With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, October 11, 2010

ACF 724: Reminder - free screening of "Grandmother's Flowers" tomorrow

The director's grandmother is the woman seated on the left,
holding the child with the striped shirt

Grandmother's Flower
Directed by MUN Jeong-Hyun
South Korea, 2008, 89 min.

When: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 @ 7:00 PM
Doors open at 6:30 PM
Where: Tribeca Cinemas
54 Varick Street at Canal Street,
one block from the A, C, E and 1 train Canal Street stops

Price: FREE!!!
Seating is first come, first serve.

Grandmother's Flower is the third and final film in the Korean Cultural Service's current KOREAN MOVIE NIGHT series, which focuses on documentaries. I was able to watch the film on a DVD screener in advance. This viewing is the basis of the following review.

Director Mun Jeong-Hyun embarked on making this documentary about his maternal grandmother, before she died, at the insistence of his own mother. Not expecting to find much of a story line, he was surprised -- and we the viewers are astounded -- as he uncovers disturbing secrets about his family and the inhabitants of three neighboring villages. His family came from Njau, one of the two more-well-to-do villages which had many communist or communist sympathizers at least since the Japanese occupation of Korea. The third village was populated largely with "commoners" who tended to be staunch loyalists to South Korea.

A history of dislike and distrust between the left-leaning villagers and the right-wingers is revealed. There are stories, believed by some and denied by others, of torture, persecution and secret executions. There are also tales of insanity, self-mutilation, and decades of discrimination. Mun finds that members of family are spread over three countries: South Korea, Japan, and one in North Korea. The film is truly "A searing look at what history has done to the Korean people."

Director MUN Jeong-Hyun

And what history has produced is a widespread environment of intense sadness and grief, of great distrust, resentment, and grudges, not to mention a near constant state of anxiety over future military action between North and South Korea, the only two "countries" that remain divided in the aftermath of World War II, a war that ended over 65 years ago!

Overall, Director Mun has done an admirable job of helping the viewer keep track of who is who, with subtitles giving the name and relationship of significant people being interviewed. But the grandmother of the film's title had a husband, siblings, and nine daughters. So we're dealing with numerous people in the family spread over three generations -- grand-aunt and -uncles, aunts and uncles, and cousins -- and three countries, not to mention other villagers who are interviewed. So while some confusion may be inevitable after awhile, it really doesn't matter.

The thrust of the story is clear and heart-wrenching. An emotional power-house that truly deserves to be seen, and seen again. But I suggest letting some time pass before a second viewing so one can again face the emotional turmoil it depicts and conveys straight to the viewers heart. Even now, several days after seeing Grandmother's Flowers, tears well up in my eyes just thinking about the movie. It's that powerful and touching.

P.S. - I can't help but mention Dear Pyongyang (2005) by Yang, Yong-hi, a female Japanese director of Korean parents who were North Korean sympathizers who had come to live in Japan. The father of the family chose to send her three brothers, her only siblings, to live in the North, and this touching film is concerned with the consequences of that and other decisions.

Grandmother's Flowers and Dear Pyongyang shares many aspects, and both should be seen. But they are too intense to intense to watch within a brief period of time, in my opinion. I suggest you give yourself at least a brief "break" between seeing the two of them.

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