"I'm closing my eyes for a while to see the most precious things...
I'm closing my ears to hear the most beautiful sounds..."
Filmed over a two-year period, Planet of Snail follows the day-to-day life of Young-chan - a man who is deaf-blind - and his wife, partner, life-long companion and soul mate, Soon-ho - a lady with spinal problems.
Detailing the difficulties they face in accomplishing tasks that most take for granted and perform with ease, Planet of Snail not only shows us Young-chan and Soon-ho's disabilities at close quarters but also gently delves beneath them to reveal the hopes, dreams, and hearts, of two extraordinary people...
One of the earliest scenes in Planet of Snail sums up Young-chan to a tee, as well as perfectly accenting his relationship with Soon-ho:
With Soon-ho's help, Young-chan successfully flies a kite - his happiness palpable in spite of being unable to either see or hear the event, rather only feel. As well as being a beautiful scene in itself, this sequence also serves to show that kite as a poignant metaphor for Young-chan himself, a man who is desperate for his life to fly but who is tethered by his disability, just as the kite is tethered by its cord.
From the earliest stages of Planet of Snail, it is patently obvious how important Soon-ho's help is to Young-chan achieving even the most straightforward of day-to-day tasks, but what becomes increasingly apparent as we get to know the couple is how symbiotic their relationship really is. Ultimately, Soon-ho need for Young-chan is equal to his need for her, both in their everyday lives and in their deep love for each other. At about the halfway mark in Planet of Snail, Young-chan tells Soon-ho that he feels he's losing his ability to manage on his own and sets out to temporarily survive without her help. As soon as she is left alone, it becomes undeniably clear just how lost Soon-ho is without him to the extent that it almost seems that she's been separated from a part of herself.
In virtually every frame of Planet of Snail, whether it be in the detailing of the difficulties faced by our couple in, for example, the changing of a light bulb; in their enjoyment of spending time together in the park; or in their utter glee at throwing pine cones (just for fun) at director Yi Seung-jun, Young-chan and Soon-ho are shown to be as much two halves of a whole as they are individuals, and, frankly, their love for each other is one of which anyone would be truly proud.
It almost goes without saying that any film detailing the struggle to make life worth living in spite of severe disability is likely to be a poignant affair, especially if it's handled as handled as gently and effectively as Planet of Snail, but the fact that Young-chan wasn't born deaf-blind makes it all the more heartbreaking - his memory of being able to see and hear adding an undeniable feeling of loss to proceedings throughout. However, Young-chan never moans, complains or feels sorry for himself in any respect during the entire duration of this documentary of his life, and what shows overall, almost more than anything else, is the inner strength and resilience of both him and Soon-ho in the face of such constant and repeated adversity as well as the fact that, though their disabilities are, of course, a large (and sadly integral) part of their lives, they do not define who Young-chan and Soon-ho are, and ultimately Planet of Snail deftly shows us that Young-chan and Soon-ho are people trying to make a life who just happen to have disabilities, rather than disabled individuals trying to make a life.
Moreover, by Young-chan and Soon-ho's own moving admission, the most difficult aspect with which they've had to deal in their lives hasn't been the trials, tribulations or limitations caused by their disabilities, but rather the constant loneliness they both felt before finding each other - inadvertent fallout, if you will, from their conditions - and that in itself underlines the fact that 'Planet of Snail' is far more a story of the strength and ability of the human heart than of the weakness and disability of the human body.
Cinematically, Planet of Snail is expertly realised, with director Yi Seung-jun successfully managing to film Young-chan and Soon-ho's life together incredibly intimately without scenes ever feeling intrusive or voyeuristic. In fact, his direction is so perfectly understated as to make the camera almost invisible, allowing viewers to feel that they're actually a part of proceedings rather than simply watching two people's lives through a lens at close quarters.
What's less clear is how many (if, in fact, any) of the scenes were specifically created for the film's narrative as opposed to being what Young-chan and Soon-ho would have done even if the camera hadn't been there, but the fact that a definitive answer to this question cannot be gleaned from watching the film alone shows just how natural this entire documentary feels and how exquisitely each and every scene fits into the overall picture.
The musical score, by Min Seong-ki, is largely as gentle and as nuanced as the film itself and though the use of underwater sounds and audio muffling may be fairly obvious ways to simulate Young-chan's hearing problems, they nonetheless serve their purpose well enough.
A deeply touching and poignant documentary presenting a window into the life, and world, of a gentle man who has become deaf-blind, Planet of Snail is ultimately far more a story of the strength of the human heart than of the weakness of the human body.
Planet of Snail (2011)
HD 16:9 Colour/Stereo
Language: Korean with English subtitles
Director: Yi Seung-jun
World Sales: CAT&Docs
Duration: 87 mins (Feature edition), 52 mins (TV edition)