NYAFF 2017: Lee Byung-hun Regrets a Life Misspent in Korean Drama SINGLE RIDER

Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun leads melancholy drama Single Rider (aka A Single Rider), which just screened at the New York Asian Film Festival.

This is, at its core, a cautionary tale about misplaced priorities of work over family — a particularly relevant lesson when one considers Korea’s punishing corporate business culture.

A career-driven financial manager’s world is turned upside-down when his company goes under, the result of a culture of dishonest sales tactics in which he shares culpability. The sudden loss of both his employment and reputation is a staggering blow, and puts into sharp focus his neglect of his family. His relationship with his wife and child is a long-distance one — they live in Australia, an arrangement which has been convenient for him but erosive to their connection.

With nothing to hold him back to his life, he makes the trip to Australia unannounced to salvage the one thing he has left — but as he is about to meet his wife who is unaware of his arrival, he sees that she is close friends with her male neighbor. Too close for comfort. Rather than announce his presence, he slinks to the shadows to see more.

Increasingly withdrawn, he keeps to himself and shuns human engagement, speaking only to another woman that has tried to befriend him upon learning that he is a fellow Korean. He is a stranger and voyeur of his own wife and child, slowly coming to grips with the realization that they may be better off without him.

The film is a rather slow burn, and a mopey, repetitive piano and strings score doesn’t help matters in the least. But the narrative eventually works its way to a very emotionally engaging place when all the dominoes being set up start to fall. It would be very easy to slip into spoiler territory on this one, but suffice it to say that later revelations provide earlier scenes with new context, and viewers who pay attention are rewarded by a chilling portrait of a life of wrong choices.

A/V Out.

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