Even before I watched Marathon (a.k.a. Running Boy, 2004), I knew Jo Seung-woo would deliver. He always has.
So I watched him play the character of Cho-won and he did it convincingly. But, and I’m hesitant* about what I’m going to write next, was he too convincing? Why did I feel at times that he went overboard in his portrayal of an autistic person?
It wasn’t that Jo Seung-woo’s acting was over the top. On the contrary, his acting was excellent. What bothered me was how many autistic traits he exhibited. He parroted what others said. He spoke in that high-pitched voice. He walked in that peculiar tottering way. He twirled his fingers in the air a lot. He often had no eye contact. It just seemed too much, as if he was a walking textbook for autism. Is it realistic for all those traits to be in ONE person?
More convincing was his obsession with routine and his selective photographic memory. I felt the young Cho-won’s acting was closer to that of an autistic child – the way he shut himself from the world, the huddling on the ground, the anti-social behavior tantrums…
So that was my small quibble with Marathon. A gut reaction, if you may. By having Cho-won manifest an excessive number of autistic traits, it actually undermined the credibility of what was otherwise a pretty good film. I did cry in places, so I guess I was moved. I just wish I wasn’t manipulated to be excessively moved.
*My hesitance is because I may be completely unfair in my reaction to the film due to my ignorance about severe autism. The last thing I want to do is be hurtful or dismissive.