Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2019 7:29 pm 
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Young and old overnight in Chuncheon

Jang Woo-jin's third feature works with similar material to his second, Autumn, Autumn (ND/NF 2017). The latter's original Korean title was Chuncheon, Chuncheon: it had the same offbeat tourist location, with the Cheongpyeong Temple there, and couples who miss the last ferry and get stuck overnight. This time there is more focus and delicacy of mood. As Jessica Kiang puts it in her appreciative review for Variety written at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia last year, this picture focuses on the "late-middle" of a relationship - and does so with delicacy, perception and humor surprising in a filmmaker who's only himself thirty-three. There is also an element of the surreal and the magical, making use of characters who rhyme and as Kiang puts it "capitalizing on the air of cut-off unreality that a fresh fall of clean snow can give — the upside-down-ness of the ground being brighter than the sky and the dampening of background sound until even banal exchanges take on a dramatic, stage-whisper quality." Besides, blue and red lights on the winter spaces highlight the unreality.

Taxi rides bookend the film. The riders are the fifty-year-old couple Eun-ju (a very fine Seo Young-hwa) and her husband Heung-ju (Yang Heung-ju), who at the outset are headed home to Seoul after their first return to Chuncheon in thirty years. It wss there, and then, with a young woman visiting her young man stationed there in the military, that their romance bloomed and the couple decided to marry. But after getting rudely sideswiped by a small truck, Eun-ju says she has left her phone behind, and doggedly insists on their turning back, seeming so bereft it suggests a much bigger sense of loss. (Later she will tell a priest the phone is "All I have" though all she can say it contains is "pictures.")

They go back, eventually miss the ferry, and settle in with a garrulous inn-keeper. Heung-ju has a "soju-soaked" evening during which they wander off in different directions. He sings a loud sentimental song at a deserted karaoke bar and meets an old girlfriend who laughs at him, while he cries. Eun-ju gets trapped on the edge of thin ice and is rescued by a young couple. They are the mirror image of Eun-ju and Heung-ju, a couple perhaps in love but not yet engaged, the beautiful long-haired young woman (Lee Sang-hee) come to see the soldier (Lee Sang-hee) who is stationed there, just the same. Maybe they are Eun-ju and Heung-ju; maybe the fifty-ish couple are visiting themselves at that time when all was hopeful. (Kiang refers to Kiarostami's Cerfified Copy. But first of all somewhere Hong Sang-soo must be seen as an influence.)

The film is beautifully conceived in a series of scenes, separated from each other by shots of a succession of matching but different long horizontal paintings. This is slow cinema that accustoms us to its rhythms and teaches us to savor its stops and starts. The pauses - particularly Eun-ju's - are more beautiful than anything that happens. Seo Young-hwa is a continual surprise and delight to watch; she is a reserved but nonetheless very real figure, and in her one feels life is being caught on the wing, and yet something otherworldly too, beyond life, also being caught. Little details flow quietly by and are noticed, such as the forgotten pair of gloves on the ground; the small mound of prayer stones fallen over.

There are long static wide shots and delicate, tentative conversations, some with laughter and delight, some with tears and the fear of falling through thin ice. There are some blunt exchanges between Eun-ju and Heung-ju when they sit down to drink. "I'm bored out of my mind," she tells him, and "Honestly, you’re not fun." She admits she stayed with him because he seemed to care so much about her, and then he seemed to stop caring. "This is the way the world ends. This is the wary the world ends. . . " But she is delighted with the young woman in love and hopeful for her. Perhaps she is having a grand crisis like Stefania Sandrelli in Muccino's L'ultimo bacio but in a more hushed, subtle, Asian way, with more irony and less drama - but plenty of drama for us.

Winter's Night, 98 mins., debuted at Jeonju and showed at other festivals including Mar del Plata, Belfort, Rotterdam - and San Francisco, where it was screened for this review.

SFFILM showtimes were:
Fri, Apr 12 at 6:00 pm - Creativity Theater
Sun, Apr 14 at 5:30 pm - Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
Mon, Apr 15 at 8:30 pm - The Theater at Children's Creativity Museum


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