Features Live Action Movies

Next Sohee
(Da-eum So-hee,
다음 소희)

Director – July Jung – 2022 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 134m


A schoolgirl on an internship is appallingly exploited by her employers, and a police detective is called in to investigate – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th

Here’s a film which presents a real problem for reviewers. Something monumental happens in the middle of the film which entirely changes it. It’s a little bit like the shift from the traumatic drama to the police manhunt in High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) and a bit like the infamous shower scene in the middle of Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). And yet, the film is like neither of those classics in any other way (except, perhaps, the fact that it’s a remarkable film that will leave you with an indelible impression afterwards). Still, how much can a reviewer give away without ruining the film for audiences?

It’s very much a film of two halves. The first half centres around Sohee (Kim Se-eun), a star pupil at an average secondary school. She is obsessed with dancing, specifically the kind of dance moves associated with K-pop girl- and boy-bands. Among her friends are another former intern from her school who dropped out of her intern position and now spends her evenings getting paralytically drunk. There is also a boy who used to go to the dance studio too, but gave up after being placed in a job in a factory where he gets bullied on a regular basis.

Believing her a young high school student of great potential, Sohee’s class tutor secures for her an unprecedented opportunity: an internship at a subcontractor to Korean Telecom. She’ll be working in a call centre and couldn’t be more excited.

Once she gets there, though, she finds it’s all about targets and competition. It’s one of a number of company call centres, and there is constant pressure to achieve targets and be better than their rivals. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Fielding customer queries isn’t so bad, and there is a handbook of scripts for dealing with customers. What is required of employees, however, is not to give the customers what they need or want, but to manipulate those customers wanting to terminate their internet contract so that they don’t actually do so. As her manager Lee Jun-ho (Sim Hee-seop) says, the job is about mind-control.

It turns out that most of the girls there are also interns, and the contracts they sign (without looking at them) mean that they don’t get paid any bonuses earned for two months (unless they quit, as many do, in which case they never get paid them at all). Sohee works her back off trying to meet targets, staying on after hours at work and being late to meet up with friends, before she realises she won’t get the bonuses she’d planned on. Everyone there feels the pressure, and her boss is seen to lose it on the phone with a particularly difficult customer who was harassing Sohee until he took over, putting the call on speakerphone for everyone in the office to hear. This results in a furious visit from head office in which he’s told to apologise, although it really wasn’t his fault in the first place. It gets to a point where Lee can’t take it any more, and one morning, he is found dead inside his car in the company car park.

His replacement in post is a far more hard-nosed woman, who constantly pushes Sohee to do better, alienating Sohee’s co-workers who think the new boss is using the girl to up her co-workers’ targets, working for bonuses they will never see. Before long, Sohee gets into a furious row with the new boss, resulting in a three-day suspension. She goes out heavily drinking with her former intern friend, hospitalising herself with alcohol poisoning. She meets up with another friend, but he can’t stay as long as she would wish owing to work pressures, while another boy promises to meet up but fails to show (again, due to work pressures). And then it all becomes too much for Sohee too, and she embarks on the long walk to the reservoir…

When detective Yoo-jin (Doona Bae) becomes involved, her chief has given her the case as a straightforward, open and shut one since Yoo-jin is returning to the force after a long period away. But she quickly realises it is much more complicated than that as she probes into the dealings of the company and what is required of its workforce, much of which puts it on the wrong side of the law. Soon, she’s investigating other institutions as well, among them the school, the local education inspection board and Korean Telecom.

What emerges is a picture of a right-wing society rotten to the core, where vulnerable workers are exploited to boost up company profits regardless of the personal cost to them and overworked government agencies are in no position to stop them. Similarly dubious ethics seem to permeate all levels of society, whether it’s Sohee’s class tutor saying he doesn’t look too closely at the companies to whom he sends interns because he doesn’t want to upset them, or Yoo-jin’s own chief on the force who wants apparent open and shut cases to be shut fast regardless of whether that would mean justice isn’t being done. Given that Sohee’s story is based on a real life case, it’s not a great advert for Korean society, although it IS to its credit that a film like this is allowed to be made.

Kim Se-eun impresses as Sohee, running a wide gamut of emotions from ecstatic dancer and optimistic young girl with her life ahead of her through to every darkening shades of depression as her workplace and the fact that almost everyone she knows – parents, school, friends – expect her to stay there and not bail out. Doona Bae gives one of her best performances to date as the cop Yoo-jin who realises that her apparently routine assignment is anything but, and struggles to hold everything together as she confronts one horrific workplace or social discovery after another. The film is full of clever little details, such as Sohee’s walk to the reservoir in unsuitable sandals contrasted with the workaday lace-up boots worn by Yoo-jin when she follows in the girl’s steps.

Although a tiny UK release without much fanfare, this South Korean entry is one of the strongest and most compelling films you’re likely to see this year. It probably won’t be around long, so put it at the top of your must-see list and go and see it while it can still be found in cinemas.

Next Sohee is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, June 14th.

For a list of dates and venues it’s playing, click here.


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(Da-eum So-hee,
다음 소희)”

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