Directors – Jung Jae-ik, Seo Tae-soo – 2021 – South Korea – 97m
Recovering from an accident that’s left him disabled, an honest but naive man falls prey to both social welfare bureaucracy and scam artists – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
Jae-gi (Jo Min-sang) wakes up in hospital to discover that he’s lost the use of both his left arm and his body from the waist down. Much less disabled fellow patient Bong-su (Song Min-hyuck) assures him he’ll get level 1 or 2 social security assessment – Bong-su has got level 2. Watching his assessment interview, however, it’s clear Bong-su knows how to game the system in his favour, playing limbs as painful, so he can’t move them, not being able to walk even the occasional step. This contrasts with Jae-gi’s assessment, where he tries to be honest and shows everything he can do with maximum effort. This gets him assessed as a woefully inadequate level 5, which means in effect he can’t get the level of help he needs to live in a dignified manner.
His cousin Eun-ju (Han Tae-gyeong) is a single parent mum living in the flat Jae-gi’s mum left him. It’s not suitable for him because of its stairs, but ownership of the property penalises him when he tries to get help. Time and again the vicissitudes of the social services, employment law and related state subsidies, and other possible benefit or grant sources trip him up, chiefly because he’s been assessed at far too low a level.
Byeong-ho (Lim Ho-jun) befriends him and [puts him in touch with a lawyer to litigate on his behalf (cost $5 000) and a bowling competition which promises to pay him handsomely. He even sorts out Jae-gi’s immediate modility problem by putting him in touch with Bong-su, who turns out to live in Jae-gi’s building and is happy to give him and electric mobility scooter Bong-su doesn’t really need. There’s something not quite right about Byeong-ho, and when he interviews Eun-ju for a cleaning job by taking her to a restaurant, with the consequences that follow, he appears even worse.
Populated with a healthy mixture of disabled and non-disabled actors, this is a searing indictment of the inadequate state bureaucracy that underpins many social welfare systems the world over as well as the fact that there are always unscrupulous individuals and members of the professional classes intent on making as much personal gain out of the misery of the victims of such injustice as they possibly can.
Awoke plays in LKFF, The London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th.
LKFF 2021 Trailer: