In Between Days from director So Yong Kim is the story of teenage Korean immigrant teenager Aimie (Jiseon Kim) and her sort of boyfriend Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), going through pretty typical growing pains. Typical in the sense that I think the movie would have been 90% or more identical if it had been the story of your run of the mill American-born Caucasian teens.
So it’s about stuff like smoking, partying, whether or not to have sex, trying to sort “just friends” feelings from romantic feelings from sexual feelings, petty jealousies over who likes whom or is talking to whom, video games, cell phone communication of minimal substance, indifference toward school, parents who are almost totally irrelevant and unaware (and vice versa by the way–the rare times the film shows that the main character’s mother has some sort of independent life, the daughter is mostly uninvolved and unaware of it), petty thievery type teen crime, etc.–all stuff that has nothing in particular to do with being Korean or the immigrant experience per se.
The style of the movie is a kind of minimalist realism. And actually it’s the playing out of that style that to me is one of the most admirable things about the film, and one of the things that made it often quite boring. It almost feels like what you’d get if you followed a real teen through a few weeks of her life and captured all the mundane details of what she does, how she interacts with people, what’s on her mind, etc. Actually it’s more realistic than that, because in that case you’d have people acting differently because of their awareness of the camera.
But real life is and isn’t very interesting. On the one hand, I like something to be this real, and in fact in my own personal history films I try to present what a person and what a life is really like, so I’m certainly sympathetic to this approach. On the other hand, you sacrifice a lot of entertainment potential with this approach.
Plus, with a nonfiction personal history film about someone who’s important in your life, I think it’s easier to care about the details rather than just highlights, and to want to get inside a person and see them being very real. When we’re talking about a fictional character, I have to think most people will find it even harder to fully empathize and to want to know more about the person’s routine struggles through an ordinary life.
In Between Days is also more like real life than like a movie in that there’s little sense of a story with a beginning, middle and end. More like a middle, middle, and middle. One of the reasons it was harder for me to care about the characters is nothing was done at the beginning to establish who they are, where they are, what point of their lives they’re at, etc. It has more the feel of being dropped into their lives at some random point and watching from there. You then can gradually infer some of that information as you watch from that point on, but I did find myself a little frustrated that I spent so much of the movie puzzled over the basic “Yeah, but who are these people and what are they doing?” type questions.
In a sense the subject matter of the film is a downer too. Not because there’s horrific violence or poverty or racial conflicts or any of that, but simply because the regular life of regular fifteen years olds (or whatever these characters are) is traumatic in its own mundane way. Falling for somebody and not knowing if it’s reciprocated, jealousy, dealing with the consequences of your own immaturity and irresponsibility and that of those around you, conflicts with parents and authority figures, etc.–this can be pretty painful and awkward stuff, especially at that age when you really haven’t had the experience with life to have developed coping strategies or a thicker skin. This movie is so realistic that it makes it easier to relive that period of life vicariously, but is that a good thing?
Plus it takes place in some cold and miserable looking unidentified (I think) North American city (I looked it up later and found that it’s set in Toronto), which makes it all that much gloomier.
If this were a John Hughes type, mainstream but somewhat intelligent, commercial movie about teenagers, it would surely deal with a lot of these same issues–since they are pretty universal–but it would do so with hotter girls, more humor, more music, more of a conventional plot, probably at least a somewhat happy ending that leaves you with something to feel good about, etc. I have to admit I would almost certainly enjoy such a movie more than In Between Days, even though when all is said and done I’d probably regard In Between Days as the superior movie.
So I applaud the filmmaker and respect the effort, even if subjectively I was more bored than not while watching this movie.