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(Movie Review) 'Paju' examines female psyche through forbidden love, social disorder

All Headlines 08:53 October 22, 2009

(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) -- A girl is convinced her brother-in-law killed her sister. While halfheartedly investigating the mysterious death, she comes upon an unexpected realization: That she is in love with him.

Through this simple narrative, "Paju" examines a girl's maturation and contradicting emotions, drawing a realistic picture of modern femininity free of the stereotypes often found in South Korean cinema.

Jung-sik (Lee Sun-kyun), suffering from the guilt that he caused a tragedy involving his first love and her family, escapes to Paju, an underdeveloped and desolate city just north of Seoul.

There he meets Eun-su (Shim Yi-young), whom he is briefly married to before her death, and ends up living with her much younger sister Eun-mo (Seo Woo).

While believing her brother-in-law killed her sister for insurance money, Eun-mo finds herself falling in love with him, the sole guardian and grownup in the lonely girl's life.

A grim, foggy locale rife with its own contradictions and uncomfortable social politics due to its strong military presence -- Korean, American, and North Korean -- Paju acts as a perfect backdrop for the internal mess of the characters.

Whether she liked it or not, filmmaker Park Chan-ok was once considered a "female version of director Hong Sang-soo" for the male-centered portraits of society and relationships in her debut "Jealousy is My Middle Name (2002)," despite her gender.

In her second feature "Paju," the director appears to have rid herself of the influence of her mentor, creating a unique film that proves her first success was no fluke.

"I stopped (filming) because I could not make any more modifications to it," said Park, who took almost seven years to complete her second feature, at the movie's Seoul preview Wednesday. "I wanted to talk about emotions shared by two people who are similarly alone."

While vividly depicting the girl's maturation, "Paju" also spends a great deal of time tracking the changes in the male character Jung-sik.

A former democratic activist student, he strives to wipe out his guilt about his first love as well as his growing emotions for his young sister-in-law by working as a night school teacher and fighting with evictees against city development.

Through Jung-sik's life, the movie delves into the disorders in contemporary South Korean society, creating a story separate, yet overlapping, with the forbidden romance between in-laws.

The narrative is unkind to the audience at times, making some bold abbreviations and often retrograding time sequence to follow the characters' emotions. As a result, the film hoards up, throughout its lengthy running time, a mysterious aura that resembles the gray background and the modern Korean society.

Actor Lee Sun-kyun appears to shine at his best in the film, breathing some reality into Jung-sik, who could easily have become a dull character if someone else played him. Emerging actress Seo Woo also delivers one of the most believable depictions of conflicted female emotion put on film in Korea.

Invited to the Pusan International Film Festival's competition section New Currents this year, the movie, with a running time of 111 minutes, will hit the local theaters on Oct. 29.


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