A deep, perceptive empathy towards some of the most marginalized, vulnerable, and exploited members of society—here, transgender people and teen runaways—is the most remarkable and valuable aspect of Jane, Cho Hyun-hoon’s feature debut. But the strength of the film’s performances is also a great benefit—especially Lee Min-ji, as runaway So-hyun, and Gu Gyo-hwan, as the titular Jane, a transgender nightclub performer. Where Jane falters is in its over-ambitious blend—or deliberate confusion—of fantasy, reality, truth, and lies. So-hyun is established at the outset as a character who can’t be trusted to be entirely truthful about her experiences or even the originality of the words she uses to express them.
Jane’s narrative thus becomes much more of a sometimes-frustrating puzzle than it should be; a more straightforward and grounded approach would have better enhanced the film’s strongly emotional elements, rather than obscuring them beneath layers of ambiguity. Also, the unreal aspects of the Jane character—who despite the film’s title is not its central figure—are somewhat problematic: Jane often functions as whatever you’d call the transgender equivalent of the magical negro. Despite these serious flaws, Jane does retain some considerable value and interest in the context of a Korean cinema and society that’s still taking relative baby steps toward fully incorporating LGBT people and issues.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.