Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:34 pm 
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A fragmented Korean family, in transition

In young Korean woman director Yoon Dan-bi’s gentle family drama, a newly divorced man, Lee Byunggi (Yang Heung-joo) moves into his aging, widowed father Lee Youngmuk's house with his 18-year-old daughter Okju (Choi Jung-woon) and tween son Dongju (Park Hyun-young), and shortly afterward, their Aunt Mijung joins them, escaping a broken marriage. It's a steamy summer. We join them all for a while.

Everybody is good humored and good at coping. Okju and Donju squabble, but it doesn't get nasty till it emerges that Donju is loyal to their mother, and Okju refuses contact with her. Grandpa is initially in the hospital from heat stroke and when he's back, doesn't say much, but he seems not to feel imposed upon. They give him a birthday party after Aunt Mijung comes, which he seems to enjoy. Mijung sleeps in the same bedroom with Okju at her invitation which she, perhaps understandably, refused to allow Dongju to occupy, while Dad, Grandpa, and Dongju sleep in the other bedroom.

Michael Rosser's Rotterdam interview with Yoon Dan-bi appeared in Screen Daily. "When I first saw Good Morning by Yasujiro Ozu," Yoon said, I felt he was a good friend of mine. Even though I don’t know him, I just hope my film can be a friend to someone too." On this first feature as a director, Yoon took advice from cinematographer/co-producer Kim Gi-hyeon that Ozu might have liked, to cut out the dramatic incidents and just focus on the basics, family unites with grandpa and then departs from him.

This obviously is neither the style of Ozu nor the world of Ozu. The world of Ozu is gone and this is Korea, not Japan. The film doesn't give us much information and these folks are tight-lipped, the period of time covered, brief. Mijung won't tell dad, Byunggi, what has gone wrong in her marriage to drive her here; she appears to have a drinking problem. We don't know why the kids are with their dad, or what grandpa used to do; teasingly, Donju says his biography reports that he used to be a gangster. He appears comfortably off. It's a pleasant, lived-in old house: the director has has reported that it had been occupied for fifty years and was used for the film as-is. With its pleasantly overgrown garden, front and back, with vines and fruit, and interiors with nice wood paneling, it's a warm, living presence whose future, like grandpa's, sadly is uncertain.

Dad appears to be selling shoes out of his van. Whether this is a desperate move or his usual routine, we don't know. Okju gives a pair of white trainers to a boy she meets who may be her boyfriend. Later, there's an incident when Okju on her own tries to sell a pair of her dad's sneakers to a guy who suspects they're (1) not new or (2) knockoffs. Which it is, and why Dad has to come and pick up Okju from the police station, is unclear.

The shoes assume less importance compared to looming bigger events, notably the grandfather's declining state, and the need for decisions to be made about the future, which, in turn, are swept aside by the natural course of things. In the end the film does assume an Ozu-esque feel after all through its simple focus on the generations, the strength of family, and the big transitions in life.

My cast list is incomplete but the other main actors are Park Seung-joon and Kim Sang-dong.

Moving On 남매의 여름밤 ("Sibling's Summer Night"), 105 mins., debuted at BUsan Oct. 2019, winning four awards, and showed Jan. 2020 at Rotterdam, winning the Bright Future award there for best debut feature Rotterdam was good for young Korean directors, with its jury award going to Beasts Clawing at Straws). Screened for this review as part of the 2020 virtual NYAFF (Aug. 28-Sept. 12).


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