NYAFF Film Review: ‘A Single Rider’

Warner Bros. continues to venture into the Korean film world with their second Korean film, this time showcasing a more indie style with the directorial debut of Lee Joo-young. After last year’s huge spy thriller, Age of Shadows, A Single Rider (Kor: 싱글라이더) stars Lee Byung-hyun and Gong Hyo-jin in a film that takes a quiet look into the power of choice and the guilt of regret.

Lee Byung-hyun plays the role of Kang Jae-hoon, a disgraced broker at a now-bankrupt company in Seoul after an investment gone wrong. Missing his family and wanting to get away from his nightmare, Jae-hoon heads to Sydney in search of his wife, Soo-jin (Kong Hyo-jin) and child, Jin-woo (Yeong Yoo-jin), with only a written address on his hand. He manages to find their house in Sydney, only to realize that Soo-jin’s relationship with their neighbor, Chris (Jack Campbell), might have developed into something more in wake of his absence.

Ashamed of his failure back home, Jae-hoon chooses not to make his presence known. Instead, he sticks around the house and his family, watching from afar and making a couple friends along the way; Ji-na (Sohee, previously of Wonder Girls), a naive Korean girl whose entire savings are stolen from her during her work-abroad experience, and the family dog, Chi-chi.

But Jae-hoon’s regret and his disappointment continue to hold him back from contacting his family, which may make some audience members impatient; as if echoing their thoughts, one of the other neighbors tells him to either leave or stop disturbing the peace and being a coward. Then, without warning, the film’s climax unexpectedly sneaks up on everyone. The realization of what Jae-hoon’s true predicament is, coupled with his acceptance of the fact, is one that brings a sense of profound sadness.

The film’s strength truly derives from the performance of Lee Byung-hyun. A departure from the action thriller roles he normally takes on in Hollywood, he instead delves back into his original roots in melodrama; Lee, as Jae-hoon, takes the audience on a journey of regret and acceptance that stems from his character’s restrained temperament and his sense of despair throughout the film, showcasing a truly introspective performance. A Single Rider ends up being a deceptively simple, yet high-quality tearjerker that is a surefire sign that there is much to look forward to from both Warner Bros. and female director Lee Joo-young in the future.

We screened the film at the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF).

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