WTF ASIA 110: Thread of Lies (2014)
As the United States of America celebrates its independence from monarchical tyranny, WTF ASIA presents the worst possible idea for a sequel to Inside Out.
On the internet. Approximately 115 minutes.
Since their father passed away nine years ago, teenage sisters Man-ji and Cheon-ji have been raised by their mother Hyun-sook. Her job at a grocery store keeps them living comfortably, but modestly. So when younger sister Cheon-ji asks for an mp3 player (because everyone has one), Hyun-sook refuses. It is later in the day that she changes her mind, mostly because Cheon-ji rarely asks for anything and there was something odd about the way that she asked for it. She calls Man-ji to ask what kind of mp3 player Cheon-ha might want. Man-ji does not know either, so she calls her sister, but Cheon-ji does not answer. Instead, Cheon-ji commits suicide.
Note: the movie does not show her killing herself, nor does it show her corpse. It is highly implied, however, that she hung herself.
Some time afterwards, Hyun-sook and Man-ji move to a small apartment somewhere else in the city. It is cramped and dirty and has rats. Their next door neighbor is a long-haired guy named Sang-bak. Heâ€¦tries to help get rid of the rats, but he proves to be rather useless. And the guy in charge of the apartment complex charges them way too much. There is one plus side, though; they live near a pretty good Chinese restaurant that is run by the parents of one of Cheon-jiâ€™s classmates.
Man-ji, still in grief, is upset at herself for not knowing why Cheon-ji would kill herself. She was nice, smart, always smiling, and rarely asked for anything outside of that mp3 player. Man-ji was the grumpy one. So what happened? Man-ji decides to her sisterâ€™s classroom to find out if her former classmates knew anything.
Man-ji focuses on her new neighbor, Hwa-yeon. She had been Cheon-jiâ€™s best friend for a few years, though Man-ji senses that something was up regarding that friendship. She remembers meeting them together once; Hwa-yeon asked Man-ji to treat them for snacktime and then laughed at her to her other friends when the meal turned out to be less fancy than her request.
During their conversation, Hwa-yeon doesnâ€™t so much express grief over her friendâ€™s death as she does show an anxious mask of defensive friendliness, making Man-ji even more suspicious. It turns out that the mp3 player was meant for Hwa-yeon as a pre-birthday present, despite the fact that her family is financially much better off than Cheon-jiâ€™s thanks to the Chinese restaurant and that she probably would not have much use for the mp3 player anyways in this age of super handphones.
What Man-ji does not realize, at least not yet, is that Hwa-yeon had framed Cheon-jiâ€™s giving her the mp3 player as a symbol for the re-affirmation of their friendship and pretty much badgered her into getting it. Man-ji also does not know that Hwa-yeon had, for several years, invited Cheon-ji to her birthday party an hour after everyone else and then mocked her along with her other friends via texting. Hwa-yeon pretended that she was not doing this and Cheon-ji pretended that she did not knowâ€¦at least until the day that she killed herself. Regardless of what Man-ji does not yet know, she starts acting really cold towards Hwa-yeon.
In an attempt to maintain some form of control over the situation, Hwa-yeon tries to act helpful in Man-jiâ€™s quest to uncover the truth, giving her Cheon-jiâ€™s leftover stuff from school (minus a few items) and directing the blame away from her. It doesnâ€™t really work. Not only that, her partners in bullying start to turn against her, shunning her in the classroom and calling her out on her behavior towards Cheon-ji. Hwa-yeon retorts that none of them stood up for Cheon-ji or tried to be her friend and that several of them were perfectly fine with participating in Hwa-yeonâ€™s tricks. It has been decided, however, that Hwa-yeon can be thrown under the bus. They all claim that they never really liked her; they only hung out with her because she was always giving them free food and other stuff in her bid to remain Queen Bee.
Thread of Lies, also known as Elegant Lies, was number one at the South Korean box office when it premiered. And while it did not necessarily last long in theaters, it still fared well against several Hollywood blockbusters. On possible reason was because it hit home hard. It addresses the real problem of suicide in South Korea. It also is about peopleâ€™s need to feel valued and liked, even if that need leads to putting up with terrible behavior. I cannot say for certain how accurate was the depiction of Cheon-jiâ€™s depression or actions on the day that she decided to commit suicide. However, her attempts to hide it from her mother and sister felt real to me. Just as she accepted her role as the class target of scorn, she also had accepted her role in her family as the joyous little girl, who never asked for anything, never complained, and was always useful. At the same time, she did leave many hints that they just ignored, simply because they did not understand the significance of what she was saying. In retrospect, the hints were as subtle as a hammer, though. And while they may try to put on a brave face to the outside world, they cannot help but blame themselves in private.
There is also the theme about bullying. Most of the focus is on the verbal manipulation, low-level shunning, and passive-aggressive cyberbullying that Cheon-ji experienced. There is, however, the threat of abuse (including the physical kind) towards other characters, suggesting that bullying of all types is both rampant in South Korea and condoned. There is a reluctance to admit fault (let alone apologize) as well as a tendency to deliberately blame a weaker person for the actions of a stronger one. It is never exactly clear why Hwa-yeon and the other mean girls targeted Cheon-ji in the first place and stuck with her. Maybe it was for no other reason than that Cheon-ji did not fight back hard enough, eventually just accepting her lot in life until she decided to end it. As guilty as Hwa-yeon was, she was right that no one else came to Cheon-jiâ€™s aid and even took part in making her life miserable. And once Cheon-ji could no longer be used as a target, it is decided that Hwa-yeon can be both the scapegoat for righteous anger and the replacement target for bullying. While there may be some brief delight in seeing Hwa-yeon get a taste of her own medicine, it is clear that few of the other girls will actually be called on their behavior and the social systems that fostered such behavior will remain firmly in place. Hwa-yeon is just as vulnerable to the callous comments of her peers as Cheon-ji was. She kept Cheon-ji in her place in order to keep herself from slipping into Cheon-jiâ€™s place, but she eventually failed. Hwa-yeon is not simply a bad apple, but the product of a poisoned forest.
There are a whole bunch of coincidences that have characters know each other without realizing that they both know other characters, though it turns out that one coincidence is not really a coincidence. This kind of bugs me, but maybe the sheer frequency of thisâ€¦ermâ€¦ties into the thread analogy that everything is connected whether or not one realizes it. And there is no real escape from these connections. At the same time, South Korean society is one of relationships between people, but maybe they do not know (or think to find out) more about each other outside of their direct connections.
This movie is very sad, though it is not a complete tearjerker. Hyun-sook and Man-ji keep their wallowing in grief to a minimum, choosing instead to maintain at least the faÃ§ade of normalcy with humorous banter. There are also plenty of humor from side characters, from the neighbor, to Hyun-sookâ€™s balding co-worker, to her delusional ex-boyfriend. Keep in mind, though, that those characters are not always funny; the humorous parts make theâ€¦less humorous partsâ€¦more effective. One really minor character, however, is always good for a laugh: one of Cheon-jiâ€™s classmates, who has absolutely no patience for anyoneâ€™s nonsense. Okay, maybe you will not find her to be funny, but I do.
This may not be the type of movie to watch during a celebratory weekend. Then again, you donâ€™t have to bow to the pressure to watch the fireworks like everyone else. Watch this movie insteadâ€¦or donâ€™t.
WTF ASIA 111: 15 Park Avenue (India: 2005, approx. 125 minutes)
Free on Youtube
WTF ASIA 112: Gozu (Japan: 2003, approx. 130 minutes)
I cannot find any subtitled version on the internet.