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Hiding behind a carefully constructed wall of aloofness and solitude, Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon) successfully avoids feeling grief, anger, and…pretty much everything else in South Korean writer/director Hong Seong-eun’s delicate feature debut Aloners. As it explores the potentially devastating impact of denying yourself the time and space to experience pain and loss, the film ultimately makes a clear argument for the importance of establishing genuine connections with other people.

At first, Jina seems content on her own. She’s very good at her job — providing telephone customer support for a credit card company — she has a nice apartment, and she doesn’t seem to mind eating alone as long as she has a show to watch. She’s impersonal at work, but that’s a benefit in her case, since it allows her to listen to all manner of complaints and not take them to heart. Her supervisor praises her dedication, noting to the rest of the staff that Jina only took a couple of days off for her mother’s funeral before coming back and working even harder.

It turns out that last part is more of a red flag than an achievement — because Jina isn’t really doing so well after all. Life really starts poking holes in her defenses when she’s asked to train bubbly new recruit Sujin (Jung Da-eun), who persists in wanting to be Jina’s friend. Then she discovers that the next-door neighbor she barely knew died alone in his apartment and wasn’t found for more than a week. Add to that her frustration with her father, who seems to be moving on all too easily from his wife’s death, and it’s not long before Jina’s facade crumbles around her.

Jina isn’t unusual in her discomfort with emotion and social interaction, especially in the era of smartphones and virtual relationships, but Hong Seong-eun seems to understand the fine line between introversion and dangerous isolation. Her slow, patient scenes and spare but effective script, combined with Gong Seung-Yeon’s powerful performance effectively drive Aloners’ message home: Being alone may seem like the path of least resistance, but without someone to talk to, to share a meal with, to rage at and forgive, to touch and to love, we miss out on an essential piece of the human experience. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: Call center operator Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon) lives behind impenetrable walls of her own creation. With her mother recently dead and a rocky relationship with her father, she is really and truly alone, a creature of routine at work and in her small apartment. She excels in her customer service work, the callers the closest human connection for a woman in the habit of rejecting friendly overtures. But when her boss insists she train new hire Sujin (Jung Da-eun) at the same an unsettling tragedy occurs in her building, the lonely life Jina has so carefully constructed begins to unravel. A low-key character drama, the film’s power derives from its powerful central performance and its careful observation of a life lived at a remove. It is a kind of ghost story and while there is a slight supernatural element to the story, the real specter is Jina, walking through the world as if she is invisible.

Sherin Nicole There are as many ways to be alone as there are words to describe it. In Aloners, writer/director/editor, Hong Seong-eun dissects ‘alone-ness’ and questions whether it is a choice or a form of ostracization. Our lead is Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon), a socially reticent woman who works at a call center during the day but prefers the companionship of her television at night. Jina seems to be coasting—friction-free—until three catalysts test the boundaries of her isolation. The first is her estranged father (Park Jeong-hak), who reinserts himself into her world to avoid a solitary life. As Jina’s discomfort builds, she is assigned to a new trainee at work. Sujin (Jeong Da-eun) is a bubbly younger woman who refuses to go solo, no matter how cold the shoulder she receives. The final catalyst arrives with the death of Jina’s neighbor. A man who sought a cure for his lonesomeness so desperately that it led to an absurd end. Forced to confront her chosen lifestyle, Jina quietly unravels, but perhaps losing a stitch is the only way to weave new patterns. Aloners is more relatable because it is harder to connect in this era of constant contact, and by refusing to add adornment to Jina’s solitude, the film is an unhurried mediation that allows us to reflect on our own forms of exile.

Nikki Fowler: Aloners was a tough watch in a very good way. It’s a film that intricately and beautifully captures what happens when we don’t completely process grief — when we internalize it, and shut off from the rest of the world except for essential minute daily interactions, forgetting what it’s like to fully enjoy and engage with the outside world. One can be in a vast city with millions of people and still feel alone. This beautifully directed and written drama explores the sheer magic that happens when they are intermittently able to intersect on an emotional level. Aloners is heavy, deep, and thought-provoking. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale Aloners, which had the original title of People Who Live Alone in Korean, is a stunning feature debut for writer/director/editor Hong Sung-eun. This poignant story of self-isolation captures that place those who are grieving go.It is neither life nor death, but somewhere in between the two. Those going through it must choose to feel too much or to feel nothing, and lead character Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) determines to shut herself off from herself and everyone around her. One of the most poignant aspects of Aloners is how it shows, very gently, the impossibility of that choice. It only leads to Jina becoming haunted, both literally and figuratively. Read full review.

Jennifer Merin South Korean director Hong Seong-eun’s directorial debut, Aloners, a drama about a young Korean woman who has become isolated to the extent that she finds any interpersonal encounters to be unacceptably uncomfortable — except for the very impersonal and highly structured phone conversations she has while doing her almost robotic day job as a complaint taker in a credit card call answering center. Her controlled outlook begins to fall apart when she’s (unwillingly) assigned to train a new employee who is overly friendly and needy. And she has an unusual encounter with a neighbor who resides in the small apartment next to her own. The central character of Jina, brilliantly portrayed by Gong Seung Yoen, is fascinating and her travails will keep you thoroughly hooked into her story. The film is a slow build to a stunning denouement. Hong Seong-eun, who wrote, directed and edited Aloners, is being hailed as the new filmmaker to watch in South Korean cinema.

Loren King Social critique wrapped in a quiet drama and character study, Aloners is the incisive feature debut from South Korean writer-director Hong Sung-eun and features a powerful lead performance from actress Gong Seung-yeon. Without heavy-handedness, the film depicts a world of people more comfortable wired to their phones than talking over lunch; preferring to stare at handheld screens on the bus rather than engage with a fellow passenger. Aloners is downbeat yet it’s more somber, more searching, than grim. There’s black humor in watching young women in the soul crushing job of talking to strangers from behind a barrier of corporate phoniness. Read full review.

Sandie Angulo Chen: The Korean drama Aloners is a nuanced and fascinating exploration of an isolated young single woman’s life and work in South Korea. A credit card customer service operator, Jina (Gong Seung Yeon) has an isolated life with little human interaction outside of the highly scripted calls she manages. Writer-director-editor Hong Seong-eun heightens the drama surrounding Jina’s highly structured life and features an impressive central performance. Audiences will feel invested in Jina’s story as it slowly, and surprisingly unfolds.

Liz Whittemore Aloners gives audiences a complex look at loneliness and the choice to be alone. A quiet tour de force performance from Gong Seung Yoen as our leading lady keeps the audience guessing. The film is a stunning debut from writer-director-editor Hong Seong-eun, who treats us to a sly, dark comic undertone throughout. The timely release strikes a cord coming out of pandemic mode and the ability to “be social” once more. Aloners is a thought-provoking statement on capitalism and the cog, existing and truly living.

Cate Marquis A young woman, Jina (Gong Seung Yoen) takes calls from customers at a credit card call center, treating each politely with kindness and understanding as she efficiently solves their problems. But off the phone, she is different, avoiding contact with others, shows little emotion, and lives a solitary life in a tiny apartment. in South Korean writer/director Hong Seong-eun’s involving drama Aloners. Aloners, Hong’s strong directorial debut, is part mystery, part drama and part mediation of modern social isolation. As Jina, Gong Seung Yoen gives a gripping performance, skillfully crafting a character who both intrigues and puzzles us from the start. When Jina’s boss assigns her to train a new employee, Jina is resists strongly but has no choice. The new girl, Sujin (Jeong Da-Eun), is bubbly, sociable and even clingy, and Jina is forced to rethink her carefully-controlled life as she copes with the new girl while quietly dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s recent death and some strange happenings with the apartment next door.


Title: Aloners

Director: Hong Seong-eun

Release Date: June 9, 2023

Running Time: 91 minutes

Language: Korean

Screenwriter: Hong Seong-eun

Distribution Company: Film Movement

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).