After winning several prizes, at a variety of film festivals, for her short films: Allergy, A Familiar Taste and Wednesday Prayer Group, director, Kim In-seon's debut feature film Adulthood is a tender and funny first effort. While not overwhelming it, at least, has the merit to put the spotlight on an interesting new filmmaker whose next steps are definitely worth following.
Coming home from her father’s funeral, 14-year-old Kyung-un (Lee Jae-In, I Can Speak) finds her life invaded by her feckless uncle Jae-min (Um Tae-Goo, The Age of Shadows), a gigolo who preys on lonely, middle-aged women. No sooner has he manoeuvred himself into position as her legal guardian (her mother walked out when she was an infant) then he’s made off with her father’s life-insurance pay-out. Kyung-un goes on the warpath for restitution, but is inexorably drawn into Jae-min’s plan to scam Jum-hee (Seo Jung-Yeon, In Between Seasons), the unmarried owner of a pharmacy.
In Adulthood, the character doing the growing up is not the most obvious. When we meet Kyung-un it is clear that she has already been living as an adult for some time. The strength of Kim In-seon and her co-writer Park Geum-Buem’s script (the latter directed his first feature film, Girl on the Edge back in 2015) is not resorting to overdramatic flashbacks between the little girl and her late father to make the audience understand it. Kim In-seon only needs to have us witness Kyung-un’s daily chores to convey this perfectly. Therefore, when her estranged uncle Jae-min resurfaces, it is quickly apparent who the responsible person is. This is not a new idea (for instance Shane Black used a similar idea two years ago in The Nice Guys) but Kim In-seon has the merit of treating it with a certain degree of freshness.
In addition to subverting the traditional scheme of this type of situation, Kim In-seon also focusses on her characters' evolution without resorting to the same usual scenarist schemes often used in these type of films. This goes as much for Kyung-un and Jae-min's relationship as it does for the duo and Jum-hee, a character who, in a lot of other films, tends to be subjected to the worst imaginable clichés. This aspect is where Adulthood particularly reaches its target. Even if sometimes these moments seem quite common - for instance the inevitable bond that develops between Kyung-un and Jun-hee - it never strikes as predictable, which is a welcome factor coming from a first-time director.
What also clearly transpires through the situations lived by the three main protagonists is that the film is also about loneliness. Despite being fiercely rejected (and rejecting) others, all three characters are deeply lonely and ultimately trying to fill the gaps in their lives.
In addition to Kim In-seon’s clever script and restrained direction, Adulthood’s indelible charm significantly relies on its trio of fantastic actors. Lee Jae-In is far from your typical resourceful child and she just lets the right amount of fragility transpire in Kyung-un’s shell, whilst Um Tae-Goo brings the right balance of annoying childishness and hidden depth to Jae-min, a role usually propitious to exaggeration. Finally, Seo Jung-Yeon whom just needs a few evocative stares to communicate unfathomable sadness.
All of this makes an accomplished debut from a talented director who is worth watching in the future.