Planet Of Snail’s deaf and blind subject, Young-chan, experiences the world through touch and the guidance of his wife Soon-ho, a woman with a spinal disability that’s inhibited her growth and resulted in her being around half her husband’s size. Directed and shot by Yi Seung-jun, the Korean documentary Planet Of Snail approaches the couple with curiosity, but never pity or bathos. Day-to-day life for Young-chan and Soon-ho involves complications that might never cross the minds of the abled, but they’ve adapted and found in each other both a partner and a sincere and touching love.
Young-chan is a writer. He uses an electronic Braille display to read and type, and his narrating aloud from his work and the metaphors he uses for his experience form a refrain for this gentle, restrained film. His favorite comparison is space: “All deaf-blind people have the heart of an astronaut,” he says at one point, which seems a particularly apt description for the ways in which, when unguided, he drifts through a room, waiting to make contact with something. Yi’s approach in the film is observational, so viewers hear about Young-chan’s disabilities and about how he met and courted Soon-ho only through what he tells other people, including their friends and a group of actors putting on a play about a deaf-blind character.
Like the minimalist score, this low-key approach and lack of exposition suits the subject matter. Young-chan and Soon-ho aren’t presented in terms of their conditions, but instead as two people living unusual but comfortable, playful lives. She communicates with him by tapping out messages on his fingers, but the two also seem to have achieved a kind of wordless connection. Their combined efforts to replace a light bulb Soon-ho can’t reach and Young-chan can’t see unfold with a cautious grace.
With little story to speak of, Planet Of Snail is more of an experiential piece, closing in on the pleasure and wonder with which Young-chan takes in details like rain falling outside the window and the bark of a tree. What’s at stake, in the end, is the only the future possibility of living apart. Young-chan and Soon-ho fit together well, but they have to confront the idea that someday death might take one of them before the other. That concern plays out one day as the former prove he can get himself home alone. That briefly casts a shadow over the pair, who otherwise seem content to enjoy what they have with a remarkable attention to the smallest details.