With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Sangwon and Yongsil
Tale of Cinema / Geuk jang jeon
Written and directed by HONG Sang-soo
Starring KIM Sang Kyung, UM Ji Won, and LEE Ki Woo
South Korea, 2005, 82 minutes
When: Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 7:00 PM
Where: Japan Society
333 East 47th Street, NY, NY
Between 1st and 2nd Avenues

Tale of Cinema is one of those films that changes direction roughly at mid-point. (Another example would be Jonathan Demme's Something Wild, 1986). The first part of the film concerns Sangwon (LEE Ki Woo), a nineteen year old who has just finished his exams. Strolling through Seoul, he happens to notice Yongsil (UM Ji Won), a former schoolmate who dropped out and is now working for her uncle in his optometry store. Reconnecting with one another, they go out drinking, then to a motel. Unfortunately, Sangwon is unable to "perform. Whether or not that's a contributing factory, Sangwon expresses the desire to die, and Yongsil says that she also wants to die. They go to various pharmacies, amassing a suitable quantity of sleeping pills. However their double suicide pact does not work out as expected.

Tongsu after the screening. Note the Seoul Tower in the distance.

The film then shifts to the story of Tongsu (KIM Sang Kyung), a young man who emerges from a screening of the films of Yi Hyonsu, a director who is in the hospital and extremely ill, perhaps about to die. The two went to the same film school, and Tongsu, who perhaps has not even made a film, is resentful of Yi's success. After the screening he notices the actress who'd gotten her start in one of Yi's films. Tongsu follows her for a time and finally speaks with her. When he asks if she'll star in his movie, she suggests that they talk about it at gathering to be held that evening to raise money for Yi's family.

The relationship of the two sections of the Tale of Cinema reveals itself in interesting ways that I will not spoil by describing in specific terms. Let's just say that there are certain parallels in character and behavior that link the two stories together.

Tongsu and the actress

Visually the film is marked by relatively long takes with the camera locked-down on a tripod. HONG also tends to use zoom shots, rather than dolly or tracking shots. This, of course, is a simpler and more economic way of achieving a similar result, namely moving in to a portion of the picture frame. But the zoom tends to be more self-evident and less emotionally involving than the dolly or tracking shot.

There are numerous compositions that are rather common place, bordering on mundane. For example, feet and legs sticking out from a bed cover, or a hand reaching into the frame to put out a cigarette.

It also bears pointing out the the Seoul Tower, perhaps best described as a Korean version of Seattle's Space Needle, is a recurring visual element. Tongsu even remarks that it is visible all over the city.

Tale of Cinema is a smartly structured and intriguing film from one of South Korea's highly regarded directors. ACF Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, solidly recommended.

Tale of Cinema is being shown as part of the Globus Film Series Love Will Tear Us Apart at Japan Society. Information about the series, films, showtimes, and tickets is available here.

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