Shin Su-won’s “Light for the Youth” – 2019 Busan Film Review


Many economic worries, social issues and hardships currently afflicting the next generation in South Korea have been captured on contemporary film – with the disastrous results as portrayed in fiction often mirroring real life.  Few directors, however, have been able to exact a gut-wrenching spin on these travails while injecting a more creative, thought-provoking perspective as Shin Su-won.  Her vastly underrated debut feature, “Pluto,” focused on student bullying, unwrapping layers of complicated undertones related to class and cliques.

The title of Shin’s latest, “Light for the Youth” (젊은이의 양지), appears to allude to a glimmer of hope for those in trapped in a country that has recently been coined as “Hell Joseon.” But whether that assumption leads to an optimistic path for today’s Generation Y is ultimately left up to the viewer to decide.  Focusing on the pressures of getting a job and moving up the corporate ladder, the narrative centers on and around Se-yeon (Kim Ho-jung), a middle manager who runs a call center full of young workers like June, an eager and naïve 19-year-old trainee hoping to gain permanent employment.  June and Se-yeon have several conversations, mostly based on chance encounters in the office during rare breaks, that seem to encourage the teenager.  However, it is clear that both generations are overworked and morally conflicted.  The call center workers are actually debt collectors, and Se-yeon is constantly reminded that – as an aging woman who is a single mother – her opportunity to break the glass ceiling is slim to none.

The story turns when, one day, June abruptly disappears.  As Se-yeon looks for clues on his whereabouts, her mostly neglected daughter Mirae (Jeong Ha-dam) is also on an equally desperate search for her elusive first job.  As mother and only child progress further, they are forced to confront whether their respective ideas of self-worth match the extrinsic accomplishments they are chasing.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the employee June in “Light for the Youth” (played by Yoon Chan-young) shares the exact same name and age as the main character in “Pluto” (played by David Lee).  In both cases, the teenagers are fish out of water thrown into cutthroat environments, forcing them to make decisions before fully considering the consequences.  Mirae’s name in Korean translated into English means “future,” yet that is a state that she cannot even begin to fathom when the burdens of the present are so all-consuming.

“The mother is a typical Korean member of the older generation,” Shin said in a post-screening Q&A session at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival on Oct. 5.  The director added that she focused more on Se-yeon’s point of view because the character’s age matched hers in real life.  As for June, Shin felt that a human being’s transition from age 19 to 20 held great significance, because one “should be happy and dream about the future.”

“Throughout this movie, I thought a lot about the gap between generations,” Shin added.  “I would like to apologize to all the younger generations.”

The world premiere of “Light for the Youth” took place at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival. 

Video: 젊은이의 양지 (“Light for the Youth”) Q&A – 2019 Busan International Film Festival (in Korean)
video by Wade-Hahn Chan / Meniscus Magazine