'Jane' Review From The NYAFF: A Vibrant Character Barely Used
Jane is marketed as the story of a young woman abandoned by her boyfriend who finds refuge with a transgender woman named Jane. What actually occurs is a lot more complex than that.
The style of this movie is incredibly fragmented — a stylistic choice paired with a cyclical plot that just misses the mark. So-hyun, played by Lee Min-ji, can't seem to escape her fate no matter where she moves, as events repeat over and over in a nightmarish Groundhog Day scenario. Whether anything you see is real, however, is up to interpretation. So-hyun immediately identifies herself as a liar in the beginning of the film and thus begins the confusing journey of trying to separate fact from fiction.
Director and screenwriter Cho Hyun-hoon gives us an extremely unlikable and pitiful protagonist wrapped in a the rags of a compelling tale. This could work well with sympathetic background characters or a more streamlined story, but mostly it just made me want to scream at her to do something useful. So-hyun seems to embody depression; an energy sink who can't seem to stick up for herself. Although Lee Min-jii does a fantastic job of bringing depth to a character that could have easily been wooden and boring, it's impossibly hard to root for her.
Refreshingly, the titular character Jane, played by Gu Gyo-hwan, is a force to be reckoned with and the polar opposite of So-hyun. Her femininity feels realistic instead of over-the-top, and not once is her identity played for laughs. Her formerly perceived sex is only referred to by Jane herself, never by an outside source, and there is no awful moment where the characters flit around the "truth" about Jane. She is treated as what she is: a woman. One with a large, caring heart, and a bevy of emotional and physical problems to boot.
Your eye is drawn to her in each scene, whether in a dramatic moment or a playful bit of kleptomania on the beach. However, it is this magnetism about her character that left me feeling frustrated. Despite the movie being named after her and highlighting the impact she has on So-hyun, we don't get to see Jane much. Instead we're given scraps that barely tide us over before being swept away to another home, another scene, and million unanswered questions.
Once we move away from the shining light that is Jane's character, So-hyun seems to surround herself with her fellow sad, morally grey characters (with the exception of Ji-Soo, played by Lee Joo-young). Her character feels like your typical protagonist — ready to stick up for herself, vibrant, alive. But all too quickly, she's gone as well, and you're left feeling cheated and betrayed.
Jane is a good movie trapped in too much fluff and fantasy with a hook that never quite makes sense. The letter that So-hyun writes throughout the movie never gives you that "Aha!" moment, and the lack of context for flashbacks leaves your brain struggling to catch up. Still, it's worth the watch for the phenomenal actors and a spot-on portrayal of depression. It's just a pity you're never given any real closure.
You can catch Jane playing at the NYAFF on July 13th, which includes a Q&A with director Cho Hyun-hoon and actors Gu Gyo-hwan and Lee Min-ji. Tickets are available here.