These films were watched as a part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Next Sohee has its Seattle premier on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. The Hill of Secrets has its Seattle premier on Friday, May 19, 2023.

In this dual review, I am going to look at two films out of South Korea. Do they have a lot in common? No, not really. But they do deal with youth experiences, at vary different levels. And they deal with the expectations on these kids, whether via extreme pressure, or a complete lack of pressure and apathy. And thus, a good enough reason to double up on these movies.

Next Sohee

Next Sohee is about a girl named…Sohee (Kim Si-Eun)! Surprising, I know. She is the top student at her high school, always putting in the work to get the best grades, make her teachers happy, and never fail. She is also a pretty damn talented dancer, best in her group. She even has a boyfriend. As part of her school program, she is given a job! It is a prestigious job because it is from a big corporation, one type that her school never gets job opportunities from. They only wanted the best.

Well, it turns out the job is a call center job. And the goal of the call center is to not help the customer with their internet plan. But it is to instead give them the runaround, transfers, and get them to change their mind about canceling. It is to not make things easy, and that leads to anger, and it leads to self resentment. But she can’t just quit this job, her school and family is counting on it. But the call center culture has its own rules and standards that make things unbearable, until Sohee can no longer take it. And after that? Who is to blame.

Also starring Hee-jin Choi, Bae Doona, Yo-sep Song, and Yoo Jung-ho.

Certainly not Sohee. It is a SOCIETY problem.

Next Sohee is a film to talk about real issues going on in South Korean schools. For example, ranking of students, so publicly, for every little thing and assignment, builds that competitive stressful experience. But apparently, so do the call centers. And even if you do good, if you are 28th out of 28, you feel terrible, and will be chastised. Even if all of your goals are met. But when it turns out that schools themselves are ranked based on how their students as employees do, putting these pressures on teachers to have their students go through inhumane work conditions, and all of society is working to just tear down these poor kids. It is heart wrenching.

It is pretty obvious to tell what sort of thing happens to Sohee in the film, and I am sure the trailer says it as well. Because a good half of the film takes place later, while a police agent is discovering all of the issues that went on in her life, that could take a normally great kid into someone gone tragically too soon. It is like a journalistic expose, in movie format. And yet it also asks the question, well, even if we know all of this, what can be done to change it? Which is a harrowing question on its own.

4 out of 4.

The Hill of Secrets

In the Hill of Secrets, this time our protagonist is just a kid in elementary school. It is about Myung-eun (Moon Seung-ah), a girl from a poor family. Her mom works all the time, her dad is a bit of a slacker, and she has siblings that don’t care about her too much. She is dreadfully embarrassed by them. But for some reason this year, she decides she is going to put on a new fa├žade at her school. She is going to tell people her dad is a business man, her mom stays at home, but they are both also extra busy because of a sick grandmother, so they can never come to school for events.

She also is going to run for Class President, beating out the popular kids! Her teacher is happy to hear her ideas. She even has a suggestion box for them that she stuffs with her own ideas so she can incorporate changes in the class without it looking too weird? She even starts writing at a high level, which she hasn’t done before. But things start to change when a new girl enters the class, who also has ideas, and can write well, but is from a tragic background and actually letting people know. All of this while Myung-eun is lying! Well, maybe she needs to lie even harder. But maybe, just maybe, she needs to tell the truth, even if it will hurt her family more.

Also starring Sun Jang, Kang Gil-woo, Jang Jae Hee, and Sunwoo Lim.

I have both found the hill, and see where she writes down secrets. Movie solved! 

For a film like this, the film lives or dies on the performance of the lead, which is a child actress. No pressure. And she definitely knocks it out of the park. Her life seems so sad at the start, and you can’t help but feel bad for her. It seems like her parents are distant, and don’t want her to draw attention to herself. Sure they will celebrate her victories, but in minor ways because they are limited on funds, and can’t go to the school itself to interact with her there.

It is a story of a determined girl who DOES have a lot of good ideas and tries to pull herself up purely based on perception and boot straps. But just like a child, she acts irrationally nonetheless, and responds poorly to situations she could not predict. In fact, she acts quite childish a few times, which help ground the character and the film. This isn’t some family film about doing your best and being the best you can be and everything will work out. No, it goes for a deeper level of realism.

The Hill of Secrets is not a very flashy film, but it is also well shot and tells a simple story. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and you never know what might be the catalyst for change in your household.

The Hill of Secrets: 3 out of 4.