PIFF: Day 3&4

I’m finding it difficult to get the time to write. My first priority is to watch as many films as possible. The second is to meet up with people. I’m accomplishing these with some success. But my other objectives — sleeping and blogging — sometimes get left behind. Oh yeah, and there’s that job thing too.

Last night (Sunday) was another night of meeting and drinking. I caught up with my friend at the soju/seafood tents at around 10:30. I met a American-born Korean actor named John, an actress (again, the name escapes me dammit), and a producer of one of Korea’s most popular movies, Taegukgi. All of them were very cool and, thankfully, spoke good English. In my small petri dish of industry people I’ve met they’ve all proved to be very un-diva like. They’ve been well-traveled, friendly, good humored people. We drank several rounds of soju and ate things that moved. Then it was time for me to hit the sack.

I took in four films over the past two days: Sleeping Songs, An Aimless Bullet, The Forest, and The Fair Love. Reviews follow…

Sleeping Songs is a German drama with two stories. One is about a trumpet player who has lost his will to make music (and maybe even for life itself). He comes across a muse in the form of a homeless woman’s poetry scribblings. Through him, we piece together her life. I’ll leave it at that, so I don’t ruin anything. Much of the satisfaction in this movie was in an exceptional feat of editing that pulled the narrative together. We get overlapping images and sounds from both worlds, and sometimes we see things as they happened about 50 or so frames before they happen. I wondered while I was watching if the music we were hearing was Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. Sure enough it was, and the soundtrack is a perfect ghostly backdrop. It’s a beautiful film.

An Aimless Bullet is apparently Korea’s most famous movie, from 1969. I found it to be more interesting than it was enjoyable. The story chronicled a time after the end of the Korean war, with various people trying to come to terms with post-war life and the rapid modernity that comes with it. I admit that I briefly nodded off a couple times, in fact missing the critical turning point. It’s difficult for me to watch older movies like this, especially on little sleep. At the same time, it’s interesting to see older Korean movies because the place has changed so rapidly. There was one scene with two characters looking out over the Seoul skyline that was amazing. It’s even got its own “Rosebud” motif. In this case: “Kaaa-jaaa. Kaaaaaa-jaaaaaaaaa!”

The Forest is a Polish film that’s also something of a yawner. But in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I actually enjoyed it. But it’s tough to go through. This movie is very, very slow. It’s kind of like a poem put to film in the sense that it’s more of a feeling of a particular situation — a son watching his father’s last days, and the dreams the father has — than it is a typical narrative. The cinematography is gorgeous, with a rich black and white, deeply gothic look. The director holds the shots for excruciatingly long periods of time, particularly at the end, but they’re so beautifully constructed. This is one of those films in which you wonder if you can take it, but then it ends and you wish you could see more.

The Fair Love is a Korean movie that I suspect will find a large audience once it gets wide release. It’s the story of a 56 year old bachelor who promises his estranged, dying friend that he’ll look after his 25 year old daughter after he dies. Eventually he and the girl fall in love, despite the huge age difference. Koreans seem to love these awkward and semi-taboo love stories.

The dialog in this movie is excellent. The conversations they have hit all the right notes, and the two characters know full well what they’ve gotten themselves into. The best part of the movie is the performance by Lee Ha-na. Not only is her acting rock solid throughout, but she’s got the subtle nuances down. You can feel when watching her that her father’s death hangs with her in every single scene. Even when she’s happy and smiling, there’s a hidden pain in there. This can’t be an easy thing for an actor to pull of but she does it perfectly.

While I enjoyed the ride, the ending sucked. The movie talks a lot about courage, but director Shin Yeon-Shick doesn’t have the courage to give us an ending. I’m fine with movies leaving things ambiguous if the script allows for it. But this one didn’t. Shin needed to make a choice and he didn’t, which left things empty. The movie also suffers from a lack of intimacy. We get great conversation, but no real intimate exchanges between the two. It’s probably because the movie aims straight for the mainstream. To show these two actually being physically affectionate (and no, I’m not talking about skin) would push things too far. It suffers because of it.

But I still recommend it for Lee Ha-na’s outstanding performance and the conversations the two share.

Onward…

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