Aloners: Review

Aloners: Review

Aloners: Review. By Joe Muldoon.

Some films adopt such an incisive realism that they resemble fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaking more than cinema itself – first-timer Hong Sung-eun’s Aloners presents itself as such, similarly to Ken Loach’s 2016 drama I, Daniel Blake. A miserably Sisyphean existence, call centre worker Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) robotically puts her time in, cigarette breaks serving as the only variation in her days. Eat, smoke, work, repeat, ad infinitum.

Struggling to fully come to terms with her late mother’s recent passing, her relationship with her newly-religious father (Park Jeong-hak) is patchy; she infrequently answers his calls but secretly watches over him via a hidden camera in his home. When bubbly new-hire Soo-jin (Jung Da-eun) joins the call centre, Jina begrudgingly finds herself put in charge of her shadowing and training.



The teen doesn’t take to the job easily, unable to adapt to the cold self-robotisation expected of her by the company – or, more specifically, by the ridiculous targets set for employees. And naturally, the customer callers are all but understanding towards her audacity to be anything but an uber-efficient shell, her gall to not have years of work experience and to stand up to their rudeness. Jung’s excellent performance brings a deep warmth to an otherwise chilly film.

Aloners makes for a frankly depressing viewing experience, but this is never to the film’s detriment – to its credit, alas. Hong’s writing not only highlights the dehumanisation of the modern work grind, but also our need for genuine human connection. There’s a great melancholy underlying the monotony of Jina’s life; her lifestyle isn’t due to any desire to continue in an underpaid customer service position, but rather a resignation to her fatalism and inability to make the interpersonal connections for which she yearns.

Jina’s isolation is arguably brought upon by herself; her father wants to keep more consistent contact, her new neighbour Seong-hun (Seo Hyun-woo) has every attempt to initiate conversation shot down, and she could seek a different career path. But could she feasibly break free from this cycle? In her city, she’s but another faceless body in a sea of individuals, as is conductive to our current system.

With strong, well-developed writing from Hong (who also edited the film) and an impressive performance from Gong –for which she deservedly won two acting awards– Aloners is an astute meditation on loneliness, work, and modernity. Through showing flashes of hope, Hong offers us enough to suggest that there’s some cause for optimism. That, despite Jina’s current position, there’s the possibility for her to find happiness, if only she opens herself up to it and knocks down the walls she’s built around her. And by extension, perhaps we can spare ourselves from joining the community of aloners.

By Joe Muldoon


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