KBS Drama Specials usually feature some of the boldest storytelling on all of Korean television. But none have ever been as striking as Slow (슬로우).
Slow stars Kwak Dong Yeon as high school baseball player Lee Jiwon. He’s is an above average player, but has not been playing well as of late.
It is evident early on that Jiwon is suffering from some sort of mental disorder. He has severe anxiety that can paralyze him at times, but he also gets strange sensations of things feeling faster than they really are. Both (and possibly other) conditions have hindered his playing ability as well as social interactions at school.
Others point this out, rather bluntly, to him and passively tell him to see a doctor. And in one of the tensest confrontations of the hour, some of his teammates call him “crazy” and a “lunatic.” In that same scene, there is mention of a “razor blade” as well.
That scene and a sequence of him taking a bus to the countryside are made significant by the fact that most of the hour has very little dialogue and almost no scoring (which only kicks in during that countryside scene). Music also appears at moments where Jiwon recalls the cello playing of classmate Kim Jung Yun (Jung Soo Ji) who seems to be the only comforting force for him.
There is a sort of minimalism in the storytelling and direction of the hour that you are definitely not going to see anywhere else on Korean television. But it more than works here, giving Jiwon’s story a kind of urgent attention that is definitely contrary to how Korean society sees mental health.
Now I’m certainly no expert on mental health. But it was clear to me from the beginning of Slow that Jiwon was struggling with something that wasn’t going to be easily solved or cured.
That’s why it was very disheartening to read the comments on the official KBS World YouTube channel upload of Slow saying this episode was a “waste of time,” “weird” and “boring” and that they “regret” watching it. Other comments seem to be from people coming to the episode hoping for some kind of K-pop love story.
In a way, these reactions and obviously, the reactions of the people around Jiwon in the episode mirror Korean society’s general feelings towards mental health. And it’s certainly not exclusive to Korea as well. There is a lack of empathy and understanding, but also of knowledge that sadly keeps people who suffer from any of the wide array of mental illnesses from getting the help and support they need.
Slow presents a deep story of one of these people in a truly striking and affecting way. A unique presentation that so effectively depicts the confusing and sometimes scary world someone like Jiwon might be suffering in. And Kwak Dong Yeon, as usual, gives a powerful performance.