A quirky Korean drama-comedy-romance hybrid, Castaway on the Moon (2009, dir. Lee Hae-Joon) tells the story of a man stranded on an island within his own city, and a woman who observes his predicament from afar. Kim Seung-geun (Jung Jae-young) is stricken with debt problems that he can’t escape, leading him to attempt suicide by jumping off a bridge into the River Han in Seoul. Against his wishes, he washes up alive on the shoes of Bamseom Island in the middle of the river, with no way to get back to the mainland. As he attempts to leave, and also make a livable existence on the island, he’s unaware that he’s being watched by the young Kim Jung-yeon (Jung Ryeo-won). The film charts their parallel stories, personal histories, and the development of their interactions with one another.
Castaway on the Moon starts with a fairly heavy beginning (i.e. a suicide attempt), and somehow turns into a light-hearted and completely emotionally engaging comedy/drama, with protagonists who are physically separate yet emotionally and psychologically linked. All of the creative elements are on point – the dialogue (or, monologues) are believable and affecting, the cinematography and direction are fantastic, and the music is quirky and perfect for the subject matter. But it’s the actors who really shine through – Jung Jae-young portraying the happiness and difficulties of solitary island life with a lot of nuance and emotional expression, and Jung Ryeo-won showcasing the life of an adolescent shut-in (similar to the Japanese concept of hikikomori) in a really approachable and at times devastating way.
The overall theme of the film is that of connection – to one’s physical environment, and to other people. The film seems to be a commentary on how we interact with one another and how we have come to rely on certain comforts of modern life, thoroughly taking them for granted. It succeeds in delivering these themes and commentaries, packaged up in charming moments that result in an equal amount of both happy smiling and sad contemplation. There is something really special about this film because you don’t feel emotionally manipulated once. The emotions that this film elicits are 100% authentic.
Even though Castaway on the Moon does have some pretty confronting themes such as suicide and extreme social anxiety, which can be a bit of a downer, this is balanced very effectively with more funny moments which give the film a bouncy and optimistic tone, almost like a black comedy. It is really inspiring to see how Kim Seung-geun adapts to life on the island and starts to take joy in his surroundings, and likewise, it is intriguing to see how Kim Jung-yeon begins to open up to the outside world. Overall, this is a really delightful film, and definitely worth a watch.
Watch the trailer here.