Love Child

Directed by Valerie Veatch

In Seoul in the Republic of Korea, a young couple stands accused of neglect when "Internet addiction" in an online fantasy game costs the life of their infant daughter. Love Child documents the 2010 trial and subsequent ruling that set a global precedent in a world where virtual is the new reality.

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  • ★★★★½ review by Victor Morton on Letterboxd

    LOVE CHILD (Valerie Veatch, South Korea, 2014, 9)

    If, like me, you were skeptical about Her, Love Child is like a cautionary tale from Her-land, where all human relations have been so cyberized that even something as (you’d think) simple as “feed your baby” become just more virtuality fodder. The case that shocked South Korea—the world’s most plugged-in country as a result of deliberate government planning—concerned a mother and father charged with starving their 3-month-old to death because they couldn’t be bothered to feed her as they spent all their time playing the role-playing game “Prius.” And there are more twists than that—not as shocking as that one (how could they be?), but one is like seeing the “Generation Wired” equivalent of the Twinkie Defense unfold. It’s TV, but well-done TV; the framing of talking heads is loose, the stock footage well-chosen for the ideas Love Child is pushing about the level of Korean Internet penetration creating a nation of “addicts.” The filmmakers are able to use footage from Prius that is far more apropos than you’d ever dare guess, while the accused parents are basically never seen, so they become like avatars themselves. And the history of that word and its role in traditional Korean society makes for unexpected food for thought. The last shot is a bit on the nose, but it represents the reaction I had been having throughout. The only criticism I’d make is that there were some places I wanted more from a film that’s lean and short—more interrogation of “diminished capacity” defenses, both under Korean law and Anglo-American common law; more about video games as public contests in South Korea; more about the side effects of new legislation the case prompted. At times, Love Child feels as if it’s only skimming the surface. But what a surface.

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    First published at SLC Weekly: www.cityweekly.net/utah/blog-19-10331-sundance-2014-day-3-reviews.html

  • ★★★★½ review by Jamel Chhedi on Letterboxd

    This new documentary is a great companion piece to the documentary "Web Junkie" which also follows Asians with an online gaming addiction.

    It primarily revolves around the case and trial of two South Korean parents who left a 3 month old malnourished baby at home alone for 10 hours to go to an Internet cafè to play video games. The most ironic and tragic thing about this is that the game they were playing revolved around protecting a child like character in a role playing game.

    It's really sickening to see how far this addiction can drive you, and I went straight in and hugged my 5 month old son after watching it and reflected on my own use of iPhones, iPads and other electronic devices when being with my family. Because even though online addiction still is not as extreme here as it is in Asia, there's still a further anti-socialization of our society today due to "social" networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  • ★★★★½ review by Klanwachtr on Letterboxd

    Traumatisierend... und nebenbei ne sehr gute Doku, die weit hinter den beleuchteten Fall blickt.

  • ★★★½ review by Benn Ray on Letterboxd

    Heartwrenching. Still not sure I comprehend the how/why of what happened, but feel like that only sketches of the man and woman responsible for the death of their child were presented. But a damn compelling story.

  • ★★★½ review by Steve Pulaski on Letterboxd

    In the 1990's, South Korea was still trailing behind in the internet/online renaissance that incalculably impacted global communication, so in response to its tardiness, the South Korean government took a huge risk in building and developing infrastructure that would not only improve South Korea's communication with the world but make it one of the world's biggest digital leaders. Its infrastructure, which greatly assisted in broadband, wireless, and wired connectivity propelled it to one of the main digital giants in the twenty-first century, but its prolific use of technology has also made it a nation affected greatly by "internet addiction."

    Valerie Veatch's Love Child explores the idea of internet addiction in South Korea by using one of its most public cases as its thesis. In 2010, in the city of Seoul, South Korea, an infant child was found dead from malnutrition directly because of parental neglect. The parents of the child were found to play an RPG game online for anywhere between six and twelve hours a day; a game that was, ironically, centered on raising and nurturing a virtual child that would grow up to bear unthinkable powers. The case was heavily publicized and the idea of whether or not internet addiction could be a practical and rational diagnosis began to concern people globally.

    The couple was playing the computer game Prius, which, we learn, has attracted numerous people to its online community thanks to its gorgeous, colorful graphics, heavy-use of individuality through pre-programmed personalities, and entirely customizable avatars. While the in-home computer is still a very big luxury in South Korea, many flock to a local gaming lounge, equipped with dozens of fully-customized computers where people pay by the hour to play the latest online video games. The couple was said to have played up to ten to twelve hours at these lounges for the price of seven, thanks to attractive deals the club often boasts, and that the couple's only source of income seemed to come directly from the solicitation of items and features in the game for people that didn't want to go through the labor of actually earning such things themselves.

    Love Child tells a tragic story, but one that was sooner or later going to be told, what with the international rise of the internet and the amount of people who center their lives around it. Veatch's exploration reminds me of the kind of exploration Susan Saladoff gave to Stella Liebeck, the elderly woman who filed a lawsuit against McDonald's after accidentally spilling the restaurant's coffee on herself gave her third degree burns, in her documentary Hot Coffee. The only difference is Saladoff worked to illustrate and correct numerous misconceptions about Liebeck and her case that were perpetuated by people shortchanged or rewriting the case in their own blatantly incorrect way. Veatch's story about the Korean couple is as bad as it sounds, and while the idea of internet addiction is a very plausible explanation, it still doesn't lessen the fact that a child died of starvation in a well-off country because of basic parental neglect.

    Veatch occasionally veers off into a more impressionistic style, atypical of most documentaries, becoming more fascinated by video clips of Prius gameplay along with medium-length shots of random, day-to-day occurrences in South Korea (case and point, a child flinging an umbrella around like a sword until it becomes inside out, with the boy's mother helping him while she's talking on her cell phone). This proves distracting from Veatch's core thesis, which, instead of diving into the court case for the South Korean parents, is focusing on other minor instances that almost seem open for some kind of metaphorical interpretation.

    Love Child, as a look at internet addiction and the side effects of virtual dependency drawn in broadstrokes and taken in basic context, still works as a documentary, for its key purpose is achieved through the introduction of a specific example that bleeds into a larger, bigger issue, equipped with historical context on another country. Believe me when I say, however, this will not be all we hear about this subject, especially in documentary form.

    NOTE: Love Child will air throughout the month of August 2014 on HBO.

    Directed by: Valerie Veatch.

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