Film Review: Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells

BOTTOM LINE: Competent but ultimately unremarkable drama elevated by its star.

Pusan International Film Festival
Korean Cinema Today-Panorama

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A man feeling guilty about the death of a Nepalese worker makes a journey to the man's small mountain hometown to return his ashes in Jeon Soo-il's "Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells." Mixing the stranger-in-a-strange-land motif with the restless anxiety of middle age, writer-director Jeon ("With a Girl of Black Soil") crafts a soporific story of connection and disconnection that stutters to its conclusion.

NETPAC winner Jeon's latest will draw considerable festival attention, but an overseas release seems unlikely. The film could find a regional art house audience based on the strength of the starring turn by the reliable Choi Min-sik ("Oldboy"), however, Choi's niche appeal alone won't keep "Himalaya" from probable obscurity.

Korean businessman Choi (Choi) packs up and treks to Jharkot, Nepal, to deliver the sad news of Dorgy's fatal accident. After a grueling hike and a touch of altitude sickness, he arrives in the tiny village but can't bring himself to tell the truth of Dorgy's fate to his wife (Tsering Kipale Gurung) and son (Tenjin Sherpun). Instead, he opts for a sort of vacation in the town, enjoying the peace the trio's mismatched language skills afford him and allowing him a great deal of introspection as he insinuates himself into Jharkot's daily banalities.

Not a lot happens in "Himalaya." There's a picaresque, nearly gawking tone that hovers over the minimal narrative, and the local Nepalese performers teeter over the fine line from naturalistic to stilted too often. Nonetheless, there are several sweet moments shared between Choi and Dorgy's son, particularly those that involve the two communicating on a very basic level by mimicking a simple song; the son plays it on his recorder, Choi whistles along. Dorgy's wife is, blessedly, not portrayed as a mountain bumpkin, and her suspicion that something is lurking behind Choi's assertions that Dorgy is "doing fine" comes through loud and clear.

Sadly, "Himalaya" drops the ball on what could have been its greatest strength: visuals. Taking the title of the film into consideration, the garden-variety images and cinematography, while not notably drab or dreadful, are uninspired, regardless of the fact that the film was shot in one of the world's most beautiful and evocative natural locations.


Cast: Choi Min-sik, Tsering Kipale Gurung, Tenjin Sherpun.
Director-screenwriter: Jeon Soo-il.
Producers: Kim Dong-joo, Jeon Soo-il.
Director of photography: Kim Sung-tai.
Production designer: Cho Youn-ah.
Music: Kim Hyung-suk.
Editors: Kim In-soo, Noh Bong-seo.
Sales agent: UMedia
No rating, 94 minutes.
production: Dong Nyuk Film, Show East
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