Source: Busan International Film Festival

‘Big Sleep’

Dir/scr: Kim Tae-hoon. South Korea. 2022. 112mins

An impressive, potentially star-making turn from leading man Kim Young-sung is the main but by no means only reason to see Big Sleep, a textured and absorbing fiction-feature debut from South Korean writer-director Kim Tae-hoon. Tracing the unlikely friendship between wayward 16-year-old Gil-ho (Choi Joon-wo) and Ki-young (Kim), a factory-worker more than double his age, this is a slow-burning character drama with a nicely organic approach to narrative development.

An impressive, potentially star-making turn from leading man Kim Young-sung

Premiering in the Korean Cinema Today sidebar at Busan, such a fresh take on the coming-of-age sub-genre deserves further exposure at festivals on the lookout for emerging talent. At home it should bring overdue exposure to 37-year-old star Kim, whose resume so far mainly consists of minor roles on television plus the occasional film.

Titling’s one’s debut feature Big Sleep is a considerable hostage to fortune, especially as this new enterprise has no other connection to Raymond Chandler’s classic 1939 detective novel. But, such is Kim’s gruff charisma, it isn’t entirely far-fetched to compare him with the iconic leads from the book’s most celebrated big-screen adaptations: Humphrey Bogart (1946) and Robert Mitchum (1978).

Ki-young is a world-weary, blue-collar dude whose humdrum routines are disrupted when semi-homeless Gil-ho starts sleeping rough on a ledge across from his front door. Initially hostile, Ki-young softens when he glimpses echoes of his own troubled youth in this lad, who has fled an abusive step-parent and fallen in with a gang of swaggering petty-criminals. Their relationship experiences happy peaks and grim troughs over the course of the following weeks, Gil-ho gradually developing a moral sense in tandem with the taciturn Ki-young slowly allowing his tamped-down emotions to surface. Ki-young’s attitude towards Gil-ho isn’t quite that of a buddy, nor of a brother, nor of a father, but it intriguingly combines elements of all three at various times.

Ki-young’s dealings with the lad eventually lead this habitual loner to (haltingly) accept the romantic overtures of a female co-worker one of two slightly underdeveloped subplots, the other concerning the illegal dumping of pollutants by Ki-young’s company. Other rough edges show when Kim occasionally overdoes the plangent scoring (even resorting to tinklingly sad piano here and there) and, on a handful of occasions, lays heartbeat sounds over the action to counter-productive effect

That said, Kim (not to be confused with the older Korean actor of same name) is no greenhorn: 40 this year, his directorial credits in the short-film format date back to 2006. Very sensibly, he deploys the services of a seasoned cutter as his co-editor Son Yeon-ji having worked with leading Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo on four pictures between 2013 and 2017, three of them as chief editor. Together they achieve an unfussily engaging flow, even if a little further tightening wouldn’t have gone amiss. The final stretches seem to consist of several perfectly satisfactory endings strung awkwardly together the most striking of which choreographs blurry points of light, bokeh-style, in quietly virtuoso fashion.

Production company: CINEBUS

International sales: CINEBUS, taebaky@daum.net

Producer: Kwon Bo-ram

Cinematography: Koo Doo-hwan

Production design: Lee Mi-ji

Editing: Kim Tae-hoon, Son Yeon-ji

Music: Park Hyun-woong

Main cast: Kim Young-sung, Choi Joon-wo, Lee Rang-seo, Kim Ja-yeong, Hong Seok-bin