‘My Name Is Loh Kiwan’ Review: Korean Film’s Take On The Power Of Love


What I found recently is that the beauty of film lies in the fact that anything goes. Maybe that’s exactly why we call it an escape from reality. My Name Is Loh Kiwan is a movie that reminds me of this particular trait of film: escapism. For the most part, the film comes across as quite unrealistic, despite its grandiose depiction of defection and immigration. Yet, there is a piece of dialogue that will remain with me for as long as my brain has the capacity to remember, and this comes right at the end of this film. I suppose this film is an effective exercise in the Asianness of the emotionality of a romance film. While we attribute highly charged emotional romances to Bollywood, I’d like to argue that the Asian approach in general is quite the same. Tug at heartstrings through a story that is overtly unimaginable and massively engaging at the same time. 

Just as India is fascinated by the stories of its neighbor Pakistan, South Korea is eager to tell stories of the uncharted north. I went into My Name Is Loh Kiwan completely blind, which is the best way to truly enjoy a film today. I was most grateful that it wasn’t a film about drug wars involving North Korea and China, a trend in the market right now. In the most movie-ish way possible, the resulting moral of this film is that love can conquer all. While this has been done a gazillion times before, somehow it’s a feeling we can’t seem to let go as social beings. Love is always in the air. Loh Kiwan is a North Korean defector who has to escape his life in China after a grave incident. This leads him to travel to Belgium and start afresh in a foreign land, not knowing the language or how to go about his life further. There he serendipitously meets a woman named Mari, who, from the kindness of her heart (this is a joke you’ll catch when you see the film), gives Kiwan something to live for. 

Kiwan is a well-behaved, disciplined young man, in the very military nature of his existence, played impeccably by everyone’s favorite Italian-Korean mafia boss, Song Jong-Ki (I haven’t actually watched Vincenzo). Yes, My Name Is Loh Kiwan is a film thrust into the reality of refugee survival and lifestyle; however, my point about the film being unrealistic still stands. Yes, Kiwan’s side of things is poignant to the point that it’s almost unbearable to watch, but it’s Mari’s side of things that makes it seem more unreasonable. Actress Choi Sung-Eun is masterfully mysterious and rebellious at the same time. The actress, who I last saw in The Sound of Magic, appears as a completely different person, thanks to her new unapproachable style, including massive knitwear, ripped tights, and a ton of kohl to line her eyes, a rarity in Korean entertainment. On a side note, every time I find an actor the same age as me, I’m reminded of how under-accomplished I am, but then I remind myself that I’m incapable of putting in the work they do. Despite her short experience, Choi has excellent chemistry with seasoned actor Song Jong-Ki. Although the start of their love story is quite abrupt, it flows through quite nicely later on. My one qualm is that Jong-Ki’s attempt at the dialect feels a little overdone. As a non-native, I don’t think it’s fair for me to judge; however, while under normal circumstances, I’d be able to understand at least 50% of the dialogue, in this case, I could barely make out separate words. It almost feels as if he’s got something in his mouth that’s stopping him from being able to speak properly. The coarse nature of his voice, though, works wonders for the role. 

My Name Is Loh Kiwan, set in motion by a love story and a quest for redemption in the form of a resident’s permit, is shot beautifully, especially the wide shots of the landscape, making people seem like tiny ants in a massive world. I guess it helps underscore the existential nature of the film. There isn’t much of a score to be memorable, but I did find myself bored in a few parts. There is a dark and gloomy atmosphere to the film, a common denominator I’ve found in the South Korean entertainment industry. Want to make something feel upsetting? Color-grade it to the point where everything makes you feel like you’ve been wrapped by the color gray. I was also strangely reminded of “Leon: The Professional,” maybe because Kiwan is like the innocent Matilda, while Mari is his Leon. I don’t know; that might be a stretch, but there was something there that reminded me of the film. 

I was left thinking of many movies when I watched this one. My Name Is Khan for one, possibly because of the similar nomenclature. I suppose both of these films have more in common than just a name. They’re about refugees who are treated in a distinct manner, specifically because of where they’re from, how they’re born, and what they sound like. While one deals with Asperger’s (at the time) and religion, the other deals with racism and loneliness, but the common denominator is love. Both men, whose names are unforgettable, do everything in their power for love. Love is healing; it’s also pure; it’s enchanting; and in this case, it’s also freedom. I suppose, at the end of the day, this film is emotionally charged and romantically inclined; however, it’s still quite melancholic. No, don’t worry, it’s not a tragedy; in fact, it’s a hopeful film, hence my apprehension about calling it realistic. Jokes aside, I thought the movie as a whole was a little bit slow in parts, but overall it did the job for a Netflix film. It’s also quite long, especially for direct-to-streaming, or maybe that’s a personal problem: “too long, no attention.” I’d give My Name Is Loh Kiwan 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it if you’re in the mood for some tears and something sappy. I personally didn’t find it emotionally draining, not because of the subject matter but because of the way it’s been presented. However, the ending does make up for that lacking feeling and leaves you with a sense of glee that only comes from escape. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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