In-between passive aggressive insults and ticking timers, the veil behind the call-centre industry is one riddled with abuse and power imbalance. Sold to the everyman as a formidable occupation, the industry behind every timely phone-call tributes to the communal stress of a telemarketer's routine. Their finances are dependent on the perceptions of others; successes with sales run by a division of time, competition and obsession. Now more than ever, there's been an influx of films detailing the tribulations of the under-represented industry. At last year's Toronto International Film Festival, a small independent film from South Korea entitled Aloners highlighted the mental plummet of a young woman's journey through telemarketing. With July Jung's Next Sohee, the film highlights another familiar story of systematic failure. Divided into two distinct halves, Jung's harrowing recount is simultaneously tragic and essential; a moving work that details the exploitation of Korea's youth and the relentless prosecution involved for a mere slimmer of justice.
In the film's opening seventy minutes, Jung prevalently focuses on the film's titular protagonist. We witness So-hee's forced integration into a call-centre; perceived and scammed by a corruptive network bent on exploiting externships. Through empathetic conversations, the social/political/economic hierarchies of her workplace is covered vividly. From chaotic quarrels in claustrophobic cubicles to episodic altercations revolving around workplace harassment — Next Sohee paints a bleak picture of a frighteningly real industry. There is bare sugar-coating to So-hee's susceptible plight; a real-time deterioration of her passion, her humanity, and her powerless voice under the clutch of corruption. The cinematic depiction is blunt, albeit necessary and respectful given the gravity of its narrative basis. In an instant, a distant wide-shot reconfigures the film's perspective. The remainder of Next Sohee follows the procedural investigation of a sudden tragedy, told with emotive resonance from the great Bae Doo-na.
Jung's empathetic lens sharply recreates elongated scenes of aimless detective sleuthing, as each step leads to further blame and a refusal to accept accountability. The audience devours the analytics behind the corrupt externship industry, as Jung nearly covers every possible power-role responsible for the events transpired. Although, there is a semblance of irony where Jung writes these detailed observations through the angelic perspective of a participant vowed within the sanctity of policing. By enveloping the narrative within her perspective, the film transforms into an unintentional form of propaganda. In actuality, the lack of action from the South Korean police state ultimately contributed to the same complicit acts of sociological violence presented within the film's second act. Jung is somewhat self-aware about the ineptitude of policing, yet refuses to directly condemn the state in her urgent cinematic indictment.
An epidemic of injustice, a plague infected with naivety, an economy built on radical vocational rates. Next Sohee is a purposefully on-the-nose work of neo-realism, a disquieting wakeup call amidst the sounds of clattering keyboards and clicking mouse-cursors. Who will be the next victim to fall claim to the same self-destructive system?