For his feature debut film, Hong Sung-eun wrote, directed, and edited the South Korean drama Aloners. When we meet the main character, Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon), she is in the midst of a customer call who is trying to delete a charge from Titty Karaoke. Jina works at a credit card call center. She never misses a moment to assist and is on cue with all customer requests whose stories can only be imagined. Jina is a company gem. Chained to a headset and a computer, her life appears singular until she is requested to train a new associate named Sujin (Jeong Da-Eun), an opposing and imposing figure.
Jina always walks alone. She is always wearing earphones or a headset unless tucked away inside her sparse apartment in a cement building complex, watching television in bed. Yet, with all the modern conveniences of keyless entry, no cashier noodle bars, and remote cameras, human existence perseveres like a flower trying to grow in the crack of a cement sidewalk.
As we follow Jina in her daily life routine, eating, working, taking off a coat, and smoking, her expression is a dominant detail in understanding the story and drama of Aloners. In the most creative yet straightforward execution, watching Jina is an art form—she rejects life but lives within it. Her mother died, and her father is still in mourning, yet he tries to be optimistic despite a few fallacies. He’s living a bizarre life, which Jina watches from afar without his knowledge, as this remote viewing was a set-up she used for her mother that she never terminated. She even keeps her mom as a phone ID, but it’s her father’s number.
“…we follow Jina in her daily life routine, eating, working, taking off a coat, and smoking…”
With these details, Hong Sung-eun has added a fascinating subplot. It is one of life, death, and the afterlife, which shows up in his metaphors of smoke and isolation in technology, offering a new understanding of things that will never change in life or death. It is in community where Jina must break from computer-headset existence, especially as she becomes more hardened at work due to her trainee, Sujin. This goes hand-in-hand with being a bitch, especially when a rather attractive and interesting Seo Hyun Woo moves next door into the “haunted” apartment. It is observant and absorbing; even if not much seems to be happening, Sung-eun is saying a lot.
Aloners stays so engaging because of Gong Seung-yeon’s acting. Her eyes and head movements reveal much without the actor ever saying a word allowing the camera work to lead the story. Hong Sung-eun chooses interesting angles to capture the action, always highlighting how isolated Jina is, despite being surrounded by people at work or walking or eating alone, giving life to the mundane.
Connecting all these elements with so little conversation and sparsity, Hong Sung-eun offers a creative, modern tech tale of soul-saving. But, what is most attractive about Aloners is Gong Seung-yeon’s acting and the camera’s ability to provide an angle of serious interest in a world that is wired in but wildly estranged with a great deal of lassitude attitude. It’s a moving drama with an excellent central performance.
"…a moving drama with an excellent central performance."