South Korean director Yi Seung-jun’s heartfelt documentary Planet of Snail (2011) presents the moving tale of Young-Chan, a soulful individual who lost both his sight and hearing as a child and since then has only been able to communicate through his sense of touch. Fortunately for Young-Chan, he met his wife Soon-Ho, also disabled but with perfect sight and hearing, who aids him daily.
Seung-jun’s documentary was filmed over a two year period and follows the couple in their daily lives. The structural arc of the documentary progresses towards a moment of great change for the couple – when Young-Chan might be able leave the house without the aid of his wife. Friends and family are interviewed or shot in the company of the man who describes himself as a ‘snail’, due to his reliance on his sense of touch.
The power of Planet of Snail is in its ethos, choosing not to focus on what Young-Chan can’t do, but on what he and his friends can do. As well as learning to communicate with the world through a system of hand taps, he has also mastered Hebrew, creates humorous and beautiful sculptures, and writes both poetry and plays. All these carefully considered moments capture Young-Chan’s determination and personal strength.
The couple’s genuine concern, care and commitment to one another shines through in a spectacular yet quiet manner. Moving moments include Soon-Ho’s feelings for her husband as he leaves the house to go on a retreat to learn more about living independently. The documentary conveys both her fear for her husband being alone and also the fact that her role as full time career may become redundant. There is a psychological complexity to this simply-made film that speaks quietly about great things.
Seung-jun has done a tremendous job of capturing not just a man’s strength, but also a couple in genuine love. Planet of Snail is a truly moving documentary that warms the heart.