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Life Track
Life Track

Chui Jin-Hu (left) and Jang So-Yeon (right) in the Chinese-Korean co-production Life Track.
Korean: 궤도
Chinese: 軌道
Year: 2007  
  Director: Jin Guang-Hao

Zhang Lu

  Writer: Jin Guang-Hao
  Cast: Chui Jing-Hu, Jang So-Yeon
  The Skinny: With its extreme visual techniques and nearly dialogue-free storytelling style, Life Track shows that a textbook example of a film school production doesn't necessarily need to be a very good film. Nevertheless, it's a worthy film for curious audiences.
Kevin Ma:
Be sure to take a few film classes before watching Korean-Chinese director Jin Guang-Hao's Life Track. The film challenges multiple cinematic conventions that you might not know exist, and would even serve as a nice film class textbook. From the extended opening shot, showing an armless man rolling and lighting a cigarette with only his feet, one will realize that Jin has taken the idea of shot-reverse shot to the ultimate extreme - every single shot represents the point-of-view of a character in the scene. If the camera is staring at someone, Jin will take that someone's point-of-view for his next shot, turning the camera around to show you whose shoes you just stepped in. There are no establishing shots, no close-ups, and no fourth wall to break. There's not even that much dialogue.

In a way, Life Track is the ultimate docudrama; it literally turns the camera into the characters themselves, seeing what they see through their eyes. This technique forces the audience to pay attention to every single shot just to figure out who's actually in the scene. The reason for this technique is obvious: Life Track's two protagonists an armless man and a deaf-mute woman have so little dialogue or notable character development that the only way the filmmakers can get us to understand their lives is to actually put us in their lives, hoping that we will somehow know the feeling of being both armless and deaf-mute within the film's running time.

The story is simple and paper-thin: the armless man (Chui Jing-Hu) lives alone in a countryside cabin and goes about his life using only his two feet. His physical deformity earns strange looks from everyone he runs into, including the locals and an amorous couple who take drives into his neighborhood. One rainy night, the deaf-mute woman (Jang So-Yeon), seemingly on the run from something, arrives at the armless man's house and he kindly takes her in. The two never speak to each other one doesn't like to talk, and one can't talk back anyway but this unlikely couple stuck in the desolate countryside eventually find some kind of non-verbal understanding.

It's no surprise that Life Track was produced by Zhang Lu, the Chinese-Korean independent filmmaker who directed Desert Dream - which is also coincidentally about two souls who can't communicate with each other and find a non-verbal understanding in a desolate environment. Like Zhang, Jin uses a gimmicky visual technique, and it communicates his intentions effectively. However, Jin milks his technique for all it's worth; some scenes run for parody-worthy length just to show how each character sees others within the same scene, giving the film a very slow, almost too patient dramatic pacing that seems to exist only for its own sake. Also, only Jang seems to have an opportunity to actually act as the deaf-mute woman, and with very little facial expression, Chui seems to have only been cast for his physical ability to use his two feet as four limbs.

As expected, Jin relies heavily on visuals to tell the story. One wonders if he emphasized his visual technique during the pitching process, since one can probably imagine that his script was fairly thin. In fact, I would not be surprised if he worked without a complete script, or just drew the whole film on storyboards. He doesn't even explicitly divulge where the film takes place (the most probable location being China's Yanbian Prefecture, known for its large population of ethnic Koreans), nor does he reveal the characters' names (perfectly sensible since the two characters only have about two lines combined). Characters come and go, with some serving some kind of use to the plot, and some just showing up to add scenes to the film. An audience paying avid attention may find themselves searching for information and relevance in the film's events, and some may end up feeling cheated when they find out that they're not meant to get it.

Like most art films of its kind, Life Track will likely have extremely divided reactions. Some will be the aforementioned audience - frustrated and possibly even bored by what they see but don't know. However, some will applaud the film for its strong use of visual storytelling and its somewhat kind portrayal of the physically handicapped. It's easy to see why the Korean Film Council would award the film with its overseas production grant - a praise-worthy decision, considering the film's zero chance at huge financial success. Regardless of whether one actually likes the film or not, Life Track is nevertheless an achievement in cinematic storytelling worth admiring and even studying. I even have some anticipation for what Jin will do for his follow-up. Will he make the point-of-view technique his visual niche? Or will he instead try to develop an entire film with just characters and exposition, and nearly no visual technique? (Kevin Ma, 2009)


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Ein's M&M
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Soundtrack
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable English and Korean Subtitles

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image credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen