Arresting and Unrelenting, A HAUNTING HITCHHIKE Shines a Glimpse of Hope Amidst a Cold World
Jung-ae (Roh Jeong-Eui) is a 16-year-old girl. She lives with her father. Her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and has decided to give up on life. Jung-Ae then receives a letter from her mother, Young-ok. She has not seen her mother in many years. Jung-ae believes her mom is her last hope and she sets out to find her.
Director: Jeong Hee-jae
Cast: Roh Jeong-eui, Park Hee-soon, Kim Hak-sun, Kim Bo-yoon
Runtime: 108 minutes
A Haunting Hitchhike begins with scenes of the bitter winter cold, as 16-year-old Jung-ae (Roh Jeong-eui) huddles in her rundown home in Seoul and prepares for a short trip the following day with her friend, Hyo-jung (Kim Go-eun) to find Hyo-jung’s estranged father and Jung-ae’s missing mother. While beginning innocently enough, the short trip soon snowballs into a coming-of-age story for the young Jung-ae.
The feature length debut of Korean director Jeong Hee-jae, A Haunting Hitchhike is as unforgiving as winter. While beautifully shot, hardly any solace can be found within its frames and with the broken characters which inhibit them. Yet, it is a film that is astoundingly engaging despite its grim view of life.
Roh Jeong-eui delivers a landmark performance as Jung-ae, the film’s lead. At only 16, she is left to take care of her ailing father alone, after her older sister and mother left years ago. News of her father’s worsening condition serves as the impetus for Jung-ae to search for her mother and elder sister. Almost every turn in her journey is met with disappointment and setbacks, with the kindly yet troubled police officer, Hyung-Woong (Park Hee Soon), being the only exception.
Jung-ae is surrounded by adults that have given up on challenging their fate, such as with her father, Young-ho (Kim Hak-sun), who constantly urges his daughter to give up on him, telling her that he is at peace knowing that he has given up.
Roh, herself still in her teens, perfectly captures the nuances of her role. While she is tenacious, the film’s script and Jeong-eui’s performance shows a spirit that is always on the brink of breakdown. Yet, she soldiers on because it is all she can do. To pull off the character was a staggering task which Jeong-eui knocked out of the park.
The supporting cast does a solid job as well. Kim Go-eun, playing the role of Jung-ae’s friend, Hyo-jung, gives A Haunting Hitchhike much needed light-heartedness whenever both characters share the screen, while pulling her own emotional weight towards the end of the film. Park Hee Soon’s performance of Hyung-Woong, a police officer whom the two girls meet, adds even more depth to the narrative as a broken man who only wants the best for his family.
The film’s lack of a soundtrack and the winter silence allows the desolation of Jung-ae’s journey – each step and each word – to be front and centre while mercilessly grounding its narrative. Meanwhile, excellent use of distance and shadows belies a quiet intensity brewing within our characters. Close-up shots of Jung-ae running towards a distance, blocked by her back, serves as a constant reminder of the unknown end-point of her journey.
A Haunting Hitchhike is a heavy watch and not an easy recommendation. Its lead, Jung-ae, is far too young to face the issues she goes through, while she is surrounded by adults that have resigned to their fate. The theme of broken families resonates for all of its characters. Yet, despite its gloom and its lack of a happy ending, I still took away a strangely life-affirming message from the film. I rooted for Jung-ae not because of her vulnerability, but because she represented the spirit to live.
Catch the movie on 16 November 2019 at Filmgarde Cineplex Bugis, with a Q&A session with director Jeong Hee-jae following the screening. Ticketing information can be found here.
In the meantime, check out the movie’s trailer below:
The Contemporary Asian Cinema Series (CAC) is a new cinematic initiative by Singapore Film Society and Filmgarde Cineplexes to celebrate Asian films in all its diversity and to present critically acclaimed works from emerging and established film directors from the region.
CAC is a fixed monthly programme that bridges the professional film industry with film goers and aficionados through thoughtfully curated film screenings paired with educational and audience engagement elements, such as talks by film critics and programmers, as well as post-screening discussions with the filmmakers and cast, with the aim of building film interest and literacy.