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BUCHEON, South Korea — South Korean film maverick Kim Ki-duk is still keeping a low profile from the local press but is nevertheless making headlines through his proteges.
His former assistant director Moon Si-hyun last week saw the premiere of her feature film debut Sins of Fathers at the 15th Puchon (Bucheon) Fantastic International Film Festival (PiFan).
Moon has directed shorts that were invited to compete at the Rotterdam Film Festival (Love in the Shadows) and the Independent Film Festival Made in Pusan (Up). Her new drama makes an incisive observation about “broken” families that have come to define a breed of disillusioned urban middleclass, of which married couples tolerate separation in order to provide children an opportunity to study abroad.
Tae-su (Kim Yeong-hun), a young promising businessman and happily married family man, loses everything overnight when he underwrites a friend’s debt. His wife cannot bear the thought of selling their posh flat and proposes divorcing on paper. Tae-su agrees and tries to steer clear of creditors at a bleak, dank gosiwon or low-cost lodging facility for the poor with cubicle-like single rooms. There, a precocious teenage girl Se-ra (Yu Ae-gyeong) takes an interest in him, but it’s not before long her father intervenes.
Moon, who was on the crew of Kim’s Breath and Time, said she penned the script after hearing about a news story.
“A woman, unable to withstand financial constraints of living in New Zealand, committed suicide with her daughter. Her husband, shortly after arriving there also takes his own life. I was very shocked to hear this,” Moon said during a Q&A session following the screening.
“In Korea people readily forfeit their personal needs for their children’s education and I wanted to look into the meaning of this, whether these people were happy.”
She added that it portrays the role of patriarchs in post-Asian Financial Crisis Korea. “A mother’s sacrifice had always been widely acknowledged here but now there’s a focus on how fathers break their backs to support their families.” The film’s original title, Samagi or praying mantis, moreover, refers to how the female insect eats the male after conceiving in order to provide nutrients for their offspring.
The director said she chose a gosiwon as the setting because of what she thinks the venue represents.
“A gosiwon used to symbolize hope — it was where students studying to become civil servants went to concentrate solely on working toward their dreams. Now it has come to define despair, as a place for people with nowhere else to go.”
One of Kim’s other former assistant directors, Juhn Jai-hong, whose inter-Korean drama “Poongsan” is drawing crowds at the box office, appeared as a member of the audience.Actor Kim Jong-soo, who plays a North Korean official in Juhn’s film, stars in Sins of Fathers.
“Moon Si-hyun and I’ve known each other ever since I was studying filmmaking in New York. I’m very proud of her,” said Juhn.
Lead actor Kim, who has previously worked with Juhn, said that the director is more detail-oriented and sensitive compared to Moon, who tends to be rather tough on the set.
Meanwhile, another one of Kim’s former assistant directors, Jang Hoon, will see the release of a Korean War (1950-53) action movie The Front Line on July 20.
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