“Jane,” or “꿈의 제인”, is the second-to-last installment of the Nam Center’s film series, Korean Cinema NOW, and also a film that left a good majority of its audience in a state of enchantment, wonder, contemplation, and, most prevalently, confusion.
Whatever preconception you may have about the film is probably wrong. I went in with only the barest sense of the movie’s premise, and yet I had already formed a vague idea about what the film might include: as an indie movie screened at the Busan film festival, I was expecting a cinematic, warmhearted movie with occasional moments of lighthearted humor, cozy familial dynamics between its characters, a social commentary neatly packaged into two artful hours.
However, this film defied all of those expectations. It lingers with you long after the credits start rolling, and has an almost-unsettling effect. Interestingly enough, “Jane” does actually include those aforementioned elements, but it also has so, so much more. For starters, the movie’s winding, non-linear plot is extremely hard to pin down; the narrative initially seems concrete enough, but viewers gradually begin to realize that the certain events, symbols, and images are repeated in different settings and contexts, and the dream-like side of the film begins to take hold. After a while, viewers are unable to discern the ‘dream’ from reality, something that the film’s director, Cho Hyun-Hoon, ensured was an intentional effect.
Something to note is that the literal translation of “꿈의 제인” is “Dream of Jane”. My initial conception of the film was that Sohyun, the protagonist, through Jane’s guidance, would find peace with herself while also discovering aspects of Jane’s past and dreams for the future. However, as the film unwound and became more convoluted, I began to wonder if “Dream of Jane” is less of the ‘Jane’s Dream’ interpretation than it is of ‘Jane is the Dream’. Because as the plot unfolded, I became more aware of the protagonist, and the film begins to narrow in on her psyche, becoming more of a psychological study than a feel-good movie (opposite to my expectations.) The unsettling ways in which Sohyun manipulates the people in her life to fit her narrative, or for her personal uses, all with a blameless, unassuming face, forces the viewer to take a step back and try and separate fiction from reality, and realize with dawning awareness that she is not to be trusted. “Jane” is not, in fact, about Jane at all; instead, it is a film about a lonely, manipulative girl with abandonment issues, and how she is able to mesh together fiction and reality so cohesively that even the audience is unable to see the truth.
From a socio-cultural perspective, I thought it was interesting how the film addressed topics that are taboo in South Korean culture, such as eating disorders, mental illness, and suicide. However, I was significantly disappointed with the way Jane was portrayed. I think that transgender rights and experiences in South Korea are issues that had so much potential for exploration, and I was let down by how the film focused more on Sohyun and her narrative. I am still trying to decide if the director made Jane a transgender character in order to reduce her unconventional identity to some sort of metaphor or plot device (because her lived experience as a South Korean transgender woman is never really outrightly addressed or mentioned at all), or not.
Plot-wise, I am still very confused about the logistical timeline of events. I am also unsure about the actual nature of the “business” the group is conducting, and the true nature of Jung-ho and Sohyun’s relationship. But most importantly, where does the dream end, and where did it begin? I would love to talk to someone about these questions; if you managed to catch the screening of this film, please drop a comment down below!
Image credits: HanCinema