Life, Once Again! - Chapter 469
The old man crouched down and started piling up paper and cardboard. The thick paper was at the bottom for support, on top of that was paper, then thin paper boxes, then milk cartons, then books with their covers ripped off were stacked on top, before wrapping everything up with a thick string. As the tower of paper became higher, the shadows on the old man’s cheeks – whether it was a dimple or a scar, Maru didn’t know for sure – became deeper.
There wasn’t any background music. The only sounds that came out through the speakers were the old man’s breath that scratched its way through his throat, the thin and sharp sound of thin paper rustling, as well as the occasional sound of cars. Maru watched the static scene with his breath abated. It was the scene of an ordinary life, but there was a sense of tension that made him thin out his breathing.
This movie was about to collapse – this could be felt even without knowing any prior information about the movie. The tower of paper and cardboard started leaning, the soundlessly squeaking bicycle chains stopped, and the noise from the surroundings was completely removed, making it feel as though the old man was the only one in the world. That absolute solitude made the viewers feel uneasy.
Maru could hear a breath next to him. The breath that was kept at bay with difficulty, had escaped the mouth subconsciously. He slightly turned around to see Daemyung. Daemyung was absorbed in the movie with his eyes fixed to the screen. His half-open mouth was indicative of how immersed he was in the movie.
The scene changed. Yoojin, wearing a school uniform, appeared. She was eating some fruits while sitting on a sofa, and a while later, Suyeon appeared after opening the door. The two looked close enough to be real sisters. The awkward relationship they had during the read-through couldn’t be seen anywhere. After the scene of close sisters on screen, the wife of the second son, Joohyun, appeared. Even though Joohyun and Suyeon were polar opposites of each other, they chatted while calling each other mother and daughter. It was nothing new, but Maru felt that money was really scary after all.
Suyeol, who played the role of the second son, talked about their family plans for the weekend. They looked to be a very harmonious family. The daughters, albeit being a little coquettish, respected their parents, and their parents treated them with love. They looked like the ideal family. Although it was a short scene, it was long enough to make the audience understand how much they endeared each other.
The cozy scene that looked like it had a faint orange light to it suddenly switched to a gloomy grey-colored scene. The old man, who was lying down on a thin piece of blanket, violently coughed before sitting up. The faint background melody had disappeared completely. What filled the theater now was the sound of the old man’s coughing, and after that coughing, the white noise produced by the speakers themselves.
The back of the old man, who lifted up his aging body, was captured by the camera. The camera wordlessly captured the old man who walked around in the semi-basement kitchen where there was no light from the outside. After a few rattling sounds, the old man sat down on the floor. What appeared on the hexagonal sitting table with its paint scrubbing off, were some radish saengchae with only the sauce left over, some siraegi-guk with just the soup, a packet of seasoned laver, and some hard-looking rice. The camera shot the rice and side dishes on the table in a full shot.
The old man picked up his spoon. The contrast between the harmonious family dinner and the depressing old man’s dinner was truly tragic. Behind the old man, who was eating while coughing, there was a shelf on which was a tattered frame of a discolored photo that he took with his children.
Maru felt his displeasure increase as the old man chewed and swallowed the rice with difficulty. The clanging of the ceramic bowl and the metal spoon rang a few times before the screen turned dark.
The scene changed and the crouching old man stood up. It was raining heavily outside. The old man put on a raincoat and took his rusty bicycle to the streets. He stacked the cardboard and paper he found, which should have been several times heavier than normal due to the rain, onto his bicycle before staggering towards a small shop. He took out two one thousand-won bills after much hesitation and bought the castella bread and milk that he had been eyeing. He sat under the roof in the rain and opened the milk carton fully and dipped the castella before putting it in his mouth. There was a smile of joy on his face as he looked at the rainy skies.
Maru laughed in vain when he saw that scene. Such a depressing scene felt rather romantic thanks to the elder’s smile. That was the emotional skill of the actor who transcended the depressing atmosphere of the scene itself. The elder, who was eating the milk-dipped castella bread, should have been truly happy at that moment.
“Let’s buy some bread and milk when we go back,” Daemyung said.
The solitary life story of an old man in his later years continued after that. The old man met some of his friends from time to time and boasted to them about his own children: that his first son had a good job, the second son was a good businessman, and the third son was about to become a teacher.
Some words entered the old man’s ears as he laughed.
-But do your kids ever ask about your well-being?
After that, the same life of the old man unfolded, but unlike before, the old man’s expression was lifeless. The old man, who looked for happiness in the milk-dipped castella, now ate it like he was chewing on sand. The old man stepped on the empty milk carton as he stood up and then went home to change his clothes before heading somewhere. When he got off the rather shaky village bus, he struggled through some trains before entering a rather clean-looking residential area.
The movie gained a lot of speed from that moment onwards. After a quarrel with his first son, the old man fell into despair after hearing the malicious intent hidden in his son’s words, but he went to visit his other two sons with hope. However, the only thing he got in return was the second son telling him that it was a little tough for him to look after him, and the third son who asked him about the death benefit. His daughters-in-law, who used to treat him nicely, now looked at him as though they would a bug, and the elder was slashed by those gazes as he was thrown out to the streets. He couldn’t think about going back home and wandered around in the streets for a while before collapsing on a high street.
Maru knew that street too well. He felt pressured as though he had written a proposal and was about to get approval from his superior. Just as the old man curled in on a bench while groaning, some boys walking from the other side appeared on the screen. The group of kids, who were blurred at first as though they were just extras, had the camera focus on them once they stood in front of the old man.
On the screen was his face, and when he saw that, Maru was enveloped by a strange sensation. On the overwhelmingly large screen, incomparable to household TVs, was a full close up of his face, and his voice could be heard from either side of the screen. Jiseok’s face could be seen on the side as well.
The line he had been holding onto for a long time flashed past. The him on the screen had already turned his back towards the old man and was walking away. Although it was just for a moment, he got to appear on the same scene as the elder. He felt happy, yet the disappointment of not having done better shook his body. He even felt sorry because he felt as though the stifling tension that the elder built up now had been shaken out of place because of him. Back then, he felt that he had done his utmost best and that he couldn’t do any better, but now that he watched it from the audience seats, he felt that it was just ‘his best’ and not ‘the best’. He felt as though the flow of emotions that connected each cut suddenly disappeared out of nowhere. He felt as though it would’ve been better if the whole thing had been edited out.
“You did really well. It was so natural that I felt unpleasant,” Daemyung remarked.
That was good? He couldn’t accept that. Maru felt a little angry and felt as though Daemyung was mocking him. However, he soon realized that Daemyung wasn’t someone who would do that and that he was being too sensitive.
“That was okay?” He asked in a small voice.
Daemyung replied that he did really well, not just okay. Maru didn’t know whether to rejoice or cry. He looked at the screen with complex emotions.
He wondered if he could focus on the movie with his current feelings, but that thought only lasted a moment. When the old man returned home and took out a hammer, Maru put aside all the disappointments he had about his acting, as well as his apologetic feelings to everyone else involved in the movie.
The old man’s expression hadn’t changed. He neither became agitated nor enraged at the fact that he was abandoned. After eating some rice and cold water, the old man just continued with his everyday life. He picked up waste cardboard and brought them to the junkyard. After finishing his work, the old man left his bicycle at home before taking a bus.
His eyes as he looked outside the shaky bus didn’t look chaotic at all. In fact, they were very clear.
-It is not wrong of me to discipline the dogs that grew up with my life as their food.
He said those words as he looked outside. The camera closed up on the hammer that the old man was holding. After that, the scene changed. The third son, played by Geunsoo, appeared on screen. He, who was changing his clothes at home, opened the door when he heard the bell ring. The one that came was the old man who had a smile on his face.
-Father, so you thought about changing the registrant for the insurance?
As soon as Geunsoo’s first words ended, the old man swung the hammer he was hiding behind his back. Along with a loud smack, Geunsoo flinched back. He was hit by the hammer, but it wasn’t a fatal wound.
The old man rushed up to him while shouting with a cracked voice, and the third son, who fell on the floor, screamed at his father who assaulted him and kicked him back. The fight between the two wasn’t the dynamic kind found in action movies. The camera angle did not change either. It was a fixed point of view, and a long take at that. The fight between the healthy son and the aging father was rather funny yet gruesome. Falling down, swinging awkwardly, rolling on the floor, etc. There was no ‘clean murder’. The only thing shown on the screen was the struggle for life between two desperate humans.
The hammer that the old man swung hit the son on the top of the foot. Looking down at the back of his son’s head as he curled up, the old man swung his hammer once again. Blood scattered. However, there wasn’t a lot. The old man panted heavily while looking at his collapsed son before running towards the bathroom. The only thing that could be heard after that was the sound of vomiting which sounded as though the old man was vomiting his entire soul.
Maru frowned subconsciously at that scene. There was no corpse, nor a lot of blood, but precisely because there were only a few visual cues, it felt crueler.
The old man brought a sack. The sack which was supposed to house plastic now housed a corpse. The old man struggled as he dragged the corpse outside. People walked past him, but everyone looked disinterested. The old man and the corpse moved across the busy streets.
* * *
When the movie ended and the ending credits started rolling up, Maru tapped on Daemyung’s shoulders. It was 2:20 a.m. The employee that opened the exit yawned as he came in. The customers then started standing up from their seats. They mixed in with the ten or so people and left the theater.
A chill air brushed past his body.
“It’s well made, really well made. It’s just like the novel. No, I feel like it’s even better,” Daemyung said.
Maru nodded his head. The core content of the novel he read through from start to finish several times was all in there. Some of the scenes had changed, but the important flow stayed the same. Such editing was only possible thanks to the fact that the original author participated in creating the script.
“But, I don’t want to watch it a second time.”
Daemyung shook his head. Maru also didn’t want to watch it again. Watching once was enough. That was probably one of the disadvantages that movies with bitter endings had.
“It’s late. Let’s go down for now.”
The footsteps of the two reverberated across the quiet hall.
 Spicy radish salad (It’s not really salad, but there’s no better word for it). Wikipedia for more info.
 Dried radish leaves and stem. Wikipedia for more info.