MANIFF 2022: Proxy Emotion
Written by Helen Stott.
Recent years have seen a growth in the international appeal of Korean media and with the overwhelming success of director Bong-Joon Ho’s Parasite and Hwang-Dong hyuk’s Squid Game, it seems there is more demand within the mainstream for these stories.
Both filmmakers use fantastical elements to explore the very real problem of wealth inequality in a way that is specific to the context of South Korea yet also resonates with global audiences living under capitalism. Namhyung Cho’s Proxy Emotion has a similarly compelling premise; imagining a world where technology makes it possible for the rich to hire ‘proxies’- indebted servants who can temporarily assume the appearance of their clients in order to carry out unwanted emotional labour.
Going into the international premiere, I had high hopes that this film would follow in its predecessor’s footprints and use its premise to combine interpersonal drama with resonant social critique. However, I left the theatre disappointed. Science-fiction is an inherently political genre, and I would have liked to see the director explore more fully the social implications of the speculative proxy technology.
Unfortunately, they focused on the individual psychology of characters who are not unique enough to make the story compelling in its own right. Though the film does touch on themes such as poverty, homelessness, class conflict, and exploitation, these remain underdeveloped whilst a rather predictable heterosexual romance takes centre stage. The plot works its way to its inevitable conclusion, leaving us at the last minute with a twist that I do admit, I didn’t see coming. However, this failed to relieve what was otherwise an underwhelming and at times, dull watch.