Thoughtfully addressing the phenomenon of holojok — a neologism formed by combining the Korean words holo (alone) and jok (group) to define the growing number of people who prefer to be left alone in one-person households, accounting for one-third of total homes in Seoul — Aloners is the outstanding debut feature from Hong Sung-eun.
Drawing with meticulous precision the various shades of solitude that colour the lives of the film’s protagonists, Hong renders an intimate portrait of intergenerational relationships and asocial behaviours merged with the fear of being alone and feeling alienated in the workplace.
Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) lives in a small unit of an anonymous apartment building. In her twenties, she is the top employee at a credit-card call centre. When she leaves home to go to work, she puts her headphones on and never takes her eyes off her phone. Even the annoying neighbour, who is constantly trying to make contact with her while smoking in the hallway, cannot break through the invisible wall she has built around herself. Her father’s phone calls to hound her over her recently deceased mother’s inheritance often go unanswered. She is a loner, impenetrable, until one day when the loud thud of something very heavy falling next door — coupled with the disruptive arrival of a young new intern at work that Jina reluctantly has to train — upsets her solitary life, demanding closer encounters with people around her.
Driven by Gong’s outstanding performance in her first role in a feature-length film and by Hong’s smooth command in directing a script that does not include plot twists or apparent drama, Aloners bathes in the atmospheric mood it recreates around the central characters and resonates with audiences with its subtle, subversive power.