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Ko - production in Busan
  • Non-linear Structure: A Tendency in Korean Independent Cinema PART.2
  • by LEE Yong Cheol /  May 09, 2018
  • Alone: A Recurring Nightmare

    Starting with the sound of a murderer’s heavy breathing and from a first-person perspective, PARK Hong-min’s Alone (2016) is reminiscent of Philippe Grandrieux’s Sombre (1998). Both films show constant movement and form narrative out of the inner landscape. Yet Alone differs from Sombre in that it cannot escape from the space it is bound to. It is not surprising that the two films treat space differently. While Sombre depicts a serial killer on the move, Alone is about a man who circles around a particular death. The murderer dreams that he gets killed by a stranger. This recurring nightmare torments him and every time he wakes up from it, he finds himself in an alleyway in the neighboring district. He has long been preparing to make a documentary film about the nearby redevelopment zone. That district reminds him of his own experience in a shanty town during the 1970s. The story of an abusive father, a mother who took her own life out of despair, and a son who killed his own father, clings to his mind like a never-ending night. That tragedy in the shantytown in the past - is it an excuse he conjures up to seek forgiveness for the murder he committed? Or is it just a story he creates to understand death in real life? The nightmare of a creator or of a man stuck between dream and reality continues even towards the end of the film. The echoing sounds increase the fear caused by the man’s nightmare that imprisons him. The sounds of his heavy breathing, sobs, and footsteps all resonate through the alleys, thereby creating a huge space of sounds.

    The King of the Border: Between Unfamiliarity and Familiarity

    The King of the Border (2017) is another black comedy from LIM Jung-hwan following his previous work Laos : In the Warmest Country (2014), where a group of filmmakers travels abroad and takes us to Poland and Ukraine. Divided into two parts, the film’s first half unfolds stories imagined by two filmmakers, Eugene and Hyunchul (CHO Hyun-chul plays both Hyunchul and Dongchul), who arrive in Poland on the same day. Hyunchul lives with Eun-gyeong, but dreams of an impossible romance with Eugene. Eugene creates a peculiar crime story based on people she meets in Poland. If you thought the film’s second half where Eugene visits Eun-gyeong and Hyunchul in their home was real, then you’ve been deceived. LIM Jung-hwan once again plays the role of a trickster and, without even batting an eyelash, fools us into believing that fiction is the reality. We witness absurd deals being made, someone going blind, someone dying, and someone wandering around. Even back in reality, LIM Jung-hwan’s story of encountering a ghost in a dreamy state continues. The complexity of his story means we could easily get lost if we lose concentration even for a moment. For his free-spirited narrative style, LIM Jung-hwan is comparable to Alain Guiraudie and Miguel Gomes. That the final visit in the film takes us to the gravesite of Krzysztof Kieslowski is yet another trap. That’s what LIM Jung-hwan is like.

    Autumn, Autumn: The Same Places but Different Times

    JANG Woo-jin, a director based in Gangwon Province, made Autumn, Autumn (2016), which loosely employs the aforementioned technique of ‘dividing a film into two’. In terms of style, the second half shows a hint of influence from Hong Sangsoo’s early film The Power of Kangwon Province (1998). The first half of the film follows the story of Ji-hyeon, a young man who returns to Chuncheon after attending a job interview in Seoul. To him, Chuncheon is both his hometown and a place he can’t get away from. He spends a few days to overcome his failure to find employment, meeting up with friends and helping out at the restaurant run by his friend’s mother. About 35 minutes into the 78-minute long film, the screen goes black and the title Autumn, Autumn finally comes up. When the film takes us back to Chuncheon, Ji-hyeon is gone and we’re presented with the story of the middle-aged couple who sat next to him earlier on his train to Chuncheon. For two nights and three days, they visit the same places as Ji-hyeon by chance, thereby sharing with him the same spaces and times. The journeys of the three characters run parallel in a chronological order and create a vague antithesis. As a result, the same places take on completely different appearances. Ji-hyeon sees Chuncheon as a place of everyday life, but to the couple, it is nothing more than a tourist place ideal for their affair. The city is undergoing a lot of redevelopment and is currently hosting a marathon. In the midst of different places in Chuncheon, including the Buddhist temple on the other side of the lake, some people get on with life and some people take a stroll. While Ji-hyeon and his friends share distressing conversations about having to give up on their dreams, the couple fills their time with idle talks. Their times and spaces are painted with different colors so as to highlight this discrepancy. Ji-hyeon’s Chuncheon is vivid green, calm and cold, whereas the couple’s Chuncheon is yellowish and light-hearted in tune with their silly footsteps. As a matter of course, Ji-hyeon stays and the couple departs to go back to a different place. The film feels like a sketch of a few days out of daily life but nonetheless leaves a lasting impression.

    Anxiety, Loss, Sorrow, Freedom, and Diversity

    The five films mentioned above can roughly be grouped together as films with unique, non-linear structures, but there are more stylistic differences and similarities. While such differences are found in the outer structure, the inner world or psychology of characters is firmly anchored in anxiety. Most of the characters are at the starting point of their life, a time fraught with mild fevers of anxiety. But there’s more to it. They are roaming. If the older generation takes pride in their hard work and conscientiousness throughout their ordinary lives, the characters’ generation gives the impression that they are driven away and scattered. In Seoul’s dark corners or in Europe’s cold streets at night, they roam. Someone even wanders about the alleys of his own neighborhood every night. It is no wonder that this lost, roaming generation suffers anxiety. Their sorrows and sense of loss are shared across the five films by contemporary auteurs. These films believe that the old mode of expression is frustrating and cannot possibly convey the anxiety of their generation. That’s why the films themselves roam. Jane (2017), Jamsil, Alone, The King of the Border and Autumn, Autumn show how free and diverse such roaming films can be. Anxiety, loss, sorrow, freedom, and diversity are the new blood types emerging from this recent tendency in Korean Independent Cinema in the 21st century. The fresh blood of today’s Korean youths runs through the five films.
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