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  • In Focus: The Stone
  • by Pierce Conran /  Aug 23, 2013
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    Directed by CHO Se-rae
    Starring CHO Dong-in, KIM Roi-ha, PARK Won-sang
    Release Date n/a
     
    The world of baduk, an ancient Asian board game known as Go in China, and gangsters collide in The Stone, the debut feature of writer CHO Se-rae, which was recently invited to the 66th Locarno International Film Festival for its world premiere as part of the ‘Filmmakers of the Present’ section.
     
    During a visit to a local baduk hall for protection money, a small time gang boss sits down to a round of the game with a young master. Defeated, he engages the ace player as his teacher. Meanwhile, the young player, not confident enough to enter the professional league despite his ability, uses his skill to make a living from gambling. The gang boss, a shadow of his former self, is having trouble keeping some of his former subordinates in line. Both enter cautiously into a surrogate father-son relationship as they grapple with the dissatisfaction in their lives.
     
    Playing the gang boss is KIM Roi-ha, a character actor known for his thuggish supporting parts in Memories of Murder (2003) and A Bittersweet Life (2005). In his first leading role, the veteran performer plays downs his natural charisma, while his reserved performance is supported by a cast featuring many recognizable supporting players from the Korean film industry. These include PARK Won-sang, in a showy role as the gang boss’ brash, foul-mouthed right-hand man. PARK became known to audiences through his co-starring role in Unbowed and then his leading role in last year’s blistering National Security, both from director CHUNG Ji-young. Joining the veterans is new performer CHO Dong-in as the baduk player.
     
    Though he makes his debut behind the camera with The Stone, director CHO is a veteran writer who has penned the scripts to films such as Beyond the Mountain (for which he earned a scriptwriting prize from the Chunsa Film Festival in 1991), City of Hope (1991) and White Badge (1992) in the past. For his debut he makes the best of his low budget by utilizing clear and well-framed photography in unadorned locations that strive for realism rather than artifice.
     
    Structured around various contentious rounds of baduk, the film uses the game as a metaphor for the larger gambles that the characters take with their own lives. Black and white board games and genre film convention aside, CHO’s measured script’s true focus is on the odd relationship that develops between its two leads as each seeks for a different station in life. Though it dabbles in genre, CHO’s debut The Stone is an indie drama at heart.
     
     By Pierce Conran
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