Thursday, October 17, 2013

Planet of Snail (2012)


 Young-Chan Cho: “All the deaf and blind people have the heart of an astronaut.”

Planet of Snail is a documentary from South Korea. It is very slow-paced and plays with minimal sound to simulate Young-Chan reliance on tactile communication and finger taps as opposed to always using voice. His voice, one might say is the lack of sound. The story follows him along with his wife Soon-Ho. Soon-Ho has a disability caused by degeneration of the spine.

Together the film explores their mutual dependency and quiet, slow lives. The reference to Young-Chan Cho as an astronaut in the Planet of Snail is interesting because I too consider myself an alien. Some things that an able-bodied person can do very easily, I can’t. But, I think from that I gained a desire to explain my worldview. For Young-Chan Cho, it’s the same. On one hand, he talks about his disability as no different than fading memory for a sighted person. When you remember something with sight, it’s never as clear as it was when you saw it the first time. A very insightful critique of sightedness!

    On the other hand, Young-Chan’s poetry reveals a deep understanding of how his life is alien. “What I see in front of me is my reality.” He says. “I am deaf-blind even in my dreams.” In spite of this determination, he encounters obstacles very early on in the film. While taking a Hebrew exam, Young-Chan’s professor says that he had the words in the right order, but his assistant transcribed it wrong. That is, his wife, not his assistant. But, he gets an A+!

    Later in the film, we see Young-Chan eating with friends, who look as though they may be deaf-blind as well. They get into an argument about why he married, and the other friend believes he may never marry. Much of this argument is done through tactile communication and finger tapping. I don’t know Korean sign language, and only understand little bits of American Sign Language, but the finger tapping to me seemed vital to understanding the language. Young-Chan’s friend believes he married Soon-Ho to be a live-in caretaker, which Young-Chan Cho denies, but seems shaken by.

   Through his friend, we see his clay crafts, including a mug shaped like a naked man. Young-Chan explains that he didn’t like that one very much. Soon-Ho says that sometimes he takes care of her, because sometimes her pain is so bad that she can’t even pick up the phone. “I couldn’t even say hello. I could only make screeching sounds.” She says. Nonetheless, we see Soon-Ho helping Young-Chan around the house more often than vice versa: Fixing a light, helping with food, walking on the beach, even helping to organize Cho’s play with his friends.

     The film ends with a solo trip to a doctor's appointment, where he admits he was scared to be without his companion. “I felt colder.” He says.  Then, Young-Chan Cho goes swimming, where he says he can open his eyes and see a different world. (As opposed to The Planet of Snail.) In closing, he says he's only waiting to see the most precious things. He and I have much in common. We are both astronauts; we both use words to paint our lived experiences with disability; we have many of the same fears. What will happen to me when my friends and caretakers are gone? The film explores these fears, which at times seem to contradict his coping mechanisms…art and poetry which transcends his body.

    The film is very slow-paced, but there was enough going on that intrigued me that I never lost interest. I love movies about disability experiences, other planets, and other cultures and ways of life. I identified with the main character; but only insofar as he uses art to overcome his disability, such as I try to do. The rest was new to me: The finger tapping, Young-Chan Cho’s beautiful descriptions of his disability in poetry, having a partner vs. having friends, and negotiating each other’s disability. These were all wonderfully new to me. The slow pace also helped me drink in Young-Chan's world.

     I found Planet of Snail to be a fun, dramatic and captivating experience… it is not  just internationally appealing to me, being a Korean film, but it is interculturally appealing too. I mean, I related my experiences with disability with Young-Chan They didn’t always match up. For example, in my dreams, I'm able-bodied, though it by no means is a reflection of de-valuing my life with a disability...I can simply do more in my dreams. Also, Young-Chan says sometimes he knows he’s being stared at. I would tend not to focus on it…nonetheless, I do know it probably is happening.

Anyway, this is a great film that explores many themes about disability and relationships, and the role of art as a tool for life. Highly recommended…I’d say 4/5 stars: the slow pace might be off-putting to some, but in my case, it helped me catch details like the finger tapping as communication. A wonderful film! Go see it!

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