A Korean man (played by Lee Jin-wook) and a Korean woman (played by Ryu Hye-young) meet up at an online suicide forum. Together they end up deciding, somewhat arbitrarily, that they want to die on an island in Utah, starting from Los Angeles and driving eastwards. They have not planned this trip very well, though they definitely want to kill themselves, so the journey is fraught with self-imposed obstacles as they keep getting stuck along the way.
“Road to Utah” isn’t quite a comedy or a drama, vacillating, as the lead characters do, between these two states of mind. The chemistry of the lead actors is defined mainly by the irony of their mutually critical demeanors. A rule is set early on about how they aren’t supposed to discuss their motivations, or even their names. This limits the scope of their conversations, so the two end up hunting for other random topics of discussion in the wilderness.
The funny part about the road between Los Angeles and Utah, which most travelers are unaware of, is that there’s pretty much nothing there. You’re just driving through expressionless landscape, unless you’re taking weird roads that go through national parks, which no one ever does. Korean people like the leads in “Road to Utah” are unaware of this, so they make up these weird fantasies in their heads about what road trips are like.
This is what ultimately brings satisfaction to the lead characters. As trifling and pointless as these adventures are, the sheer transient nature of these quests takes their mind off of the difficult questions in life. In the United States, no one knows who they are, and their English skills are lackluster enough that there’s no need for difficult conversations. If you just want to get drunk or make out, hey, who needs a dictionary for that?
The foreign performances, while substandard in general, are actually pretty good by the very low bar that is native English speakers in Korean media. The Americans are very well subtly fetishized too. They are either easily prone to violent outrage, excessively friendly, or just kind of rude. These interactions, stripped as they are of complexity, are ideal to the lead characters, who left Korea largely to escape moral complexities.
Alas, by failing to address moral complexities, “Road to Utah” ultimately restricts itself to being a fairly blank slate. When we do inevitably get a better idea of why the main characters decided to kill themselves, it’s too late to feel all that important compared to the long journey that they’ve already had. The general ambiguity of the ending is also less than helpful, as it communicates little more than, why yes, tomorrow is a new day. They never even get to Utah- which I suppose could be good or bad, depending on whether you interpret Utah as being a literalism or just a metaphor.
Review by William Schwartz
“Road to Utah” is directed by Kim Jeong-joong and features Lee Jin-wook and Ryu Hye-young.
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