Stateless Things is a 2011 Korean indie film by Kim Kyung-Mook. It was the director’s feature-length debut, made when he was in his mid-20s. It had a good run on the festival circuit and garnered some fairly positive reviews, but I don’t think it was widely seen.
It’s almost impossible to sum up Stateless Things. Its nature and structure suggest multiple possible readings. It appears to follow the lives of two young North Korean male escapees living in a grim and unwelcoming Seoul. They are – or, perhaps, only one of them is – gay, yet that might just be a survival tactic. Almost none of the apparent givens are certain. But, even taking into account its specific North/South Korean context, the film is, in essence, a tale – or three interconnected tales – about being the other, and how that otherness can be overwhelming. More importantly, what I felt when I watched it in a packed cinema in Hong Kong one spring afternoon in 2012 was confidence and passion. The film is not perfect, far from it, but what a brave and uncompromising vision! It was one of those rare moments to experience the joy of witnessing something singularly courageous. By its closing scenes, I felt compelled to stand up and clap – for the film and, of course, for Kim. I rarely ever do that.
First published in Issue 200