“The Senior Class” (» Jol-Up-Ban») bring us the story of a group of art students approaching their graduation, and how while most of them spend the time focusing on their final projects, some see their worlds collapse.
Jung-woo has been in love with his beautiful and talented classmate Ju-hee for some time, but has never mustered the nerve to even have a conversation with her, instead he tries to reflect his attraction for Ju-hee in a web comic he publishes under a pseudonym. Dong-hwa, his more cynical and careless friend is always looking for a chance to get laid with any girl he can find, not caring about the consequences or her feelings, an aspect that we see reflected on his dedication (or more accurately his lack of…) on his art, since even when graduation is mere days away, he has not even started his project. Jun-hee, who is considered by her classmates as the most talented, shows an unexpected complexity with a labyrinth as her final project.
One day, trying to avoid being confronted by the last girl he broke up with, Dong-hwa ask Jung-woo to run an errand from his work and make a deliver to an exotic club. This ends up with Jung-woo accidentally discovering that Ju-hee works there as a prostitute to make a living, and to save money so she can studying abroad after graduation. Jung-woo promises to keep the secret, and this is the beginning of a secret friendship that allows Jung-woo to see a different side of Ju-hee, although at the same time this starts to change his feelings toward her, or more accurate his idea of what a romance was.
As you might guess, the secret about Ju-hee’s double life is found out and spread thru the school, making a lot of people that were secretly jealous of her beauty and talent, to treat her as a pariah, while others try to take advantage of her. All this change towards Ju-hee makes Jung-woo wonder if he really knew the people he considered his friends or if he has just been living in a false reality where even him could have been just wearing a mask, hiding a twisted and resentful being.
The film was directed by Hong Deok-pyo, and written and produced by Yeon Sang-ho ( writer and director of Train to Busan, Seoul Station, the Fake and King of Pigs) “The Senior Class” is a social study that pull no punches about double standards, the hypocrisy in society regarding sex and its taboos, and is also a reflection about the reality shock than comes that most of us receive when we transition from the careless young student life into adulthood, when everything stops being so easy to judge in a criteria of “white or black”. As the other Yeoh Sang-ho’s films (that I highly recommend, by the way) the characters presented here are flawed persons, some without the courage to see themselves as they are, and others with false hopes of improving themselves. Although we might not be able to identify ourselves with some of the characters, is possible we know someone like them, therefore understand them or their motivations.
There are some details that might get lost in the cultural translation, but I am sure any one can perceive the notion about how the sexuality and its taboos apply very differently depending if you are a man or a woman, and how we react when a person falls short to the perception (or idealization ) we have of her/him, without first taking a good look at ourselves. There were a couple of turns in the story that I was not expecting, more specifically, about how the main characters respond to a crisis, and how some layers of their personalities arise on the worst possible moments, but I guess that is exactly the purpose of the story: to show us that anyone can be a cold, uncaring person if we get push at the wrong moment.
The animation and the character’s design is a lot more detailed and esthetic than the one we saw in “Seoul Station” (that in turn was a HUGE improvement over the previous Yeon Sang-ho’s films) it might be not very attractive to the fans of Japanese animation, but I have no doubts that very soon we will see great animated films from this studio if they keep improving their style, since at least on the story department, they are on a very high level. Personally I liked the animation a lot in the general context, and LOVED the animation used to show the story that Jung-woo is creating. I will warn you that there are several sex scenes in this film, a little bit on the “Soft Porn” side, nothing that will shock a fan of the Hentai genre, but I though it was worth mention just in case you see this film with a more conservative person, I heard that some friendships had been lost over films I recommended and forgot to give his type of warning.
The film takes its time to develop the plot, so try to be patient, besides that, I believe is a great film that you should definitely check when is available, and is already on my list of “must buy” to join my collection along with the previous Yeon Sang-ho’s films.
Fantasia Film Festival is on its 21th edition, and has always been know for showing some of the best films in the Fantasy, Horror and Sci-Fi genres, currently running thru August 3rd. You can visit their official website to see more of the great material they are showing this year, and follow them in social media.