NYAFF 2019: MAGGIE is an Inexplicable Series of Curious Things

The New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 28 to July 14. For more information, click here.

Yi Ok-seop’s Maggie is the damnedest thing.

It’s by far one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen in all my years of attending the New York Asian Film Festival. As it goes, whenever I see a film this bizarre, all I want to do is just recount everything that happens verbatim and end the review right there. But to do that wouldn’t do much to get at the very specific tone that Maggie strikes, a kind of impassive dadaism that for all its zoned out digressions, never quite manages to tip into all-out surreality. It’s a comedy, and it definitely earns its laughs.

Really, it’s less a narrative than just a series of things that happen. But not quite in an affected or disjointed way as such, more in the sense of a stream of consciousness style of storytelling. From where we begin, it’s impossible to figure out where we might be going. And when we get there we’re still not quite sure how it happened. But here we are, regardless.

I can’t say I actually know what it’s all supposed to mean, but I definitely enjoyed my time with these batshit medical professionals and the municipal workers who love them.

To even describe what happens in Maggie seems like a pointless gesture, like trying to put a fever dream down on paper, but I have to job to do so here we go anyway…

In a certain sense, it almost seems wrong to even try and explicate the proceedings in the first place. Suffice to say that there’s a very sexual x-ray that becomes a cause for alarm among the people who work at Love of Maria Hospital, and the fallout from that incident is… bemusing, mostly.

Mostly we follow Nurse Yeo, who mistakenly believes she and her boyfriend might be responsible for the x-ray in question (though it turns out there are rather more suspects than anyone initially assumes). She decides to resign, but the wheedling attempts of Vice President of Orthopedics Dr. Lee to soft pedal her out of the job change her mind and she instead decides that’s she’s not going anywhere.

Other things happen from there, and then the movie is over.

The movie is narrated by the title character, whose nature isn’t clear at first; arguably it’s not significantly clearer after we find out said nature. But it’s just another curious thing in a movie that’s mostly curious things.

Gradually, almost without us in the audience noticing, the film shifts focus from Nurse Yeo to her boyfriend Sung-won, who gets a job filling in the sinkholes that have become a common problem in earthquake plagued South Korea. And perhaps here we begin to get to the overlying theme that connects all the random incidents of the film: trust.

In one way or another, most of the diversions and anecdotes that fill the film’s short running time involve trust and honesty, be it misplaced or hard earned. And with the same inexplicability as everything else, the love between Nurse Yeo and Sung-won becomes a breeding ground for doubt about the nature of… well, pretty much everything.

I’m not gonna lie to you guys; the fact that I was able to suss out a coherent theme at all just now comes as a pretty big shock to me. Maggie is a truly strange movie, but it’s strange in a way that is hard to even put into words. Part of that might be the unassuming way it goes about being weird, which is to say that it treats every odd occurrence under the sun as a perfectly normal, maybe even inevitable turn of events. And the note on which it ends on seems both utterly arbitrary and undeniably fitting.

Look, I have spent over 600 words trying to describe what this movie is, and I have failed utterly. It exists and should be seen. I encourage you, yes you gentle reader, to watch Maggie, if only so you can describe it back to me.

Maybe together, we can figure it all out…

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