Aloners (2021)

A meditative film that delves deep into the intricacies of loneliness and the human need for connection

9/9/20233 min read

Gong Seung-yeon and Jeong Da-eun in 'Aloners'
Gong Seung-yeon and Jeong Da-eun in 'Aloners'

Korean, 91 minutes, 2021

Director: Hong Sung-eun

Cast: Gong Seung-yeon, Seo Hyun-woo, Jeong Da-eun, Park Jeong-hak

Awards: Winner Grand Prix, Osaka Asian Film Festival, 2022; Winner, Jury Prize of the international Jury & Winner, Netpac Award, Vesoul Asian Film Festival, 2022; Winner Jury Award, Best Film-Special mention, CinemAsia Film Festival, 2022; Winner, Best Acting Award & Nominee Grand Prize, Jeonju Film Festival (Korean Film Competition), 2021

‘Aloners’ is the story of lonely Jina (Gong Seung-yeon), a top performing employee of the call centre for IB Cards, A credit card company. She works alone, she eats alones, she smokes alone, she travels alone and she sleeps alone. The screen time devoted to her is almost hundred percent. She is as glued to her mobile as any youngster would be watching videos while commuting, while eating and sometimes at work too.

One day while going to work in the morning she complains of stench to her building manager and leaves for office. On returning back she learns that her neighbor had been dead for a week, crushed by load of magazines falling on him- she is aghast as she says she had just interacted with him that morning. The owner of the apartment ignores her statement and Jina too leaves her and retires to dwelling. However, she thinks and remembers that few days back a loud noise had shaken her while she was eating and watching TV in the evening, but she had not bothered to find out.

At work, Jina’s boss asks her to train a new employee for five days. Jina doesn’t want to do that but she has no choice. The new employee is Sujin (Jeong Da-eun). Despite her resolve to learn and work hard, she doesn’t gel well with the scope of work. She falls asleep by the end of first day and to gain Jina’s confidence gets gifts and tries to get friendly to Jina which irritates her even more. Sujin wants to have lunch with Jina but Jina doesn’t like it and asks her not to follow her for lunch. At home front, Jina’s mother has passed away and her father is living alone. He once calls her to sign on ‘Renunciation of Inheritance form’ which she is required to sign since she earlier was the sole beneficiary of her mother’s estate when her mother and father were separated. But two years ago when they got back, her mother, Kim Huija, amended the will, in which she had left her entire estate to her husband, Yu Jinseop, Jina’s father (Park Jeong-hak). She signs and leaves the house.

Soon, Sujin is not coming to work and her boss asks Jian to call her up and find out. Meanwhile, Jina has a new neighbor who is handicapped. Sujin’s disappearance, her mother’s will episode, her father using mother’s mobile and somewhere the death of her earlier neighbor takes her towards mental breakdown and once at work, she is not able to narrate the monthly spending statement to a client and blanks out. The client threatens to file a complaint against her. Jina leaves building in a distraught state, calls her father and she screams at him for using Mom’s mobile-which apparently he is not able to hear as he is in a low network area. She suffers a mental breakdown and sits at a street’s corner for long time. But she gathers herself and at night calls Sujin and apologises for her rude behavior and confesses that even though she remains alone she is not cut out for it. Her new neighbor has kept a kind of ceremony for the peace of departed soul- her earlier neighbor. Jina gets out of her apartment and stands at his door. The new neighbor asks her to join inside. Jina doesn’t go inside but stays with him as he smokes there- in an apparent sign of her efforts towards socializing.

Aloners" excels in its ability to convey complex emotions without resorting to melodrama. Director Hong Sung-eun deserves praise for the way she captures the essence of urban isolation. Gong Seung-yeon's understated but superb performance, coupled with the film's almost silent storytelling, makes it a must-watch for anyone seeking a deep and meaningful cinematic experience.

About the director, Hong Sung-eun

‘Aloners’ is Hong Sung-eun’s debut feature film which was produced as KAFA (Korean Academy of Film Arts) feature film program, which selects student from each discipline and groups them together to produce feature films funded by the Academy. The film was premiered at Jeonju International Film Festival, 2021 where it won CGV Arthouse distribution fund and Best Actress Awards.

Hong Sung-eun spent her childhood in France and got interested in films while watching French films there. She enrolled in Korean Academy of Film Arts in 2017 to study filmmaking. Her graduation project was ‘Good Father’.