Seung-jun Yi’s elegant documentary offers a new perspective on the issue of disability.
Young-Chan occupies the tiny 'planet of snail', communicating only through touch and relying on the tactile experience of the world. Soon-Hoo, Young-Chan’s wife, embodies the bridge between Earth and the planet of snail, a window to the world beyond the quiet cosmos of sensation. Together, Young-Chan and Soon-Hoo rediscover the little things in life which have been taken for granted by most Earth dwellers, delighted by drops of rain on their skin and sand between their toes.
Seung-jun Yi’s elegant documentary does not simply offer a new perspective on the issue of disability; it is a celebration of the unknown and undiscovered as seen through the eyes of the deaf and blind Young-Chan. Planet of Snail transforms our perception of life as we know it, guiding us through its foreign territory aided by Young-Chan: a noble and eager interpreter of ‘snail’ language and its intricate gestures.
In one memorable scene we see Young-Chan and Soon-Hoo working together in order to replace a lightbulb. Very slowly, gently, Soon-Hoo taps on her husband’s hands, directing his body as he carries out the task. Even more heart-warming is the fact that Young-Chan is changing the bulb especially for his wife since he is entirely blind and her spinal condition compromises her movement and flexibility.
Elsewhere, we see the amorous couple hugging trees, riding trains, sniffing Spring Fir cones. Yi makes it clear to us that while these ‘snails’ might move at their own, terribly slow, pace, their lives are just as rich, if not richer, than the other inhabitants of Earth. Images of fingertips and their contact with the graininess of sand, the uneven texture of wood and the sensation of braille linger longer after Yi’s film has ended. What does a tree really feel like to hug? How would a flickering lightbulb warm my fingertips?
Yi’s documentary is strangely enchanting, most of all because it relies less on words, language, and much more on our visual, and sensory, connection with Young-Chan and his alien sensibilities. The love story between Young-Chan and Soon-Hoo is also fascinating, the sort of thing Hollywood execs would plunder had Yi not found them first.
Sometimes documentaries tend to drift towards their end, grappling for answers or concluding in unhelpful ways, but Yi’s film moves beyond the limits of the genre, plunging us into the world of snail.
Not a high-concept new sci-fi film to rival Prometheus, but a documentary about overcoming severe disability and the isolation it creates.
A sobering and poetic film.
Life-affirming and delightful.