Film Review: Members of the Funeral

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum

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BERLIN -- The literary-flavored "Members of the Funeral" is yet another example of a first-time filmmaker's reach exceeding his grasp. Writer-director Baek Seung-Bin clearly has no shortage of ideas, but he combines them into an over-complicated head-scratcher that's strictly festival fare.

While Baek shows potential, on this evidence, cinema might not prove the most suitable outlet for his talent. He's plainly as much of a bookworm as his characters, who spend most of their time reading or talking about novels; the script, divided into chapters, is peppered with references to English-language authors.

The narrative's key figure, 17-year-old Hee-Joon, is a precocious budding scribe -- or, rather, was: His suicide is the movie's pivotal event, and his funeral brings together a trio of individuals who had close relationships with the deceased. These bonds are explored through interlocking flashbacks, which might or might not be dramatizations of Hee-Joon's unpublished novel, titled "Members of the Funeral." Further ambiguity arises from the three funeral guests: Are they strangers, as they seem initially, or close family members?

Baek provides only elusive hints to these puzzles, presumably with the intent of crafting an enigmatically multilayered cinematic "text" -- a high-toned combination of "Adaptation" and "Wonder Boys," perhaps. But he can't pull it off, and his picture's piquantly morbid undercurrents can't compensate for opaque storytelling, sluggish pacing and an air of smart-aleck pretentiousness that hovers over the enterprise.

Modishly underlit interiors and high-definition digital video lensing, meanwhile, give the visuals a bland sheen that further distance us from the characters and their plights
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