Netflix Instant Files: Castaway on the Moon

castaway on the moon poster

Kim Seung Keun is stranded on a deserted island.  He has little besides the clothes on his back.  His cell phone is water damaged and is nearly out of battery anyway.  Seung Keun might have been looking for an escape from life, but this wasn’t what he had in mind.  Especially when he’s still surrounded by the world he was trying to flee.  Seung Keun is stuck on an empty island, yes, but it’s one on the Han River, in the middle of Seoul.

strandedCastaway on the Moon is one of the first movies I watched on Netflix Instant.  It’s still one of my favorites.  It’s a charming, quirky film that takes a unique twist on what it would be like to be stranded in the middle of civilization.

Before I can continue with the review, I need to give a trigger warning: suicidal themes are built into the premise of the film.  Although the movie isn’t entirely about them, they’re raised multiple times throughout.

Kim Seung Keun tried to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Han River.  He felt he had failed at functioning within modern society — his debt kept piling up, he couldn’t move forward at work, his ex-girlfriend never wanted to hear from him again — and he thought he had no further recourse.  His attempt fails, and he washes up on the shore of a small island underneath a bridge.

It seems like it shouldn’t be too hard for Seung Keun to get off the island and back into Seoul proper — he has a revised plan to jump off a tall building — but for all that he’s in the middle of a bustling city, he’s isolated.  He’s close enough to the city for the noise to drown out his cries; even the people that notice him from the decks of river tour boats mistake his pleas for help as waves hello.

Castaway - FishingSeung Keun resigns himself to spending a few days on the island until he can figure out how to get off of it.  Once he decides that, it’s not so hard to survive.  Because he figures he’s going to kill himself anyway, he has no qualms feasting on the mushrooms that grow on the island. When the suds from the half-empty bottle of laundry detergent he uses to wash his hair kill some fish, he eats those, too.  Maybe they’re toxic, but given his plans for the future, he’s not really afraid.

By the time those few days have passed, Seung Keun doesn’t want to kill himself anymore.  He doesn’t want to be rescued, either.  This time when tourist boats pass by, he hides from sight.  Despite his best efforts, however, Seung Keun does attract the attention of one person in Seoul.

Kim Jung Yeon hasn’t left her room in years.  But she doesn’t let that stop her from living an active life.  She has a strict schedule: get up at a certain time, eat, exercise, build her life online, exercise more, eat, exercise, and go to bed.  She does it all without leaving her room, including interacting with the world outside.  She builds her ideal life through a personal website, telling fanciful stories about her day and posting pictures of the clothes she’s bought, those pictures copy-pasted right from the store’s website.

camera Jung Yeon has one hobby in which she indulges: twice a year, when the city streets are cleared for 15 minutes as part of a military drill, she takes pictures out of her window.  She loves capturing photos of a city abandoned, of civilization at a standstill.  That’s how she first sees Seung Keun; through her high powered camera she notices his movements on the island.

It’s not that Jung Yeon glimpses Seung Keun and immediately recognizes in him a kindred spirit, a fellow outcast.  Instead, he’s a new project, a new focus for the fantasies that fill her days.  The behavior she observes in Seung Keun is so strange that she deems him an alien, and it’s her responsibility to communicate with him, to learn what he wants from Earth.  So she sends him messages in bottles, and writes them in English so as to make them as universal as possible.

My favorite thing about Castaway on the Moon, is just watching Seung Keun make a life for himself on the island.  It’s both believable and not: perhaps he adjusts to life on the island more easily than some of us would, but it’s not like he’s on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.  He’s able to make use of a lot of the junk that’s washed ashore.

hopeEventually he fixates on an empty packet of instant jajangmyeon noodles (and man, does this movie make me want jajangmyeon), the seasonings pouch for which is still intact.  Jung Yeon manages to have several orders of the dish delivered to him, but he turns it away: for him, jajangmyeon represents hope.  It motivated him to start his own farm, to grow the right kind of crop out of which he can make noodles.  If he’s able to do that, to succeed in this one, smaller goal, it will prove to Seung Keun that there is at least one corner of the world in which he can make his own way.

Poor Seung Keun just needs a small plot of land out in the country somewhere, but even to get that, he’d need money he doesn’t have.  I don’t know where the characters will go next.  Seung Keun and Jung Yeon don’t exactly fix each other.  I’m not entirely certain either of them, especially Seung Keun, is going to be O.K. when the movie is over, despite the hopeful ending.

Castaway - FloatingBut their very low stress and low commitment interactions are exactly what they both need, for Jung Yeon especially.  Seung Keun gives her someone else to care and worry about, a motivation to finally leave her room.  Through Jung Yeon, Seung Keun learns that he’s worthy of attention, can still have a relationship (though it’s not clear what kind of relationship), despite the fact that he failed at the modern Seoul lifestyle.

The moral of the story might not be clear, but not all movies need to have clear morals.  Each of us have a story tucked away somewhere in our lives.  Castaway on the Moon is a fun story, and that’s enough.