Korean 83, Imported Total admissions: They are listed in the order of their release. Feathers in the Wind Sometimes small-scale, informal projects can liberate a director. Without the pressure and weighty expectations involved in producing a major work, inspiration flows freely and the result is an even more accomplished piece of art.
This may have been what happened with Git by Song Il-gon, the director of Flower Island , Spider Forest , and various award-winning short films including The Picnic Git was originally commissioned as a minute segment of the digital omnibus film 1. Alas, the festival's expectations were confounded, first in that only Lee Young-jae's work really engaged environmental issues in a direct way the other two were merely set in rural areas , and second by the fact that Song went out and shot a minute film.
As an omnibus work, 1. But if Song betrayed the spirit of the omnibus project, he remained true to the needs of his film. Git centers around a film director who, in the middle of starting his next screenplay, remembers a promise he'd made ten years earlier. While staying on a remote southern island off Jeju-do, he and his girlfriend of the time agreed to come back and meet at the same motel exactly ten years in the future. Now, years after breaking up, he returns to the small island named Biyang-do, wondering if his ex-girlfriend will remember their appointment.
It seems appropriate that Git's basic setup recalls Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, another film that stands out for the beauty and simplicity of its construction On Biyang-do, the director -- named Jang Hyun-seong, the same as the actor who portrays him -- is overpowered with both memories of the past and the beauty of the island.
As he waits, the pressures of his work life start to recede, and he becomes acquainted with the young woman who runs the motel. Named Lee So-yeon played by -- sure enough -- actress Lee So-yeon of Untold Scandal , the woman is twelve years his junior, and possesses an unusual energy and enthusiasm. Although the general path followed by the plot is pretty straightforward, Song leads us down many odd and fascinating detours.
There is So-yeon's uncle, a middle-aged man with bleached blonde hair who hasn't spoken since his wife abandoned him. A peacock appears on the island, with no clear explanation or motivation.
And the tango, a very un-Korean pasttime, makes a striking appearance in the film. In Song's other works, such elements sometimes feel forced or self-consciously arty, but here they blend with the otherworldly presence of the island and add a sense of mystery.
Git which means either a triangular flag or "feather" in Korean is surprising in several respects. One is that such a low-budget film looks so good visually. In Flower Island, Song showed an unusual talent for the aesthetics of digital cinema, but here he takes it one step further.
To capture a natural setting so well on a medium that often feels cold and sterile is an unusual accomplishment. The relaxed, convincing performances of the actors also deserve notice. Lee So-yeon makes her slightly thin character memorable through considerable screen presence, while Jang Hyun-seong of independent films Nabi and Rewind gives the performance of his career.
Whatever we feel about the character he portrays, Jang's performance is so real and natural that we can't help but be drawn to him. In a year that has been lacking in unexpected discoveries, Git is an exciting find. At its rousing premiere at the Green Film Festival in Seoul, a prominent Korean film critic told me it may be the best romance Korea has ever produced. One hopes that it will be liberated from the other two segments of 1. At 70 minutes, it is a perfectly respectable length for a stand-alone feature film, and this is a movie that deserves to travel.
Darcy Paquet Marathon There was a lot going on in the world of Korean film at the beginning of The controversy of The President's Last Bang was being played out in the courtrooms and in the entertainment news.
The collapse of the PiFan Film Festival was a hot topic and the hype surrounding the impending release of Another Public Enemy was overwhelming. Almost missed among all that was a quiet film directed by a virtual unknown but starring the talented Jo Seung-woo. The media found it interesting as 'a story of human triumph' but most people seemed certain that Kang Woo-suk's feature would dominate the box office.
That all changed however, after Marathon had its press screening. It was reported immediately after in numerous newspapers that the journalists in attendance applauded long and hard following the press screening and that most of them were in tears.
The question and answer session with the director and lead actors that was held after the showing went on for much longer than anyone was accustomed to. Most questions had to do with how Jo Seung-woo was able to convincingly take on the role of an autistic young man. What followed next was a powerful nine-week run in the domestic box office where the film eventually went on to gather more than 5 million viewers. Although it did open in the number two seat slightly behind Another Public Enemy, word of mouth soon launched it into the number one position during its second week.
More and more newspapers began to compare its success with that of another sleeper hit, The Way Home, but Marathon soon out-performed that movie as well. Much of the credit for the success of Marathon falls squarely on the shoulders of Jo Seung-woo.
His performance is worthy of the considerable praise that has been heaped on it. Jo convincingly becomes Cho-won, a young man born with autism. In his younger days, Cho-won was prone to tantrums and violence against himself, but the special school his mother enrolled him in and the different athletic activities she taught him eventually helped Cho-won to cope with the world around him. After he takes third place in a 10km marathon, his mother sets her goals for her son to run a full km marathon in under four hours.
However, it is uncertain whether or not Cho-won shares her dreams or if he is just doing what he is told because, as his brother puts it, he is incapable of rebelling against his mother. Kim Mi-sook does an outstanding job as a mother spurred on to never give up on her son, through a mixture of fiercely defensive love and an enormous amount of guilt.
She skillfully brings Cho-won's mother, Kyeong-sook, to life as a flawed protector of her son. Her obsession to make up for her past failings with Cho-won lead her to virtually ignore the needs of the rest of her family, which succeeds in driving them away emotionally and physically.
When asked by a swimming instructor if she has any wish for herself, she replies that she wishes to die a day after Cho-won. Kyeong-suk believes if that were to happen, she would be able to take care of her son for his entire life, but her motives for saying that are later thrown back in her face, and she is accused of needing Cho-won to stay with her more than her son needs her. Mentioned at the end of the movie is the fact that the characters of Cho-won and his mother are based on real people.
Cho-won was inspired by Bae Hyeong-jin. Just years old at the time of this film's release, Hyeong-jin had already participated in several marathons and a triathlon. He has since gone on to become somewhat of a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and even having a line of TV commercials with SK Telecom.
Described as 'having a mind of a five-year old', Mr. Bae is an accomplished athlete and many of the events of his childhood are depicted accurately on screen. His mother involved him in many physical activities which he seemed to enjoy as a form of therapy, and had him keep a journal. It is from here that the misspelled Korean title of the movie originated.
While he had directed a couple of short films prior to Marathon, the last being in , Jeong had more recently worked as an editor for the film Three and as an art director for Wonderful Days.
After this emotionally-charged runaway hit, it seems likely that we will be seeing more from him in the near future. Although Korea has changed beyond recognition in the 25 years since Kim Jae-gyu pulled the trigger, Park's legacy remains an unresolved question for much of the Korean populace. Complicating the matter, Park's daughter now leads Korea's centre-right opposition party, ensuring that the historically themed Last Bang would be read as a comment on the present as well as the past.
The film itself has got somewhat lost in the controversy surrounding its release, at which time a judge from the Seoul Central Court ordered that four minutes of documentary footage be removed, since it might "confuse" viewers as to what is fact and what is fiction. The footage -- clips of anti-government protests shown at the film's opening, and images from Park's funeral that accompany the end credits -- were important to the overall work, and the four minutes of black screen which appear in their place leave the audience with an altogether different viewing experience.
Many have viewed Last Bang as a bit of character assassination aimed at the late President Park. An observant reader on the Koreanfilm. The most offensive bits may actually sneak past the radar of many foreign viewers: Just why Park's fondness for things Japanese should be so controversial requires a short history lesson, but suffice it to say that he is being portrayed as being associated and aligned with Korea's former colonizers.
Personally, I love the George Bush analogy and I agree that director Im was out to settle a few scores with the many admirers of the former president. However I can't accept that this is the film's key purpose. If that were the case, there would be no reason to structure the film in the unusual way it is put together.
Namely, the emotional climax -- Kim blowing Park's brains out -- occurs not at the end, but halfway through the film. As much of the plot is devoted to what happens after the event, as to what comes before.
Few filmmakers adopt such a strategy, though Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter comes to mind as another example of a film with its emotional climax in the middle, rather than the end. The unusual structure has opened Last Bang up to criticism, with many maintaining that the work loses its energy or focus in the second half.
The result for me, however, is to make it much more of a thinking film than an emotional film. And I maintain that there is enough going on here to justify it as an object of study. I should also note here in fairness to the director that the documentary footage that is meant to be screened over the end credits does pack a complex emotional punch.
Without it, the film's ending is emotionally monotone. I read Last Bang as a film about history. Of course, it covers a specific historical incident, and also tries to capture the mindset of an authoritarian nation the press kit calls it a film about "when a military society turns the gun on itself".
But most of all, this is a film about a small group of individuals who consciously decide to change history. To what extent can an individual, or a small group of people, really do that?
This is what I think the movie is asking. The process of unleashing change is portrayed as being unexpectedly simple. Im Sang-soo brings the events of this famous night down to a very human level, through evocative details concerning the many personalities involved, and through his liberal use of black humor a perfect antidote to the chest-thumping heroism we see in other Korean films based on history.
Thus, the final act that brings down the Park era comes across as being quite matter-of-fact. Yet in the chaos that follows the shooting, we gradually realize that Kim Jae-gyu's ambition to transform Korean history is up against forces more powerful than the slain dictator. An individual can set loose the forces of history, but cannot control them. Those who are familiar with Korean history will know that Park may have made his exit on that night, but the oppressive military dictatorship lived on in another form.
Every sentence uttered by Baek resonates beyond its immediate context, and his actions embody a prototype that reappears in many guises throughout history. True, the entire ensemble cast is nothing short of fantastic, including a career-reviving performance by Han Suk-kyu, but everything in the film boils down to Baek's character. Three cheers to Im Sang-soo. In making this leap from sex a preoccupation of his previous films Girls Night Out, Tears and A Good Lawyer's Wife to politics -- perhaps not such a long leap after all?
Now, the only work remaining is to get this film back from its censors.