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Late Autumn -- Film Review

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BUSAN, South Korea -- There's something not right with a film when the interludes are more interesting than the central setpieces. Kim Tae-yong's sympathetic characterization is evident in his adaptation of Korean master Lee Man-hee's lost film "Late Autumn" (remade twice before), about the brief encounter between a female convict on temporary leave and a fugitive.

But Kim treads too softly with his protagonists' injured psyches, as if afraid to hurt them, so he couldn't capture the urgency, desperation or illicitness that stokes their passion.

More like a cute date movie than a shattering love tragedy, the film will stay a while in domestic commercial cinemas. In the rest of Asia, the billing of Tang Wei ("Lust, Caution") in the lead could be a draw card, but the Seattle location and awkwardness of hearing English dialogue by two leads who are obviously not native speakers could be a deterrent to wide distribution.

The screenplay follows the original film (which has a surviving script) in skeletal form. Chinese-American Anna (Tang Wei) who is in prison for killing her husband is allowed parole for 72 hours to attend her mother's funeral in Seattle. On the bus, she lends the bus fare to a Korean escort named Hoon (Hyun Bin). Hoon's entanglements with a married woman forms a parallel to what Anna went through in her past.

The setup is a variation on Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" as the couple spends a day and a half exploring the city. At three major turning points they engage in a child-like play-acting game. In one of these scenes, Hoon pretends to be Anna's fiance at the funeral, and provokes a punch out with her jealous ex-lover, which is culturally inaccurate as it is unthinkably disrespectful for Chinese to cause any disturbance at funeral gatherings.

The verbal fireworks needed to develop physical rapport are absent. In fact, in contrast to the original which made waves with a controversial suggested sex scene in a train compartment, Kim's version is surprisingly chaste. And without prison guards accompanying the heroine like in Lee's film, the frisson of snatched privacy and stolen pleasure is gone.

It is actually during the narrative's silences and pauses that deeper feelings have a chance to emerge, like a scene at the bus stopover, when the camera whirls around Anna as she mills about in the mist looking for Hoon, her distress and sense of loss echoes the opening shot of her staggering down the road the day she killed her husband.

Tang re-plays her sullen, repressed persona in "Crossing Hennessy" but it is Hyun who impresses more for not underplaying the dandy, narcissistic side of his personality.

Technical credits are polished with quiet, mellow music adding a shade of wistfulness. Seattle appears foggy and drab, with hardly any color or smell of autumn.

Pusan International Film Festival, Gala Presentation

Production: Boram Entertainment.
Cast: Tang Wei, Hyun Bin
Director-screenwriter: Kim Tae-yong.
Producers: Lee Jooick, Nansun Shi, Cho Sung-woo.
Cinematographer: Kim Woo-hyung.
Art director: Ryu Sung-hie.
Editor: Steve M. Choe, Lee Jin.
Sound: Hong Ye-young, Sung Ji-young.
Music: Cho Sung-woo.
No MPAA rating, 115 minutes