Dir/scr: Cho Chang-ho. S Kor. 2005.108mins.
Teenage angst has rarely felt seemed more decorous ormore downbeat than in the hands of South Korean director ChoChong-ho in his debut The Peter Pan Formula. A moody, atmospheric coming-of-age film witha perverse streak of eroticism, it explores the emotional links betweenmourning and sexuality in a narrative that becomes increasingly more confusedand symbolically overloaded.
Young lead OnJan-wan is framed as a hunky anti-hero in the James Dean mould, but his morosewoodenness gives few returns as Cho gradually raisesthe emotional register almost to the verge of hysteria (albeit a very quiethysteria).
Festivals withAsian interests may discern a promising new talent in director-writer Cho (formerly an assistant to Kim Ki-duk),but sales prospects look lukewarm. The film played in Forum at Berlin afterSundance and Pusan among others.
On plays teenstar swimmer Han-soo, whose morale swandives when his mother goes into a coma following asuicide attempt. While attending her in hospital, Onbecomes intrigued by Mi-jin, a young woman whosemother lies in the opposite bed, and is troubled by demons of her own.
On also conceivesa crush on In-hee (Kim Ho-jung),an older married piano teacher who has moved into the house next door, andfinds a masturbatory outlet for his angst when he steals her panties; in theover-stressed symmetry typical of this film, he also makes creative use of apair of Mi-jin's purloined tights.
As Han-soo's moods oscillate between erotic frustration and nervyviolence, expressed in a new career in petty crime, he reaches an odd sexualagreement with In-hee, which takes a furthercomplicated turn when her (possibly) disturbed stepdaughter comes to stay.
A further subplotintroduced in the last 20 minutes sees On makingbelated contact with his father, at which point the film veers towards anconfused and over-extended conclusion.
An overall tonaluncertainty means that The Peter PanFormula never quite gets to grips with the morbidity and emotional turmoil- with incestuous overtones - that it gestures towards. A quietly alarmingincident, as Mi-jin appears to murder her mother, issignally deflated by an excessively pretty image - the balloons that surroundedthe ill woman's bed floating free towards the sky.
This is part of avein of rather twee symbolism: repeated shots of adistant lighthouse, a kite crashing from the sky onto barbed wire, and astartlingly incongruous nightmare sequence apparently dreamed by two differentcharacters.
There's more thanenough material on hand for a taut, disturbing examination of love and ragefrom a teen perspective, but Cho dilutes the effectby shoehorning in more levels of neurosis than one film can easily accommodate.Cho's delicate touch could develop more profitably infurther films; here it comes across as preciousness.
LJ Film Seoul