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Bottom Line: Deliberate and honest examination of the female psyche where one is often needed.
BUSAN, South Korea — After making a debut with a dissection of Korean masculinity in “Jealousy is My Middle Name,” filmmaker Park Chan Ok let it be known she was a director to watch. With her follow up, “Paju,” Park keeps the camera on a man while looking at the influence and impact three women have on his life. Rarely is such detail and veracity bestowed on female characters in Korean mainstream cinema (if Park can be considered mainstream), and Park proves that her first success was no fluke.
“Paju” should be a guaranteed lock for Asian and women’s-themed festivals, though the slow pace and complex characters could make general distribution difficult — but not out of the question on the art house circuit — and the film deserves to be seen as an example of what Korea’s independent filmmaking scene can offer.
Though ostensibly about Joongshik, “Paju” is also about the women in his life and in many ways this is the film’s strongest element. The story follows Joongshik (Lee Sun Kyun) from a tragedy eight years earlier, to a brief marriage to Eunsoo (Shim Yi Young) up to his time living with her younger sister, Eunmo (Seo Woo). It’s a simple narrative with few distracting bells and whistles, allowing for a slow build and careful contemplation of Eunmo’s love-hate relationship with Joongshik. They make up the couple that anchors the story, and Seo delivers one of the most believable depictions of conflicted female emotion as has ever been put on film in Korea.
Park is able to do something many filmmakers can’t or won’t, and that’s draw a realistic picture of modern femininity that’s blessedly free of the stereotypes that make up movie women. There’s no shrieking or weeping from Eunmo when she recalls the events that lead to her sister’s death; Eunsoo’s reactions within her fragile marriage are empathetic; and Joongshik’s first live-in lover Jayoung (Kim Bo Kyoung), doesn’t have any ulterior motives when she re-enters his life. Paju is a location just outside of Seoul that is rife with its own contradictions and uncomfortable social politics due to its strong military presence — Korean, American, and North Korean — and this gray, grim locale is the perfect backdrop for the internal mess each of the characters must deal with to play out against.
Pusan International Film Festival — New Currents
Sales: M-Line Distribution
Production companies: TPS Company
Cast: Lee Sun Kyun, Seo Woo, Shim Yi Young, Kim Bo Kyoung
Director: Park Chan Ok
Screenwriter: Park Chan Ok
Producer: Kim Ju Kyung
Director of Photography: Kim Woo Hyung
Production Designer: Kim June
Music: Jan Young Kyu
Editor: Kim Hyung Joo
No rating, 112 minutes
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