PIFF report: Paju

My final screening at the 2009 PIFF festival was a Korean melodrama called Paju. This was also the last PIFF screening at the Haeundae Megabox theater, so the entire staff of volunteers came out to bow to the packed house of patrons. It was all very cute.

PajuPaju was not cute; it was pretty damned intense. This was yet another taboo romance, with director Park Chan-ok successfully putting her audience through utter hell. As is typical with modern Korean melodramas, a tragic event has occurred, leading to a misunderstanding, and thereby throwing everyone into self-inflicted conundrums of Shakespearean proportions. The story is intended to induce suffering, from the three tragic central characters to the backdrop of forced relocation of homes to a rural community with seemingly no future.

I’ve seen enough Korean movies now. Once I got the Big Answer halfway through the film, I knew what was coming. I won’t give anything away, but it has to do with that very Korean form of sacrifice and heroism. And, as with other Korean melodramas, there is always, always the beautiful girl who makes it all worth it. Actress Seo Woo is indeed almost impossibly adorable, but her character is no saint. She’s selfish and detached, with a bit of a mean streak. Granted, her situation has played a role in making her that way, and she does have a sweet side to her. But it pains me to see what these men go through for the doe-eyed “innocent.”

Still, this is a complicated character and a complicated set of circumstances. Even if the misunderstanding could be worked out, we’re still left with a forbidden love in a hopeless town. Like Romeo & Juliet, even if the message arrives, even if they could come together somehow, reality is still against them.

If I sound like I didn’t like this movie, that’s not it at all. In fact, I’ve really come to like these heartbreaking Korean yarns. Paju is well made, with a very effective time-shifting montage that provides mysteries and then reveals them in a manner that works. This is an edgy art film with big budget production values and an excellent ensemble cast.

And with that, I think my PIFF blogging is done. I lost count of how many movies I saw — 11 or 12 I think. The atmosphere, the films, the weather, the parties, the conversations… all added up to another wonderful week. But I’m tired. I haven’t slept much, I drank too much, and my apartment is a disaster. I feel the need for a weekend of social inactivity, to calm down and get back to normal life.

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