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April 12, 2013

In Between Days

by Franz Patrick

In Between Days (2006)
★ / ★★★★

Aimie (Jiseon Kim) and her mother (Bokja Kim) are recent immigrants in America. Aimie has a crush on Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), a classmate, but she does not allow her feelings toward him to be known because she is afraid that a confession might jeopardize their budding friendship. As Aimie and Tran spend more time together after school, the two get closer and it becomes more difficult to define what they share.

“In Between Days,” written Bradley Rust Gray and So Yong Kim, directed by the latter, could have been an effective slice-of-life picture mixed with coming-of-age drama if it had only allowed its protagonist be known by us.

Aimie is a quiet and shy person. She keeps to herself most of the time perhaps because of the language barrier. In high school, I knew of a handful of girls like Aimie and, admittedly, though I was curious to know who they were, I did not walk up to them and try to get to know them because I was afraid to explore outside my own clique. So, I observed those girls from a distance. On that level, I was able to relate to the material.

The filmmakers have a chance in bridging that distance and really tell a story about how difficult it is like to assimilate in a foreign country. Instead, many of the scenes run around in circles. Most disappointing is its focus on a boring relationship. We observe Aimee and Tran playing video games in the arcade, hanging out at parties, and conversing in cafes. They give each other warm smiles and flirtatious looks. When the issue of sex is brought up, one changes the subject. All of it might have worked if the writers had found a way to put the two characters’ insecurities into focus. Sure, there is a scene or two of Tran looking jealous when Aimie talks to other boys, but since neither know the nature of their relationship, they are reluctant to talk about it in a direct way.

And then there is Aimie’s anger about her mother wanting to date other men, hoping that she will find a potential husband. Aimie’s father had abandoned them but she misses him. Perhaps Aimie feels anger toward her father for leaving and no longer communicating, even for the sake of his only child, but she directs her emotions toward Mom. When the mother and daughter sit at the dinner table and no one speaks, it is very awkward. I felt like I should not be there watching; I hoped that someone would break the silence. I wish there were more personal but meaningful moments like that. Even though less than ten words are uttered, there is great tension in metallic spoons hitting the ceramic plates.

Aimie does not see her mother as a support system. Sure, she asks her mother whenever she needs money but that is the extent of their connection. But I’ve been a teenager so I understood. You can’t help but consider, even subconsciously, your parents as the enemy, an overbearing annoyance. But as one matures, one learns that friends come and go but family will (or should) always be there.

“In Between Days” adopts an intimate and realistic feel to the point where it looks and feels like anybody could have made it, therefore implying that the events on film can happen anywhere. However, it is an exercise of style over substance–common to big budget mainstream blockbusters though sometimes located on the other side of the spectrum. This is an example. In the end, who is Aimie and what does she stand for?


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