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Ko - production in Busan
  • Korean Films At Cannes/Loss, where it begins again/Director Ounie LECOMTE's Letter to Her Father
  • by HWANG Hee-yun /  May 01, 2009

  • A Brand New Life does not indicate a specific time period upon which the film is premised. The only hint we may find in the film is a song of HYE Eun-e, “You May Not Know", which was one of the most popular songs from 70s. As the film begins, Jin-hee, the girl in A Brand New Life sings that song in front of her father in a voice that sounds very mature. However, there is no subtitle on screen like “Seoul, 70s" to indicate the time frame. Yet, despite the fact that where and when the film takes place is not spelled out, for Korean people, it is quite obvious that this film is not about contemporary Korea. Seoul has become a modern city covered with high-rise buildings. Stores signs along the streets are repeatedly changing and bright neon signs light up the whole night. However, the memories of director Ounie LECOMTE are stuck like a broken clock to a specific time and space in the 70s, due to the deep personal experiences she had at the time.
     
    Director LECOMTE left Korea in the mid 70s. She was adopted when she was 10 years old into France, so her memories of Korea have been trapped in that period before she moved. Since then, visiting Korea about 10 times, she recently found out that Korea has changed so much, but she would not put any effort into catching up with the changes. This being the case, the camera mostly focuses on one place, an orphanage owned by a Catholic foundation where she stayed for a while before leaving for France. Her memory of that time is like an old photograph, a compelling but distant portrait. It is the memory of Jin-hee and also that of the director as well. She was abandoned and went to an orphanage, then a year later, was sent to live with a French family. Since then, she has lived as a French person, not as a Korean, and has forgotten her native language and identity. Therefore, Korea does not exist in her integral memory – it is a world she pushed away out of her memory since age 10. In France, she worked as a fashion magazine editor, an actress in the film Paris s'eveille by director Olivier ASSAYAS and became a screenplay writer.

    Obviously, the two worlds that she grew up in and experienced are too different to coexist. This is not caused only by cultural difference or physical distance. While the former was a time of loss, the latter became solely a time of overcoming. And between those two different worlds there was a time of transition in the orphanage. The director could not forcibly combine those two worlds. Instead, she excavates a memory that lies between those two worlds, remaining like the DMZ zone. This transitional time is like a glue which sticks the time spent together with her family to the time in France. It is also the most unforgettable moment in her life. It is why this film is fixated with Korea in the mid-70s and the ordinary life of an orphanage.
     
     “A letter to my father"
    The film starts with a close-up of Jin-hee's face as she smiles, carried on her father's back. As the sound of rough breathing spreads out through the screen, the kid wears a pair of enamel shoes and eats Bulgogi with her father. As this peaceful moment passes, it is the last happy moment Jin-hee has. After this, she enters a dark and painful world of loss, leaving behind the world of enamel shoes, sweet cake and Bulgogi. One scene acts as a metaphor which implies how rapid and sudden the change in her life is. She walks in marshy ground on the way back from peeing in a meadow, her enamel shoes get dirty, and her life goes wrong.

    A Brand New Life follows the flow of emotions which Jin-hee reveals. As a young girl in such a harsh situation, she cannot accept reality. The film subtly portrays how she changes as time goes by through her facial expressions and the sounds of her breathing. The first half of the film is from Jin-hee’s point of view. Jin-hee identifies her pain with Jesus’ pain. On a Sunday morning, she goes to a church and happens to glance at a father and a daughter. A priest’s sermon flows over the scene: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" It is the scene that juxtaposes her sorrow with that of Jesus. Losing her father, the feeling of loss she suffers can be as enormous as the pain of Jesus. However, the pain soon goes away and she remains as calm as the calm after a thunderstorm.
     
    A Brand New Life follows how Jin-hee overcomes her feeling of loss and walks into the world. The kid could not accept the fact she was abandoned, but soon understands the circumstances and makes a compromise with the world. She gradually comes to realize that she cannot spend her life forever waiting for her father to come back.

     The film often ventures out of Jinhee's world and looks around at the people surrounding her. A babysitter (PARK Myungsin) who is exhausted from too much work but still generous; Ye-jin (KO A-sung), who could not get adopted because of her handicap and remained like a big sister in the orphanage, Sook-hee (PARK Do-yeon) who tries to get adopted before she gets too old. Characters in the film are not always good, yet neither are they bad. They are lively. While the memories of abandonment are severe, there are touching remembrances that well up too. She even describes her father with a warm glance. The father who washed her feet before sending her to an orphanage, the only blood she has and dares to hate although she wants him back.
     
    As the director states on in the director's notes, this film is “a letter to my father” and the evidence is everywhere in the film. She remembers her father not as someone who abandoned her, but as one who gave her a chance to meet anther world. That is why the film emphasizes the father’s warm back. This is similar to the way the director views the world. The director is full of an optimistic view of the world.
     
    fThe babysitter who never displays a smile is also described as a warm character. She cries inwardly at a night after sending Yejin away. When Jin-hee is about to leave, the babysitter asks Jin-hee to sing a song with a countenance full of affection. Ye-jin recovers from the terrible pain she feels from losing someone’s love and she comes back to life as a big sister. Jin-hee also accepts her reality and new environment. Lying down on the ground with eyes closed like a dead bird, Jin-hee finally stands on her feet and decides to go on living. She learns that the desire to die in desperation is the same as the one to live a passionate life.
     
    Beyond the loss
    A Brand New Life is a film about people who walk through their pain in order to overcome loss. Because everything goes around and comes around, you do not have to be sorrowful. The one who needs to be protected changes into the one who protects. The one who sends another away turns into the one who is being sent away.
     
     Life repeats itself. Jin-hee is the one being protected by the orphanage, but she protects a bird. As others depart she waves her hands in farewell, but she soon it is she who flies away, out of that place and into the world.
     
    The director mixes these life attributes with recurring music in the film. With 3 songs, “You May Not Know” which Jin-hee sings, “Farewell Song” which the orphanage children sing for the child that leaves and “The Hometown I Used to Live in” which is the most popular children’s song in Korea. In the film, whenever kids leave the orphanage for adoption, the children sing those two songs for farewell. As the songs continue, Jin-hee eventually becomes the one who is listening to the songs.
     
    When she leaves the orphanage, Jinhee sings the song “You May Not Know” which she once sang for her father. The song opens the film and closes it. The song flows over these naked scenes and impressively resonates in the mind. This is a secret confession directed at her parents who abandoned her; it is also a gesture of forgiveness and a compromise with the world. As the lyrics of the song go, “you may not know how much I loved you. Just call my name, and I will be there standing.” Then, the loss is completely overcome.
     
    Reunion with mom
     She also overcomes her loss in reality. This film was not originally planned to be directed by her. This project began to be formed in 1991 and she planned to show up in the film as herself, a French woman visiting Seoul to find her roots. While the project was abortive, she met her mother instead. When a newspaper covered her story, it led to a reunion with her mom. Since then, she has visited Korea to meet her mom and understand the country better. And then, she naturally forgot the project. This forgotten project was revived again when she met director LEE Chang-dong visiting France for the release of Secret Sunshine. LEE wanted to read her script, and after read it, commented on the scenario, saying it was “pretty simple, but contains many things.” Since then, the collaborative work has been in progress as a decision was made to form a co-production between Korean film company, Now Film and French production company, Gloria Film. Director LEE has been very supportive of the film production.
     
    Although A Brand New Life is made of two cultures, two worlds and the destiny of two people, it dissolves everything fluidly into a consistent film because it touches on a substantial emotion at the bottom Korean films at cannes | A Brand New Life overcomes her feeling of loss and walks into the world. The kid could not accept the fact she was abandoned, but soon understands the circumstances and makes a compromise with the world. She gradually comes to realize that she cannot spend her life forever waiting for her father to come back. The film often ventures out of Jinhee's world and looks around at the people surrounding her. A babysitter (PARK Myungsin) who is exhausted from too much work but still generous; Ye-jin (KO A-sung), who could not get adopted because of her handicap and remained like a big sister in the orphanage, Sook-hee (PARK Do-yeon) who tries to get adopted before she gets too old. Characters in the film are not always good, yet neither are they bad. They are lively. While the memories of abandonment are severe, there are touching remembrances that well up too. She even describes her father with a warm glance. The father who washed her feet before sending her to an orphanage, the only blood she has and dares to hate although she wants him back. As the director states on in the director's notes, this film is “a letter to my father” and the evidence is everywhere in the film. She remembers her father not as someone who abandoned her, but as one who gave her a chance to meet anther world. That is why the film emphasizes the father’s warm back. This is similar to the way the director views the world. The director is full of an optimistic view of the world. The babysitter who never displays a smile is also described as a warm character. She cries inwardly at a night after sending Yejin away. When Jin-hee is about to leave, the babysitter asks Jin-hee to sing a song with a countenance full of affection. Ye-jin recovers from the terrible pain she feels from losing someone’s love and she comes back to life as a big sister. Jin-hee also accepts her reality and new environment. Lying down on the ground with eyes closed like a dead bird, Jin-hee finally stands on her feet and decides to go on living. She learns that the desire to die in desperation is the same as the one to live a passionate life. Beyond the loss A Brand New Life is a film about people who walk through their pain in order to overcome loss. Because everything goes around and comes around, you do not have to be sorrowful. The one who needs to be protected changes into the one who protects. The one who sends another away turns into the one who is being sent away. Life repeats itself. Jin-hee is the one being protected by the orphanage, but she protects a bird. As others depart she waves her hands in farewell, but she soon it is she who flies away, out of that place and into the world. The director mixes these life attributes with recurring music in the film. With 3 songs, “You May Not Know” which Jin-hee sings, “Farewell Song” which the orphanage children sing for the child that leaves and “The Hometown I Used to Live in” which is the most popular children’s song in Korea. In the film, whenever kids leave the orphanage for adoption, the children sing those two songs for farewell. As the songs continue, Jin-hee eventually becomes the one who is listening to the songs. When she leaves the orphanage, Jinhee sings the song “You May Not Know” which she once sang for her father. The song opens the film and closes it. The song flows over these naked scenes and impressively resonates in the mind. This is a secret confession directed at her parents who abandoned her; it is also a gesture of forgiveness and a compromise with the world. As the lyrics of the song go, “you may not know how much I loved you. Just call my name, and I will be there standing.” Then, the loss is completely overcome. Reunion with mom She also overcomes her loss in reality. This film was not originally planned to be directed by her.
    This project began to be formed in 1991 and she planned to show up in the film as herself, a French woman visiting Seoul to find her roots. While the project was abortive, she met her mother instead. When a newspaper covered her story, it led to a reunion with her mom. Since then, she has visited Korea to meet her mom and understand the country better. And then, she naturally forgot the project. of the human heart. In an interview, the director said, “this film is not a story of adoption. We all have had the experience of losing something precious and at least once of being afraid of losing our parents suddenly when we were kids. In the film, Jin-hee lost her father at age 9. And she begins to understand her being alone and newly learning how to live. She learns and experiences all those things after the loss of her father. What I want to say most is that loving is after all losing. That is what I mean by a substantial emotion.”
     
    What this means is that with this realization one no longer fears losing something anymore because loss holds the possibility of an opening where one can refill the heart with something new.
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