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In Planet of Snail, a Life Absent of Sound and Sight, but Filled with Substance

In his TFF 2012 documentary, South Korean director Seung-Jun Yi introduces a couple who face their challenges with aplomb, grace, and love. Now playing in a must-see run at Film Forum.

Note: This report was originally published during our coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Planet of Snail is now playing at Film Forum in New York City.

A small and tender tale, Planet of Snail depicts deaf and blind Young-Chan in his isolated, challenging, and love-filled life with his wife, Soon-Ho, a saint of a woman also compromised by a prominent physical disability. Director Seung-Jun Yi achieves an intimate and visually striking portrait of a life absent of sound and sight, but filled with substance.

It took a moment for the Q&A with director Seung-Jun Yi to get underway following Monday’s screening of Yi’s delicate film at the Tribeca Film Festival, as the audience was insistent on praising the piece. However, Yi’s deft look into Young-Chan’s life left moviegoers wanting to know more about the film’s primary subject.

A news story written about Young-Chan piqued Yi’s interest in the complex, deaf-blind man, as there are no research or recordings of this unique population in the filmmaker and subject’s native South Korea—a notion that surprised the New York crowd. Further, Yi’s desire to document this man’s life in large part stemmed from his reaction to the news article: namely, that it had portrayed Young-Chan and his wife, Soon-Ho, too sympathetically.

Planet of SnailYi wanted to paint a different picture and capture the reality of this couple: their exceptionally loving and patient dynamic, their feats, their challenges, and their humor. Both an audience member and Yi acknowledged that the film is infused with “a number of funny and humorous scenes,” but that ultimately “[the filmmakers] had to give up on a number of comical scenes.” Upon meeting the initially documentary-resistant couple, Yi noticed something special in Young-Chan: “He has a special sense to read and feel this world that we don’t have, and I wanted to share that.” Consequently, Yi made a pledge to the couple that he would follow their life at no expense. Yi expressed his primary interest of understanding how these people live and follow their life, but with a kind, cautious hand on the lens. “If he felt bad one day, we wouldn’t film. We’d just talk. It was about understanding him.’

A handful of questions arose about both subjects’ histories. Yi clarified that Young-Chan began using finger Braille—one of his primary forms of communication—after attending a special school in Japan and then taught the system to his wife. “Before that,” Yi added, “Soon-Ho would speak to him very loudly—he’s not totally deaf—and repeat things a lot.”

In light of Yi’s humanized, holistic approach to exploring these individuals, the audience was eager to learn about more than the logistics and history of the couple’s disabilities. When asked about Young-Chan’s writing—a passion seen in the film; he writes by dictating to his phenomenally patient and loving wife—Yi earnestly shared that, “[Young-Chan’s] dream is to write a novel. He is very desperate to express himself.”

Planet of Snail

Shedding light on the film’s intriguing title, Yi was quick to credit his primary subject, who says his life and living deaf and blind is “like a snail, where things are slow, difficult to communicate,” and the snail’s antennae work similarly to how finger Braille works.

Finally, Yi shared that Soon-Ho had seen the film three to four times and gave Yi the best compliment when she thanked him. Soon-Ho confirmed, “The film has no sympathy. It just follows them.” And indeed it does: day in and day out, through rain and shine, effortlessly revealing how much light truly fills this unique couple’s life.

Planet of Snail is now playing at Film Forum in New York City.

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