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The boy who drowned in the river: a dual story

Preliminary screenings of the Berlinale International Film Festival (February 15-25, 2018)

Last Child, South Korea, 2017. Director: Shin Dong-seok

An ordinary family with ordinary life, except from the tragedy when they lost their only child, their son, Euchant. The seventeen-year-old boy becomes a hero, since he saved a friend’s life (Kihyun) from drowning in the river where several classmate were playing.

The father and mother are unable to accept their loss. The mother frenetically tries to pack his dead son’s remaining items, and the father tries to contact his son’s friends to ease the pain and guilt what he feels.

Kihyun is the only one who talks to him. The father helps Kihyun, who is a school dropout kid, working as a delivery boy. The father employs him in his small enterprise, he practically adopts him, teaches him.

The parents receive a medal for their son’s heroic action and some money, which they immediately donate for scholarships.

Everything becomes rosy, Kihyun successfully earns his license to become a professional worker, the parents are proud of him and celebrating his success.

Then suddenly Kihyun honestly confesses that Eunchan was not saving his life, that is a falsification that he created. The truth is that Eunchan tried to protect a classmate who was bullied by the others. As a „normal“ reaction, the others including Kihyun turned their bully against Eunchan and killed him in the river.

The parents immediately turn to the police. However, everybody denies their claim, and the whole community, parents, pupils and the school’s teachers turn against the parents.

The mother and father decide that they follow their dead son: selling their company, packing their apartment, and leaving the town.

Kihyun appears to say farewell, and at that moment, the father, because of his helplessness and hopelessness, turns his anger against Kihyun. (This is a beautiful parallel, how the adults act similarly to the bullying children.)

They pretend to invite Kihyun to a picnic, near the river where their son was killed. The father tries to kill Kihyun, but soon he recognizes that it is impossible. Then Kihyun, because of his own guilt, tries to kill himself, which is prevented by the mother.

The last scene is when we can see three of them on the bank of the „killing“ river.

This film is a very powerful drama on the well-known bullying among youngsters and among the adults. The director depicts this rigid and merciless conduct of norms and unwritten rules in the Korean society with depth and sensitivity.

Katalin Ferber