Trans Movie Review
Written by Heidi Palazzo
Written and directed by Naeri Do
2021, 92 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Grimmfest UK Premiere on 4th April 2021
Jeongin Hwang as Minyoung Go
Kyungho Yoon as Itae Pi
Taeyoung Kim as Nochul Na
Asian horror is, by far, my favourite in the vast landscape of horror. They know how to experiment with techniques, artfully screw around with the minds of the audience and create a deeply suffocating atmosphere. As expected, when the opportunity arose to review Trans – a Korean addition that proposed to integrate horror with science fiction – I willingly volunteered with as much passion as Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. Sadly, I found myself wanting to escape the continuous loop as desperately as the main character, for different reasons.
The story sounds good on paper and certainly establishes itself well. The opening shows us a group of boys bullying new kid Nochul Na (Taeyoung Kim) with Overwatch quotes (no, seriously), before a female scream alerts the class to an unfortunate dead body dangling from a tree. A detective questions main character Minyoung Go (Jeongin Hwang) as to her involvement, and from this point we are granted an insight into her painful life.
She is withdrawn, evident sadness constantly reflected on her face due to a mix of bullying and bulimia, the latter of which is incorporated into the tactics utilised by her attackers. It is a strong – and accurate – introduction into mental health, and her pain is palpable, especially given that people witness her abuse and are unwilling to offer aid. She soon encounters Itae Pi (Kyungho Yoon), a boy with an electrode in his chest who has a Frankenstein-like secret lab filled with electrical equipment designed to support his increasingly clear messiah complex. He believes depression and eating disorders are distorted consciousness and thus harnesses the power of electricity to ascend to a state of transhumanism – an electrical baptism that alters the mind. The only catch is that it requires Nochul as a conduit, due to his high tolerance of electrical surges after surviving three lightning strikes in his past. Desperate to escape her torment, Minyoung willingly participates and finds herself pulled into confusing, continuous time loops consisting of role reversals, event changes and deadly electrical powers.
I wanted desperately to like this. It has everything I usually appreciate in horror and science fiction fusions, such as time jumps, loops, chaotically arranged scenes and a plot that requires deeper thought, analysis, and multiple viewings to truly piece together the events into a coherent whole. But ultimately, despite these elements being present, the result feels unfocused and lacks depth. The opening third contains promise – especially the exploration of philosophy, science and religion, with questions raised about what constitutes free-will and choice. This, along with depression and eating disorders, demand a stronger sense of focus to truly support the film’s message, questions and the pain suffered by Minyoung, whose journey sadly feels lost in the clutter. The other characters suffer the same fate, with important character development sacrificed for the sake of abstract storytelling.
Despite the criticisms, there are several positive elements scattered throughout the film. The lead performances are strong, and Minyoung’s habitual moroseness captures the feeling of a girl struggling with her own mind and violence at the hands of others. The sound design – seeking to represent a trapped brain splintering – is approached with creativity. There’s deep humming framed by heavy bass, high-pitched ringing that brings the audience as much pain as Minyoung, and music fusing ambience with synthwave. These expertly handled sci-fi ingredients could bring Trans to the cusp of greatness if only the surrounding material supported its ambition.
Ultimately, I believe Trans is many things: A classic revenge tale; Minyoung’s odyssey from lonely, sick girl to transhuman; Empowerment through metamorphosis. It’s just frustrating that none of these angles are given the focus they deserve.
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