In Between Days: So Yong Kim’s Sundance Film

Sundance Film Fest 2006–Centering on a recent Korean immigrant to Toronto, writer-director So Yong Kim’s In Between Days refers to that time when the past still remains a palpable presence and the future offers tantalizing if undefined possibilities, rendering the present irrelevant.

It also refers to adolescence, that endless cycle of humiliating moments juxtaposed with merely awkward ones, that phase you must treat like an excursion through a nudist colony where you plow straight ahead and try not to process anything around you.

At Sundance, where the it world-premiered, the movie divided critics between those who thought that that the story benefits from its intensely narrow focus and those who held that it suffered from it. We watch Aimie (Jiseon Kim) walk to the subway station, take the subway to school, and take the subway home after school, over and over again. Repetition is often used in artsy and foreign films, usually to indicate that the director has “Something Important” to Say. Here, however, this device, like the whole film, is not meant to be analyzed, only experienced.

Aimie is a recently immigrated Korean to Toronto. That the film takes place in Toronto we find out from the credits. Aimie never tells us because cultural and geographical factors lie outside her range of interest; all that matters is that she is in an unfamiliar place. Her mother virtually ignores her, and writes daily lengthy letters to her father in Korea that never get answered.

Routine allows Aimie to make sense of the haze surrounding her and to break down her loneliness into manageable increments. Writer/director So Yong Kim does not dwell on Aimies problems but maintains a hopeful distractedness, continually unveiling tiny victories and new discoveries.

Aimie has a crush on a fellow Korean named Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), who rides the bus and plays video games with her. But they are an unlikely match: Tran enjoys boozing and getting stoned, while Aimies most rebellious activity is doodling hearts and flowers in her notebook during class. Tran is crass and hurtful in the way that only teenage boys can bewhen Aimie breaks into tears in public, he asks her if she is on the rag.

Her infatuation with Tran defies all logic, and yet for a teenager it makes perfect sense. Tran introduces her to a world she doesnt quite belong in but that she would like to learn more about. He takes her to parties and teaches her to smoke, though she turns down his offer to teach her about sex.
So Yong Kim avoids the obligatory Rite of Passage scene, observing the process of self-discovery with care and honesty.

When Aimie wears makeup for the first time, people do not rush to her side like she is a contestant on Ambush Makeover or Rachel Leigh Cook in Shes All That. Instead her transformation is a private moment, captured in the way she stares at her reflection as she waits with Tran at the bus stop, wondering if he will notice.

The camera rarely leaves Aimie, and the movie is all the better for it. Jiseon Kim is an instinctual actress who isnt afraid to look unattractive if the moment calls for it. Her rough mannerisms, her ever-changing face, reveal a character who is not yet comfortable with how others see her and isnt sure how she feels about herself.

So Yong Kims use of ambient noiseTVs, cell phones, conversations between strangers on the busimmerses us in Aimies world. This authenticity makes her pain all the more heartbreaking, but the open-ended narrative leaves room for recoveryif not tomorrow, then the next day.

Written by Karen Findley