Eunhee Cho’s “Inner Circle Line” – 2006 AAIFF Review

“A love story for losers,” is how the film’s producer Alan Chan described this impressive film in his opening remarks at the 2006 New York Asian American International Film Festival. And indeed, Eunhee Cho’s debut film beautifully captures the complications of love, and the intertwined pain and joy the eternal search for love and connection entails.

The film takes its title from the name for the circular subway line in Seoul, and it becomes a potent metaphor for the lives of its characters. “Inner Circle Line” tells the parallel stories of a man and a woman who both share the same name, Youngju. The female Youngju is a nightclub DJ; the male Youngju is a train operator on the Inner Circle Line. They both lead their own respective lonely, restricted existences: the DJ spins records with almost identical thudding techno beats and the train operator spends his nights driving in a circle. Even though they each have close relationships with others, their painful pasts prevent them from experiencing true happiness. There exists an essential link between these two namesakes that I won’t reveal, since one the joys of this film is in discovering the intricate connections between these characters, and the personal histories that have shaped them.

Cho’s meticulous script is wonderfully attuned to the nuances of the relationships she presents, and brilliantly captures the loneliness of big cities. Shot on digital video, “Inner Circle Line”‘s richly textured visuals serve as effective analogue to her story and characters. Although the film’s style is elliptical and contains elements that echo Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, it is nevertheless very accessible. Cho’s film proves that beyond the blockbuster hits and crowd pleasers, there exists in Korea a vital independent scene, of which “Inner Circle Line” is a prime example.