Juni lives in a city far away from our own. But every Indian metropolis has a version of this corporate drone who is glued to her smartphone during her commute, survives on take-out meals and falls asleep to the comforting hum of the television.
Juni is the central character of a very different kind of K-drama. South Korean director Hong Sung-eun’s assured directorial debut Aloners (2021), which is out on MUBI, explores urban alienation, familial estrangement and the influence of communication devices on relationships.
Juni is the star employee at a credit card company. Apart from soothing conversations with disgruntled customers and occasional chats with a neighbour, Juni barely speaks to anybody, not even her father. When this neighbour dies, soon after the death of Juni’s mother, she begins to question her self-imposed solitude.
Hong’s film, which she has also written, brings to a barebones story a tightly controlled storytelling style. Precisely framed and uncluttered shots reveal the contours of Juni’s neatly ordered life. The editing reflects the subtle shifts in Juni’s journey. The motif of communication is imaginatively explored, whether it is in Juni’s workplace experiences or the unusual manner in which she finds a way to stay in touch with her father.
The dispassionate performances, which include an impressive turn by lead actor Gong Seung-yeon, might not prepare us adequately for the denouement. Yet, Hong’s directorial debut marks her as an exciting new voice in South Korean cinema.