Film Review: Stateless Things at Reel Asian

Courtesy of Reel Asian
Courtesy of Reel Asian

My apologies for the belated review! Keep reading to find out what I thought of Stateless Things (줄탁동시), the fascinating and unexpected film from Kim Kyung-mook (김경묵).

Stateless Things (줄탁동시)

The film starts out telling two separate stories of two guys who are leading very different lives. One, Jun, is a young North Korean refugee who is working at a gas station in Seoul. His boss is a complete exploitative ass and he’s starting to have feelings for a young woman, an ethnic Korean from China, who also works at the horrible gas station. The other, Hyeon, is a young gay man who is living off of his sugar daddy, a married middle-aged man who is crazy possessive. Their lives couldn’t seem more different but yet as the film progresses, we see how cut-off both men are from society. Finally, the two narratives come together when they meet online. 

While the film is not for everyone and definitely leans towards being more artsy than I normally enjoy, I found the ending so intensely intriguing that I wanted to watch it again because I was sure I missed some essential part to the story. Was I missing something? What did the ending mean? Were they actually two different characters? So many questions swirled through my head that I simply sat for a moment afterwards and reviewed it in my head. It’s one of those films that will make you think. Not just about the film itself but about the bigger picture of people who are marginalized in society. And it doesn’t matter which society you live in, there will be some who are being marginalized. But I’ll get off my high horse now!

Yeah, it’s a deep film and it’ll probably make you think. But it’s also an interesting story, with some beautifully shot scenes. Did it drag a little at times, sure? Was it a little dark and explicit? Definitely, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a explicit scene as the bathroom one. But for all that, I enjoyed Stateless Things. The acting was superb and the characters came alive.

And like always, I loved listening to the director after the film.  It’s one of the perks of attending film festivals, being able to hear about the film from the director. You can always learn such fascinating things. It always makes things so much clearer, even in films where I don’t have questions about the film. If you get the chance, watch a film – any film that the director is in attendance – at a film festival and stay for the Q & A session after the film. It will give you interesting insight on the film, story and the whole film-making process. No joke, do it!

For example, did you know there is no film censorship at film festivals in Korea (one of the interesting tidbits I learned) but there is if the film is to be released in theatres (just like our rating system in Canada). The bathroom/toilet scene in the film was blurred so it could be released in theatres in Korea – we saw the un-blurred version and even in Canada that scene would cause some issues with the ratings board.

And on a final note, it wasn’t just me that enjoyed Stateless Things, it won the Fasken Martineau Best Feature Film Award at Reel Asian.

Reel Asian

I love the Reel Asian film festival and was extremely disappointed that I was only able to attend the first two days of it. Unfortunately I had prior commitments – my trip to New York/New Jersey to see Big Bang – and was only able to see one of the three Korean films that were screening this year. Which really sucked as all three films sounded amazing! Luckily, I was able to send Nicole – a new writer on Life’s an Adventure 2 – to see Architecture 101 (건축학개론) so we do have reviews of two of three films. So sorry that we don’t have one for A Fish (물고기) – which was the first 3D film screened at Reel Asian. Did you see any of the three Korean films at Reel Asian? Please leave a comment with your thoughts if you did!

Courtesy of Reel Asian
Courtesy of Reel Asian

Bonus Review: Opening night film – First Time

First Time is a Chinese film that’s based on the Korean film …ing (아이앤지) (cool name for a film). Knowing that it was based on a Korean film I knew I had to see it (even if I haven’t seen the original Korean film – it’s next on my list).

This was a sweet but sad love story but with a twist (or rather more than one) about two university aged people – the girl is a student with a medical condition and the boy is a musician with a bit of a wild side. They meet, fall in love and for the first half of the film, it’s cute but not unlike many chick flicks… and then comes the first twist. Things aren’t entirely as they appear and we are told the story again but from a different perspective/voice. This is where the film goes from being cute to really interesting.

Without giving too much away – I’d rather you see First Time (and the original Korean film that inspired it, …ing). Because I definitely recommend it, I really enjoyed the film, with its sweet & poignant love story and twists – it will keep you entertained. The director’s use of cassette tapes in a modern film was intriguing and positively added to the overall story. I will, however recommend you bring tissues! You’ll cry… I certainly did! I know I cry easily at films but I wasn’t the only one. It’s a fabulous date film. 😛 So cute! Plus it doesn’t hurt that Mark Chao, the male lead acter is super hot (and a Taiwanese-Canadian, yay Canada!).


Stateless Things will make you think but might be embarrassing to watch with your parents or on a first date (definitely worth watching though). First Time is the perfect date night film or girl’s night out film. I liked them both for different reasons. What about you? Have you seen either of them? What did you think?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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