Junha’s Planet, directed by Hong Hyung-sook, is a sensitive, visually compelling, observation of an eleven-year-old boy as he, his parents and the school community strive to make it through the school year in harmony. Artistic means convey Junha’s experience of the world, beginning with the beautiful opening scene in which the children are seen on a school trip, playing on the beach. Junha appears briefly in the frame, and then moves out of it. The scene is an apt analogy for Junha’s situation in school: he is there with the others, yet he is also elsewhere, inside his mind; missing out on the fun and learning, and very much alone.
Junha himself is painfully aware of his predicament. In a very early scene, he is seen sitting alone, holding a glue stick, and admonishing himself in the third person: “You hit your friends.” Perhaps he is merely repeating words that he has heard from parents and teachers, yet even if he does not fully comprehend the meaning of the words, his unhappiness is palpable.
Watching the typical classroom buzz as students chatter, jostle one another and have a cheerful go at assigned tasks, Junha’s difference from his classmates is clear and dramatic. He often resists going to school and once there, is reluctant to participate. His interactions with the other students are problematic. His classmates do not include him in games and conversations, this alienation is compounded by the fact that Junha hits and spits. Cherry and Villager, Junha’s parents, are anxious and heartbroken, and the school staff seem to have more questions than answers for them. Yet it is clear that all care deeply about Junha’s well-being. As Yellow-green, the special ed teacher muses in a meeting: “I keep asking myself is Junha happy?”
Following Junha over the course of the year, the film’s close observation lets the viewer approach a sense of his life and feelings. The efforts, caring and creativity of his teachers, the changes introduced in the classroom in order to help Junha, and the changes in the other students as they learn and grow through this experience, are profoundly moving and inspiring.
Screening times: Thursday, May 23 at 10:30, cinematheque 4; Thursday, May 30 at 12:15, cinematheque 3. Tickets may be ordered online via the Docaviv website.
South Korea, 2019, 108 min, Korean, Hebrew & English subtitles
Director: Hong Hyung-sook; Production: Kang Seok-pil; Editing: Lee Yeon-jung; Cinematography: Juhwan Lee; Music: Minwhee Lee.