More than 10 years after its release, Zhang Lu’s second feature is coming back to the festival field. The film will be presented at the 2018 London Korean Film Festival, as part of the “A Slice on Everyday Life” Special Focus. The movie is used to cinema events as it opened at the International Critic’s Week in Cannes and appeared in many different festivals around the world.
“Grain in Ear” follows the life of Shun-Ji Cui, a single mother who is surviving in a relatively hostile environment, in the suburbs of a Chinese industrial city. She sells kimchi to make a living, a reminder that she belongs to a Chinese-Korean minority. She takes care of her son with the help of her prostitutes-neighbours. The main character crosses path with different men, that will all end up abusing her and hurting her one way or another. As her life slowly falls apart, the young woman copes with the events her own way.
The ethnicity of Shun-Ji plays a big role in the movie. It is repeatedly reminded to the viewers. Besides being explicitly said several times, she sells kimchi, her son is studying Korean. Moreover, the only connection she has with the man she is having an affair with is that they are both from the same minority. In the end, it is also through the traditional Korean side dish that she will act.
The film is definitely not a chatty one. The first dialogue can be heard 5 minutes after the beginning. The verbal exchanges are very limited all through the feature. Most shots are long shots, and the actions often happen off-screen. The camera tends to linger a lot. This doesn’t mean that there is no communication between the characters, or that the events are less intense, it is actually quite the opposite. Everything is treated in the same tone, which makes crisis and drama more shocking and violent. This “neutrality” of tone also goes well with the character’s inner life. She is holding it in all the time, and her explosions are quiet but brutal ones.
Lianji Liu’s acting is very impressive, even more knowing that it is her first role on the big screen. She plays perfectly the surviving/survivor woman. She doesn’t fall into the trap of showing the audience how she feels. She doesn’t try too hard to show that she holds it in either. She actually lives it, which makes her acting very credible and remarkable.
“Grain in Ear” is worth-watching, because it is cinematographically beautiful and different from most blockbusters (yet fluid). Because the story is interesting, compelling and powerful. Because the main character is touching.