Steel Cold Winter is a very bleak movie that delivers in every possible way. It takes a basic premise that could lend itself to a K-drama treatment and a cast of young actors that would be at home in any romantic comedy only to create a claustrophobic atmosphere charged with anguish without ever becoming melodramatic.
We follow a boy haunted by a traumatic past who transfers from Seoul to a small town where he ends up falling in love with the local outcast girl. Their relationship is at the core of the movie, it evolves very naturally through a series of very well crafted scenes that shine thanks to the flawless interpretation of the two leads. Particularly impressive are the ice skating sequences that range from playful to downright frightful.
True to the title, the wintry landscape rules supreme and the contrast between majestic snow swept mountains and the narrow mindedness of people serves as one of the main thematic axis of the entire movie. This is a sick village where pigs are buried alive along with the hopes of the vulnerable who are made to suffer.
Teenage angst is framed in a context in which it not only makes perfect sense as it merges with something much greater, it becomes an outcry against injustice. Without being a thriller, there is enough suspense to keep the viewer engaged and the topnotch human drama is explored with brutal honesty.
There are even a few surreal moments as Steel Cold Winter plays with expectations. It shows the devastating effects of discrimination how explosive the consequences of gossip can be in such an enclosed environment.
Unlike other Korean movies in the same vein, there is no epic element here. The movie deals with the banal side of evil, a pervasive kind of abuse that snowballs into something absolutely monstrous. It is almost believable and all the more horrifying for that.
This is not an easy viewing experience, its worth relies in precisely that. It forces the viewer into very uncomfortable territory that is all the more damaging because the characters are fleshed out as real people.
It is also worth mentioning that no animals were harmed in the making of this movie, Korean cinema is not always as respectful of the rights of animals as it ought to be so it is reassuring to see that this attitude is changing: the credits mention the involved of CARE, Coexistence of Animal Rights On Earth.
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