Written and directed by Chan-wook Park, Simpan (Judgement) is the story of a funeral as it relates to the death of a young woman that a couple claims is their long-lost daughter where its funeral director makes a discovery of his own. The film is the study of loss amidst a series of events in South Korea that played into real-life events involving natural disasters. Starring Gi Ju-bong, Koh In-bae, Kwon Nam-hee, Park Ji-il, Choi Hak-rak, and Myeong Ji-yeon. Simpan is a compelling and provocative short film by Chan-wook Park.
The film revolves around a shopping mall collapse in which a young woman had died with a couple claiming that the young woman is their daughter until the day of the funeral where its director makes a discovery that confuses everyone. It is a short film that doesn’t just play into these real-life disasters that was happening in South Korea as this body that was crushed by this collapse in a shopping mall is the basis for all of this drama that involves a couple, the funeral director, a public servant, a news reporter, and later a young woman who would arrive with claims of her own. There is also this revelation that whoever makes the legitimate claim will receive half-a-million dollars that would add to this sense of ambiguity that is prevalent throughout the film.
Chan-wook Park’s direction is largely intimate as it is set largely in two rooms with one being a cooler for the bodies and beer with another room is where the autopsy happens. Park would intersperse real-life news footage of events ranging from collapsed bridges, tornadoes, and collapsed buildings where the funeral director (Gi Ju-bong) watches it on TV as he is getting ready for the funeral as he meets this couple (Koh In-bae and Kwon Nam-hee) as they’re being filmed by a reporter (Choi Hak-rak) with a public servant (Park Ji-il) being a witness. Much of Park’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots to play into the intimacy as there are a few comical moments of the couple, servant, and director all drinking beer and talking as they try to make sense of what is going on. Even as the presence of a mysterious young woman (Myeong Ji-yeon) arrives with some claims of her own as Park’s direction definitely becomes tighter and more disturbing as the film’s final moments is given a completely different visual presentation following a natural disaster as if something bigger has happened. Overall, Park crafts a chilling and gripping film about people dealing with the loss and the identity of the deceased.
Cinematographer Park Hyun-Cheol does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography ranging from grainy video footage along with some unique lighting for many of the interior scenes. Editor Kim Sang-bum does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with the exception of a few rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense. Production designer Oh Sang-man does amazing work with the look of the two rooms in the film such as the body cooler and the main autopsy room in some of its grimy detail. The makeup work of Heo Jeong-im does nice work with the look of a character but also the design of the body. The film’s music by Choi Hyuck is wonderful for its classical-piano based score that does feature some piano sonatas as it play into some of the dramatic elements of the film.
The film’s superb ensemble cast that includes Myeong Ji-yeon as this mysterious young woman with some claims of her own that would throw everything into chaos as well as Choi Hak-rak as a news reporter who tries to butt in towards private moments as he would also create some turmoil during what is a moment of grief. Park Ji-il’s performance as the public servant is fantastic as someone who is just trying to follow protocol while also trying to make sense of all of this chaos that is around him. The performances of Koh In-bae and Kwon Nam-hee are excellent with the former being this quiet man who is just dealing with loss and later confusion while the latter is wracked with grief as she also tells stories where a few things start to not add up. Finally, there’s Gi Ju-bong in a brilliant performance as the funeral director whose discovery of the body has him claiming that the body is his own long-lost daughter as he copes with the chaos of this discovery as well as what this couple is dealing with.
Simpan is a marvelous film from Chan-wook Park. Not only is it an effective, compelling, and terrifying short film that explores people dealing with grief but also identity and regret. Even as the short would feature elements that would become trademarks of what Park would do in the years to come. In the end, Simpan is a remarkable film from Chan-wook Park.
Chan-wook Park Films: (The Moon is… the Sun’s Dream) – (Trio (1997 film)) – JSA: Joint Security Area - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - (If You Were Me-Never Ending Peace and Love) – Oldboy - Three...Extremes-Cut - Lady Vengeance I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK - Thirst (2009 film) - (Night Fishing) – (60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero) – (Day Trip) – Stoker - The Handmaiden - (The Little Drummer Girl (2018 TV series) - Decision to Leave
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