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Steel Cold Winter ("Sonyeo")

Canadian Premiere
  • South Korea
  • 2013
  • 109 mins
  • DCP
  • Korean
  • English (subtitles)
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High-schooler Youn-soo (Kim Si-hoo, SUNNY) and his mother move away from Seoul, hoping to start a new life in a calm and remote mountain village. The young boy is recovering from crippling guilt over the suicide of a friend, which he thinks he caused by inadvertently starting a rumour. His mother is hoping the fresh air will do him some good. Despite his quiet, standoffish nature, Youn-soo is greeted with open arms — a cool, mysterious city kid that every girl and boy in class wants to be friends with. The same can’t be said of Hae-won (Kim Yun-hea), a mysterious, cold-eyed and quiet girl, first seen skating on a vast, frozen lake — almost ghostlike, hallucinatory. But the girl is very real, and like Youn-soo, of very few words. Repressing trauma of her own, she is ostracized by the other students and rumours about her are as numerous as they are absurd and hurtful. Some accuse her of witchcraft, others of incest, and all of it can be traced back to her living with her mentally ill father, whom she takes care of and who everyone in town despises. Seeing in her a reflection of what happened to his friend, Youn-soo reaches out to Hae-won, and an unlikely connection blooms. One day, Hae-won’s father goes missing, and both realize then just how much violence and despair can erupt from rumours and hearsay.

A tragic love story at heart, STEEL COLD WINTER is a beautifully stylized and tragic fairy tale of sorts, set against the backdrop of a wintry Korean village that will recall, in its oppressive, dread-laden atmosphere, something like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. And much like the Swedish cult hit, Choi’s film is fundamentally a story of outsiders finding a connection, and evolving within a brutal, violent and increasingly paranoid world. Where Choi succeeds best is in painting the rough, sleazy bubble universe of the town, which the two unlikely lovers navigate cautiously… until it turns lethal. Hearsay and rumours are amplified beyond reason, and a suspected epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease forces the villagers to bury their swine alive. Coming from the world of documentary (having shot, for example, the SMTOWN WORLD TOUR), Choi Jin-seong’s first narrative film is chock full of such striking, evocative imagery, and a strong sense of locale, gives the film much of its emotional resonance. STEEL COLD WINTER is a memorably dark romance, not for the faint of heart.

— Ariel Esteban Cayer