Wandering Seoul's mean streets and sporting the greatest bowl cut this side of Moe Howard, Seungchul (writer-director Park) is the dictionary definition of dislocated. A North Korean defector, he ekes out a meager living posting sex ads on public walls. Joy comes in the form of observing a young woman (Kang) who sings in a church choir and is taking care of a puppy; otherwise, this slumping stranger in a strange land is suffering either beatdowns by rival wheatpasters or verbal abuse from everybody else. A moonlighting gig at the karaoke bar where his crush works suggests a glimmer of hope. Fate, however, isn't done with him quite yet.
An attempt to detail the plight of North Koreans in their new homeland, The Journals of Musan doesn't soft-pedal the hardship; Park, however, apparently felt obligated to stack the deck against the film's passive protagonist to a ridiculous degree. His Seungchul is less a stand-in for every immigrant substituting totalitarianism for cutthroat capitalism than a human punching bag, and by the time our hero finally figures out the Golden Rule---you have to be cruel to survive---his humiliation has reached the level of overkill. Still, Seungchul's rotisserie of pain is almost worth enduring just to get to the film's climax: the most knee-jerk tragedy in the world becomes, in Park's hands, one devastating bitter-victory lap.
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