Year of the 12 Directors – Song Il-gon Preview

Always 2011 SojisubYear of the 12 Directors: As April is coming to an end, the Korean Culture centre are preparing their final film screening of April along with Director Q&A with the director of the month. The conclusive film of April will be Always (2011) starring a personal favourite So Ji-Sub alongside Han Hyo-Joo. This is a very special screening as it will mark the 100th film screening to be organised by the KCC and to celebrate this milestone, a small reception has been prepared after Thursday’s film event so make sure you come along!

Always might seem like your typical Korean film, hot yet troubled guy randomly meets hot girl, then there are either some misunderstandings and one will dislike the other, or one will fall madly in love whilst the other is completely oblivious, they slowly but surely develop a beautiful relationship, only for something terribly tragic to happen (i.e. Cancer, Amnesia) that causes obstacles for the protagonist couple to have to fight for their love and go through many tear jerking situations. Oh Korean big screen romances are always so difficult…

From the trailer and synopsis we have read, Always seems to conform to all the typical conventions of a Korean Romantic drama. So Ji-sub plays Chul-min, a man with a dark past, chance encounter with partially sighted Jung Hwa who’s optimistic. Dark brooding So Ji-Sub inevitably falls in love, becomes wonderful loving and devoted boyfriend, our heart melts. But wait, something happens? Oh no! Perfect couple is torn apart! So Ji-Sub is crying, macho hard man showing soft side makes us love him even more *tears tears tears*. Of course we all know that everything will turn out ok. I feel like I’m not really selling this movie. So Ji-Sub. Yes that’s good, we’ve got 50% of the audience back. Now how to get all the men to come to the screening?

Year of the 12 Directors - Song Il-gon PreviewLast Thursday I went to a screening of director Song Il-gon’s earlier works called Dance of Time (2009). This was actually a documentary and having seen the Always trailer before, I was a bit confused about Mr Song’s career direction. What takes a director from Documentary to Romantic Comedy? Dance of Time is a documentary about Korean immigrants in Cuba. This documentary was so different and refreshing. The style of this documentary was notably different from your typical documentaries, which was why I loved it. It’s style was dreamy, like a smooth chilled out music video with a beautiful calm narrator who didn’t lecture us, but instead told us a poetic story. Camera work was smooth, none of this “look! Shaky hand cam! It’s because this is all so real” yes, I’m looking at you Actresses! The camera work was like a music video or old school beach montages that you see in 90s American TV shows. You also had people performing and looking straight at camera. At no point did this documentary try to give off the illusion that what you was seeing was “real”, it had nothing to prove, all the camera wanted to do was tell you a story. The narration was minimal, merely used as a sort of story teller to guide the story along and for dramatic effect. Most of the documentary was carried via the conversations we were witnessing, the stories that we were hearing. And there was no faceless, behind the camera, God like voice asking questions in English and that weird documentary dubbing moment with answers in a different language, instead, the “interviewer” just sounded like some jolly possibly merry dude in the other room shouting over and teasing the on screen participants. “How did you get a girl to marry an ugly face like yours?” or something along those lines. Hilarious and very witty. I seem to have waffled on and diverted, let’s get our thoughts back on track…

This is evident in Dance of Time as the style was massively different from what you would expect of a Korean production. Although the subject was Cuban Koreans, these people were very Cubanised (?) and topics discussed were more about the relationships between them, with very little material relating back to their Korean ancestry. Half way through the movie, you forget the fact that you are watching a Korean documentary as apart from the narration, very little Korean is spoken. In the end, a Korean voice is used to read old love letters, I figured this was to help relate these characters back to their Korean heritage but it was odd as one of the writers of the love letters was a Chinese man who wrote to his Korean wife… Either way, I found this documentary very interesting and touching about the first generation of Koreans who “settled” in Cuba, a topic not often covered and definitely worth a watch; Song’s documentary style is certainly enjoyable. Song Il-gon studied Fine Arts at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and applied to study film in the United States when he graduated but his visa application was rejected and Song ended up at the National Academy of Film in Łódź, Poland which housed former students such as Roman Polanski. During his time in Poland, Song was unable to take on Korean subject matters in his work, so naturally he had to adapt and turn to other themes for inspiration. This could be why Song became the first Korean director to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival as he was able to develop a more Western style that appealed to a foreign audience. But this meant that he struggled to gain recognition in his homeland of South Korea.

Year of the 12 Directors - Song Il-gon Preview

Now why should you watch Always? Song is a director with a distinctly different style from your usual Korean Director. Although the plot line may seem like your typical Romantic Comedy, I’m expecting Song to weave his own unique style into the way the story is told.Always was inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights which was a silent movie and one of Chaplin’s greatest works. So I’m really excited about seeing what kind of influences Song took from it, slapstick possibly? Always is Song’s first mainstream release and definitely worth attending to watch a (hopefully) different take on the Korean Romantic Comedy. Either way, if you a fan of Korean movies, it’ll be worth a watch, and as Always (you see what we did there?) don’t forget the tissues. Below is the trailer, we’re sobbing already.

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