Young-Chan lost his vision and hearing from a serious fever when very young. He often describes himself as a ‘snail’ since he has to rely only on his tactile senses, just as slowly as a snail, to communicate with others. Being unable to speak other’s language, he once believed he had been singled out from the world. But his life changes dramatically when he meets and marries Soon-Ho, who is also disabled. The once lonely snail goes sleighing, swimming and writes essays, poems and even a script for a play, translating every experience into his unique words.
Dir: Seung-Jun Yi. South Korea. 2011. 87mins
An elegant and moving documentary about positivity in the face of hardship and of overcoming life’s obstacles, Seung-Jun Yi’s Planet Of Snail, which won IDFA’s top prize the VPRO IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary, is a real joy and should appeal to distributors looking for an unusual break-out documentary.
Planet Of Snail is a delicate and entrancing film, beautifully structured and never maudlin.
Gentle, lyrical and thoughtfully constructed the film is a delicate delve into the world of disability, and while perhaps a little too slowly-paced and favouring a romantic theme rather than a practical one, it is a memorable film and likely to attract a strong critical response.
The film follows the relationship between Young-Chan, a gangly young man who has been deaf and blind since childhood and his wife Soon-Ho, disabled with a spinal injury as a youngster and subsequently far shorter than him. As he comments:” I haven’t actually seen her with my own eyes but I know she is the most beautiful woman in the world. She has become my lifeline ever since she came into my life.”
The theme of the film is that he comes from a ‘planet of snail’, where people communicate by touching each other. He says:” We call ourselves ‘snails’ because we cannot hear or see and our lives are as slow as the snails. Now I live on earth where time runs so fast which makes me hard to follow the life of the earthmen.”
The couple communicate by gently tapping each other’s fingers, and the film politely places itself in their lives, recording the hardships, practicalities and amusing moments as they cope with life around them. These charming moments range from Soon-Hoo’s gentle encouragement of him to do his exercises through to Soon-Ho hosting a dinner party for Young-Chan’s deaf and blind friends.
Perhaps best of all is sequence in which the pair work together to replace a complicated lightbulb above their bed. She is too small to reach, so has to instruct him by tapping on his fingers how to stand on their bed and reach up to change the bulb. Funny and charming, it is a moment that very much defines the film…how they refuse to lets things stand in their way and find ways to cope.
Most movingly Young-Chan is encouraged to attend a residential centre for a few days because there are concerns then he is getting too dependent on Soon-Hoo. She clearly misses him desperately, has a solitary and sad dinner alone and is filmed waiting patiently at the designated roadside spot looking out longingly for the mini-bus to return.
Young-Chan’s ambition is to write a book looking at the world through the eyes of a blind and deaf man. He may be impaired, but he has a soulful sense of beauty in the world – so clearly expressed in film of him touching and hugging the back of a tree, running his fingers through sand or gently touching raindrops on his fingertips.
Planet Of Snail is a delicate and entrancing film, beautifully structured and never maudlin. To an extent the focus of a little too much on Young-Chan – it would be nice to know more about Soon-Ho and her past – but its sheer sense of zest for life is enchanting.