Click for larger view The above photograph shows Ron London and Bill Mottern setting up their low power x-ray machine, the same device that was at least in part responsible for the seizing of all of STURP's equipment by Italian customs upon its arrival in Italy back in The wooden crate that housed the x-ray machine had a radiation sticker on the outside, and that apparently raised enough concern to cause the customs officials to seize everything and refuse to release it upon our arrival. We arrived a week prior to the scheduled start of our examination while the Shroud was still on public display in order to unpack, set up and calibrate all our instruments and equipment so we would be fully prepared when the Shroud was brought to us. Unfortunately, it took five and a half days before the equipment was finally released so we had to work around the clock for the remaining 36 hours to prepare everything for our testing.
KoreanImported Total admissions: Showing themselves in Seoul would surely result in their capture and arbitrary prosecution on some trumped-up charge, so they split up and go into hiding, with Hyun-woo being put up in a remote cabin by a woman named Yoon-hee.
Yoon-hee is more than hospitable, and very soon the two are sharing a bed and falling in love. But in this dark era in Korea's history, politics and the state not only limit their freedoms, but ultimately push into their private lives as well.
An unusual mix of politics and melodrama that ranges from up until the present day, The Old Garden represents a collaboration between two generations of anti-authoritarian artists: Im's adaptation of Hwang's novel of the same name boasts some very strong casting, with Ji Jin-hee maintaining a nice air of unpredictability around the character of Hyun-woo, and Yeom Jung-ah being given the best opportunity to showcase her acting abilities since A Tale of Two Sisters.
The depth of talent in the large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are Im regulars, is also impressive. The film as a whole has been warmly received by local critics, but it has generated some negative reviews abroad, and its festival career has not matched that of its predecessor The President's Last Bang.
Im admits to embracing a more mainstream archetype in this film, which may partly account for its mis-matched reception, but there are other issues here as well. Director Im's rebel streak -- which has given us bold sexual talk write a review of a film you have just seen Girls Night Out, teenage delinquency in Tears, family scandal in A Good Lawyer's Wife and political intrigue in The President's Last Bang -- manifests itself here in quieter ways: True to form, the narrative is also spiced with sudden eruptions of violence that you really feel in the pit of your stomach.
There's one sickly disturbing and heartbreaking scene in particular that viewers won't be able to shake from their memory, even if they try to.
It may be presumptuous of me to say this, with my imperfect knowledge of Korean, but there's a real elegance to the dialogue in The Old Garden that one may not feel when watching the film in translation.
Every character in the film speaks with his or her own, absolutely unique rhythms and inflections, and so there's a pleasure in hearing characters interact that goes beyond the words themselves.
In terms of the narrative, Im is also quite graceful in the way he leaps forward and backward in time, only touching down on what is essential to the characters' memories. Yet despite all its strengths, the film began to lose me as it moved towards its conclusion. As it progresses, The Old Garden becomes steadily more self-conscious and obvious about its own creativity.
It's as if at times it steps back to admire itself. From a logical or analytical standpoint, this admittedly makes for a more complex and interesting work. Its refusal to provide cathartic release is also admirable, given that the film bills itself as a melodrama.
But there is a magic in the first half -- a sense of everything clicking together in harmony -- that evaporates in the latter reels, and I don't think this was the filmmaker's intention.
I still like the film, and consider it a valuable addition to Korean film culture, but thinking back on it produces in me a twang of regret. Or perhaps it's because I've had recent conversations with friends about desiring that person who, in all intense intents and purposes, is wrong for you.
Because Sung's debut explores that very conundrum with a refusal to victimize or punish the woman who, for a summer while, chooses the bad man. So-yeon Kim Bo-kyung is taking a break from studying in France and juggling two men at home in the interim.
Min-hwan Lee Hyun-woo is the man for whom she'll reschedule at the last moment, the man for whom she'll lie to rearrange those plans and to keep their affair from negatively impacting his position as a diplomat.
Hyun-jae Kwon Min is the 'nice guy' who waits for her, opening up his days for whenever she can slip in time for him. Without demanding caricatures of her characters, Sung who also wrote the screenplay has created complex emotions within each one.
So-yeon behaves differently when with Min-hwan and when with Hyun-jae. She is malleable in Min-hwan's hands and does the folding and molding of Hyun-jae.
But it's not as if she is 'two different people'. Both these ways of being are a part of her. She is vulnerable to being manipulated and being the manipulator.
Lover Min-hwan is as diplomatic in his romantic relations as he is in his job. Yes, he's an ass, but he's not out of control. He's in control, presenting an understanding about how 'comforting' a wrong partner such as he might be. And as much as I hate his paternalism, his advice to So-yeon as she leaves for Paris is, well, good advice, which is what's so frustrating about this particular type of bad guy.
The 'nice guy' Hyun-jae does all the Mr. These behaviors, and his beauty, impress So-yeon's friend who mentions again and again how she has such an 'eye for men'. At least this is what she says in between her bickering with her husband. So-yeon knows Hyun-jae is a nice guy and that her friend is correct in her evaluation of Hyun-jae, but her friend is also wrong.
Those who claim she can't see can't see that Hyun-jae just doesn't work for who So-yeon is right now regardless how nice he is. Eventually, So-yeon will hopefully see this mean streak in her as what it is, a sign that either something in the relationship needs to be addressed or she needs to close that chapter on the relationship.
And I want to close this chapter on another important South Korean film for me by coming to So-yeon's statement about what is and isn't "Korean" that caused such laughter to arise in the screening I caught at PIFF.
The actual phrase is yelled at Hyun-jae who thinks he's doing the right thing by accompanying her to see her off at the airport.Online Subscription.
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