The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] ‘My Name is Loh Kiwan’ a weak drama with soppy ending

By Kim Da-sol

Published : March 3, 2024 - 16:06

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Song Joong-ki in Song Joong-ki in "My Name is Loh Kiwan” (Netflix)

Even the presence of Korean megastar Song Joong-ki in its titular role couldn’t sustain interest in director Kim Hee-jin’s “My Name is Loh Kiwan."

Song, who plays a North Korean defector for the first time in his 15-year career, referred to his acting in the film as "refreshing and satisfactory."

Despite the actor's confidence, however, the 133-minute movie based on the 2011 novel “I Met Loh Kiwan” by Cho Hae-jin, fails to portray the North Korean defector’s life as a meaningful human drama. Neither is it a well-written melodramatic story between Loh Ki-wan (Song) and Marie (Choi Sung-eun), but a film with a soppy finale.

In her feature film debut, director Kim's film depicts Loh's struggles in Belgium, showing him being beaten up on the street, sleeping in a public toilet and alleviating his hunger with a small pack of butter.

The film then suddenly jumps to an unexpected and uncomfortable encounter with Marie, a wayward, affluent young woman, at a launderette. Director Kim included this character to add a melodramatic flare to the movie, but the way the two meet and fall in love comes across as farfetched.

The banal, one-dimensional characterization of Marie is disappointing.

This Olympic markswoman-turned-drug addict wears fancy outfits and smokey eye makeup after the sudden loss of her mother, in what seems to be an act of rebellion. After meeting Loh, she goes out barefaced and wears simpler outfits.

Choi Sung-eun in “My Name is Loh Kiwan” (Netflix) Choi Sung-eun in “My Name is Loh Kiwan” (Netflix)

The relationship development between Loh and Marie is also quite abrupt, and the movie does not explore how the two came to depend on each other amid life-threatening situations. It seems that director Kim was overly keen to connect the two characters, but overlooked stories building up to their relationship.

Towards the end of the film, things turn sour for the couple as Loh helps Marie escape the underworld lair where she is forced to do drugs and participate in illegal shooting competitions. But the end of Loh's dealing with the gangsters is boring, with hardly any tension or buildup. The movie finishes with the two reuniting in Madagascar as they bask in the sunlight.

Director Kim could have focused more on Loh's plight in Belgium where he is trapped in immigration limbo. Matters are easily resolved when Marie introduces Loh to a Korean lawyer there, who helps him prove that he is an authentic North Korean refugee.

The exotic backdrop of a European country is a distinctive element and the director put great effort into depicting a cold and dark Belgium to deliver Loh's life as a refugee. Despite the story’s setting in Belgium, the film was shot in Budapest, Hungary.

“My Name is Loh Kiwan” is streaming on Netflix.