Content Warning: Next Sohee features suicide which is discussed in this review.
Written and directed by July Jung, Next Sohee showcases what happens when life and joy are wrung from a young worker by a job that exists only to exploit its workers. Kim Sohee (Kim Si-eun) is a happy teenager, she loves to dance and loves to be with her friends, defending them from teasing looks and words. A tenacious high-school student living in rural South Korea, Sohee has chosen a work-oriented education that allows her to enter a paid employment program with high hopes of setting up her life before graduation.
But the hope doesn’t last long. Her school motivates her to sign a contract with a call center that abuses its trainees with the promises of incentives that never get paid and techniques that put profit over people at every turn. Berated by customers, Sohee’s short-temper gets the best of her. But luckily, she has one manager on her side. That is until he takes his own life. Sending shockwaves through her life and work, this marks a sharp psychological descent that leads Sohee to take her own life. Enter Detective Yoo-jin (Bae Doona), who is in charge of the investigation. While she’s pushed to let the case go, Yoo-jin refuses to let the case go and focuses on uncovering the truth as she uncovers the events that led to Sohee’s suicide.
While you know that every moment of the film is leading to Sohee’s suicide, the amount of time you spend with her eases you into a sense of hope. You hope she’ll survive, you hope she’ll keep pushing, and yet, you also get to understand her pain. While other films would have just jumped into the aftermath of tragedy, Next Sohee builds up to it in waves before the anger you feel for the situation crashes against you over and over again. The fact that the film doesn’t throw you into tragedy but instead lowers slowly gives it an emotional strength.
In her role as Sohee, Kim Si-eun is relatable. You feel her frustration and her fear, you worry for her, and the sharp outbursts of emotion cut through the story intensely. Balanced against the film’s opening, which shows her as a normal girl filled with hope and joy, everything hurts when the film turns the corner in the second half.
Jung’s storytelling is masterful. Her eye for creating loneliness becomes increasingly more apparent as the joy is pushed out of the frame and out of Sohee. But the beauty in her direction is met with powerful performances from Bae Doona and the young Kim Si-eun. Experts in emotion and turmoil, every second we spend with them leaves a mark for different reasons. While actor Kim showcases an expert transition from lively to nearly catatonic depression, Bae is like thunder cracking through the film.
Detective Yoo-jin is resolved and tempered. She’s composed yet strong-willed. Focused on justice, every choice she makes becomes a deeply personal need to make sure that her name isn’t added to the list of people who failed Sohee. And when she breaks, we do too. In that, Detective Yoo-jin is a cathartic character. She carries your care and rage as she carries her own.
Next Sohee is a painful watch. The tone’s rapid descent from hope to despair hurts to experience, and yet, it shines a bright light on class inequities and the pressure to succeed even before you’ve become a full adult. We watch Sohee take her life from her one moment at a time, and as an audience, we have no way to save her. Sohee’s pain grows and grows, and the use of silence in those moments of suffering is louder than any rousing score. Next Sohee sinks into you and doesn’t let you come up for air.
Next Sohee is terrifyingly poignant as worker exploitation rises across the world. Stark and unyielding, July Jung’s storytelling presents a masterclass in atmosphere and emotion. To be so delicate and yet so forceful with a story is not an easy task, and yet, Jung succeeds.
Next Sohee has its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival 2022.
Next Sohee is terrifyingly poignant as worker exploitation rises across countries. Stark and unyielding, July Jung’s storytelling presents a masterclass in atmosphere and emotion. To be so delicate and yet so forceful with a story is not an easy task, and yet, Jung succeeds.