Dreams, music and broken hearts meet in the latest project by actor-turned-filmmaker/producer Baek Jae-ho (Ordinary Days (2014), We Will Be OK (2014), Jane (2017)), The Goose Goes South, which he co-directed with cinematographer Lee Hee-seob (The Winter of the Year was Warm (2012), Love Clinic (2015), How to Break Up With My Cat (2016)).
A brief conversation at a shipyard between two men, followed by a series of cityscape scenes, lands us in Japan’s Osaka, in a part of the town where the Ferris Wheel touches the sky and reality seems to escape into the clouds above. This is where Woo-zoo (Kang Doo) finds himself on a business trip, taking the place of his boss, Dae-jeong (Ji Dae-han), who went missing during an accident at sea. We learn that Woo-zoo is still grieving the loss – after a business meeting, he tries to drown his grief in alcohol. While wandering around the town, he seems to notice a person who looks like Dae-jeong driving away on a bike, with a guitar case strapped on his back – Woo-zoo drunkenly chases after him and ends up in front of a small local bar with an eccentric boss who calls himself “Captain” (Snow).
When Woo-zoo wakes up the next day, he realizes that he missed his flight back to Korea. However, instead of heading back, Woo-zoo resigns his job in a fit of anger and returns to Captain’s bar, where he is resigned to stay as he searches for Dae-jeong. There, he meets a local girl, Haruna (Hori Haruna), who is still dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death in the East Japan earthquake, and her grieving father. Her mother and father used to play in a popular guitar duo, “The Goose Goes South”, and it seems that with Haruna, Woo-zoo now also has an opportunity to pursue his old dream of becoming a musician…
Baek and Lee decided to keep a decidedly slow pace throughout the film – some of the viewers might find themselves enjoying it, while others, especially Western viewers that are more used to fast-paced narratives, will feel that a faster narrative would add to the flow of the story, as dreamy as it attempts to be. Even though there were two directors, it is hard to say exactly where one or the other took over – or if they worked as a duo throughout – but there are plenty of atmospheric shots of the locale both binding and dividing the narrative, and these occasionally switch to faster, somewhat rough sequencing, while the character shots maintain a more dormant pace.
The story seems to wander just as much as Woo-zoo’s character does, switching between past and present, undecided which future to take. After the slow build-up, the conclusion of the story comes fast and offers some open and some closed endings, but mainly offers a message about the power of overcoming one’s own fears and feelings of loss. Still, there are some moments that remain unexplained – for example, the scene where Woo-zoo is inexplicably talking to a small boy in Japanese, even though the boy is replying in Korean. There are also some discrepancies in the coherence of the narrative as well. During the first ten minutes of the film, we see Woo-zoo on the Ferris wheel, later on witnessing a conversation he had with Dae-jeong in the past about Woo-zoo never having been on a Ferris wheel. This seems to be at odds with Woo-zoo’s closing remark of the film – “There is a Ferris Wheel here,” which implies he’s never been on it – instead of wrapping the story up, this remark drives the viewer to question the timeline of the narrative, even though Woo-zoo was clearly still in his business suit when he took that ride at the beginning, chronologically placing the scene before the ending of the film.
Even with the slow pace and the few narrative slip-ups, the film deserves to be acknowledged for trying really hard to present a fresh story. There are many moments and conversations that take on familiar turns, but are successfully saved from becoming cliches by bouts of humour. Above all, the story levels itself up by refreshingly avoiding the stereotypical romance. It would be so easy to insert that into the core of the story, but with their script, Baek and Lee firmly put focus on other themes, and they deserve to be praised for it.
The cast, which featured a few names with no previous acting experience, delivered well. With the role of Woo-zoo, Kang Doo (following his noticeable lack of presence after his much-criticized lead role in the K-drama series Goong S) seems to have landed an opportunity to prove his acting talent, and his effort to do so bore fruit – his performance is solid. The second person who really stands out in the production is Snow; his eccentric character provided comedic relief and an anchor for the story, and Snow delivered with an ease worth noting. Besides taking one of the central roles, Snow also provided the score for the film, and his music arrangements complement the narrative perfectly. Not only that; it is safe to say that the score is one of the strongest attributes of The Goose Goes South.
For an indie production with a considerably small budget, The Goose Goes South ultimately makes for a pleasant watch and is a decent directorial debut for Lee Hee-seob and directorial follow-up for Baek Jae-ho who, following his amazing debut feature We Will Be Ok (2014), continues to show promise with each new project.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © MOVement