Category Archives: August: Director Lee Yoon-ki

Videos from the Year of 12 Directors at the Korean Cultural Centre, UK

Director E J-Yong (February 2012)

Director Park Kwang-Su (March 2012)

Director Song Il-gon (April 2012)

Director Jeon Kye-soo (May 2012)

Director Lee Joon-ik (June 2012)

Director Lee Hyun-seung (July 2012)

Director Lee Yoon-ki (August 2012)

Director Jeon Kyu-hwan (September 2012)
 

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Director Lee Yoon-Ki

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:

Interview with Director Lee Yoon-ki

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.


This Charming Girl (여자, 정혜, Lee Yoon-ki: 2004)

This Charming Girl was the first film screened in the Lee Yoon-ki month at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, as part of the ‘Year of 12 Directors’ on 9th August 2012. KCCUK was packed with the film having sold out, with indicates the popularity of Director Lee, and I am expecting similar audiences for the remaining 3 screenings this month.

The protagonist of This Charming Girl is Jung-hye (Kim Ji-su), an ordinary young woman who works a mundane job in a post office and whose life is the epitome of loneliness and post-modern alienation. We are drawn into her daily life, as she goes about her day to day routine, the film detailing the very minatue of her existence. A naturalistic film, with almost no extraneous noise and the very bare minimum use of soundtrack,  This Charming Girl is an exemplary example of what Deleuze calls ‘cinema of the time-image’, in other words, a film concerned with the expression of lived time, and the movement of memory which disrupts the flow of time, actualising the virtual through its interpenetration into the present: a key example of this is the present in which Jung-hye  is lying on her sofa, while her new kitten licks her feet, which ‘becomes’ the past, and instead of the kitten licking her feet, we see instead her mother cutting her toenails as the two share a tender moment of mother-daughter bonding. The day-to-day life of Jung-hye is continually interrupted by such ‘becomings’ as past and present dissolve into one temporal continuum. It is through such temporal disruptions that we access Jung-hye’s interiority, seeing events from her past including leaving her husband during the honeymoon, past encounters with men including a ‘rape’ – the trauma of which prevents her entering into meaningful relationships with men in the present. In line with the naturalistic depiction of life, Director Lee offers no resolution to Jung-hye’s traumatic past instead choosing to end the film on the cusp of the future: a moment of virtuality which still remains to be actualised.

Time unfolds slowly in This Charming Girl and the film relies on the strength of Kim Ji-su’s performance to draw viewers into the cinematic diegisis and ultimately to care about what will happen to her in the future, and thus resolve the film themselves  rather than relying on a diegetic [re]solution to Jung-hye’s inability to move on from the ghosts of her past.

While I personally found that time moved slightly too slowly for me, and I would have liked a nice scene of bloody revenge (there was one moment when I thought this was going to happen), This Charming Girl deserves the awards and accolades that it won, and is well worth going out of your way to see.