Director Lee’s films are quiet reflections on the everydayness of ordinary existence. His films are the very antithesis of the fast, frenetic Korean blockbusters of commercial cinema. Time unfolds, allowing perception of time in the image, rather than the viewer being distracted by speed and movement. In his introduction to the final screening of the month, Saranghanda, Saranghaji Ahnneunda/Come Rain Come Shine, Director Lee in a self deprecating manner warned the audience that the film represented a challenge to produce the most boring film ever and even went so far as to say at one point that the aim was for the audience to fall asleep within 10 minutes. A comment, which actually, was for me personally very far from the truth, as I found Come Rain Come Shine (a more appropriate translation of the Korean title is however, Love You, Love You Not as the translator told informed us during the group interview) a nuanced exploration of a disintegrating relationship and indeed the most interesting of his films that I have seen, noting that I missed the screening of Reobeu tokeu/Love Talk due to work commitments. I suspect what I liked most about Come Rain Come Shine, and Yeoja, Jeong-hye/My Charming Girl – Director Lee’s directorial debut – was that there were moments in which both films could have shifted genres into horror. Good horror cinema is built upon an understanding of character and performance, and the way in which horror emerges from the ordinary, often as a result of fractured personal relationships, especially within South Korean Horror Cinema. The moment when Jung-hae confronts her rapist in This Charming Girl and when the two strange neighbours descend upon the married couple who are in the process of splitting up looking for their cat in Come Rain Come Shine, represent such moments when the films could have morphed into full flung horror. Having said this, there is much to enjoy about Director Lee’s films even if they require a great deal of patience on the part of the viewer to fully engage with them.
Indeed, in Come Rain Come Shine, physical space provides visual shorthand of the emotional estrangement between the couple – the distance between the couple, who are continually framed inhabiting the same space within the house at different times, only being overcome at the conclusion to the film, when both are in the same space – the kitchen – at the same time. For me, though, the roles of the husband and wife would have been better cast with older (the couple in the source material are I believe a good deal older) and more experienced actors in order to fully communicate the despair of a relationship in crisis, although both Hyun Bin as the husband and Lim Soo-jeong as the wife acquit themselves well enough.
The roundtable interview with Director Lee was informative and provided something fascinating facts, including the criticism levelled against his adaptations of Japanese literature – it seems that some national wounds never really heal – and the use of cats in his films, which have more to do with the fact that he owns two cats rather than any conscious directorial intent to create meaning – in response to my question about their symbolism in This Charming Girl and Come Rain Come Shine. A full transcript of the roundtable interview can be found at Hanguel Celluloid:
I personally find the roundtable interviews really useful and think that Directors actually relax more in this informal setting than in one to one interviews. In addition, for my work I find it incredibly useful as other interviewers often ask questions that I haven’t thought of myself. I have learnt as much in this year’s series of interviews and Q&A sessions as I have in reading through numerous books on Korean cinema, and for that I am extremely grateful to the KCCUK which has put on such a great year of South Korean cinema, with more to come.
The Q&A was chaired by Dr Jinhee Choi, King’s College London, and author of The South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers, Global Provocateurs (2010: Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press), one of the most authoritative and informative books on South Korean cinema to date.