Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tap, tap, tappin' on heaven's door: the amazing PLANET OF SNAIL by Yi Seung-jun

Initially, it was difficult for documentary filmmaker Yi Seung-jun to convince the husband/wife pair -- Young-chan and Soon-ho, who later became his subjects -- to agree on ma-king the documen-tary PLANET OF SNAIL. The world can be thankful that he did, however, for the end product is remarkable: A love story like no other you will have seen, and a documentary about the handi-capped that manages to face these handicaps with a clear eye and an open mind and heart. The movie is empathetic, sometimes joyous but rarely sad.

With this, his second film-making endeavor, Mr. Yi (shown at left, who also made the 2008 doc Children of God) enters the life and the world of a tall, handsome man (Young-chan) who cannot see nor hear, and his wife, Soon-ho, a dwarf or "little person" who has a simply beautiful face that the camera loves. The pair makes an unusual, but also a wonderfully complete, couple. Each helps the other with the tasks of daily life, and we tag along, thanks to Mr. Yi. Because of Young-chan's dual handicaps, the two communicate by way of "finger braile," a touch-based sign language (shown below) that she literally taps into his palm, to which he responds verbally.

Because of the alternately amazing and infuriating NYC subway system, TrustMovies arrived late enough to have missed 15 minutes of the movie. The theater's very helpful and kind PR person let him into the theater, while filling him in on what he had missed, explaining that he should be able to easily figure things out, once he understood that communication came via this finger braile system.  The PR person was quite right.

I entered the theater as the pair was trying to change a light fixture. Watching their terrific teamwork proved so immediately enchanting and smart that I was won over within a few seconds, and my interest never flagged from that moment on. Over a very tasty-looking lunch for their friends -- quite a spread! -- we meet some of those friends, also handicapped, but missing, in one particular case, the special relationship that our two lovers/friends share. How they communicate,  sympathizing and empathizing with this fellow, is something to see and hear (even if our hero can do neither). We also learn, during this scene, just how the pair manag-ed to find each other. After lunch, we watch them do the dishes.

Young-chan, taller than little Soon-ho even when he is sitting and she is standing, also has a beautiful face, which comes to fine life in the open air as the couple takes a walk in the park and our hero explores the bark of a nearby tree (above). He is also something of a poet, and hearing and seeing some of his work proved worthwhile and moving in ways both expected and not. In fact, I'd like to hear/read more of his work.

The group goes to a theater performance and suddenly we must stop short and take in the manner in which Young-chan is proces-sing all this. The movie allows us to do this sort of thing, over and over, without any narration or any undue pushing, simply by observation and consideration. This is one of the great achie-vements of the film: Allowing us to come to term with these people and experience their life and their love minus the sentimen-tality we often get (or maybe partially create ourselves) while watching films about the handicapped.

This is a singular couple we're watching, and the film about them that Mr. Yi has directed and photographed is singular, as well. The joy we feel for these two, like the joy they themselves seems to experience, is quite wonderful. Planet of Snail (I don't know where that title comes from, so I assume that was something I missed in the opening quarter-hour), from The Cinema Guild and running 88 minutes, opens this Wednesday, July 25, in New York City at Film Forum. The film is currently scheduled for showings in Hudson, New York; Seattle and Albuquerque. Click here to see playdates and theaters.

If you 're interested in leaning more about the filmmaker, and why and how he was able to make this unusual movie, I suggest clicking here and reading an excellent interview with Mr. Yi by Paul Quinn on

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