Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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]KIM CHO-HEE: LUCKY CHAN-SIL / 찬실이는 복도 많지 (2019)

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KIM YOUNG-MIN AND KANG MAL-GEUM IN LUCKY CHAN-SIL

Woman at a crossroads

At a drunken wrap-party, the director collapses and dies. Producer Lee Chan-sil (Kang Mal-geum), a middle-aged, never-married woman who has so long worked with him, finds herself out of a job and questioning her life. This is the premise of a new Korean film by a woman director, a collaborator of Hong Sang-soo (who has in fact herself co-produced eight of his films in the last decade), that's been seen as a riff off Hong or a lighthearted parody nodding at and perhaps chiding Hong's male point of view.

The reference to films and filmmakers and focus on one of the latter in difficulties come straight out of Hong Sang-soo. This certainly seems self-referential, and by indirection a reference to Hong. It's harder to detect a parodic, satirical, or comedic aspect referring to Hong or of any kind. This seems primarily a warm-hearted female professional midlife-crisis film, small and based on conversation like Hong, but more like a conventional film than like one of his. Pleasant and not very demanding (which might fit Hong, but his films are complexly self-referential by now), this has a bittersweet quality.

The constant presence of Granny (Yoon Yuh-jung), an old lady with philosophical observations from an end-of-life position, heightens the focus on self-reflection. Likewise a young man in underwear (Kim Young-min) who identifies himself as the ghost of Leslie Cheung, the Hong Kong megastar and regular of Wong Kar-wai films, who committed suicide in 2003. He serves as a quiet cheerleader and contributes to the meditative mood - and sense that Producer Lee is at the end of her tether.

She has gone to stay with an actress friend she calls Sis, Sophie (Yoon Seung-ah), does housekeeping for her, and helps Granny with her "homework." Granny can't read, it turns out, because in her day girls weren't allowed to learn because it would make them uppity - one more sign of Korea's deep misogynous bent whose current manifestation is shown in another 2020 NYAFF film, Kim Do-young's Kim Ji-young: Born 1982.

But the main self-realization comes through a would-be romance. Sophie has a man giving her French lessons, Young KIm (Bae Yu-ram), whos's also an aspiring filmmaker. Producer Lee has some friendly conversations with Young Kim; both are single and have little to do, they share some meals, and Producer Lee gets ideas which eventually Young Kim sets straight. He thinks of her more like an older sister. A rude awakening for Producer Lee. But she has Granny and the ghost of Leslie Cheung to consult with. And when Producer Lee finds Young Kim found Ozu's Tokyo Story boring and prefers Christopher Nolan, she's relieved of her illusion they might be compatible. Only trouble is she's realizing now she's missed out on love by being work-driven and never entering into couple-hood. Granny warns her not to regret the past, to enjoy each day: you know the drill.

Yes, this does have a "transition from female sacrifice to female empowerment." Simply being a film about someone (formerly) involved in making films doesn't, however, make it a "smart metanarrative on the art of filmmaking," though the film may be a comment on the filmmaker's own life. It's a more conventional one than Hong Sang-soo's. It does have the one opening drunken scene, too short for Hong though; and Hong-like exterior scenes, perhaps duplicating actual locations he's used, though I can't be sure of that. I might have enjoyed it more had I not been asked to see complexities and cross-references I couldn't find.

Lucky chan-sil / 찬실이는 복도 많지("There are many corridors in the cold room"), 96 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 2019, also showing at Seoul, Independent Film Festival, Osaka and Pyeongchang festivals in 2019 and 2020. It won Best Picture at Seoul and the CGV Arthouse Award, the KBS Independent Film Award, and the Director’s Guild of Korea Award. Screened for this review as part of the virtual 2020 New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 28-Sept. 12).

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