'Love And...' ('Pil-re-um Si-dae Sa-rang'): Film Review

Love And still - H 2015
Courtesy of Contents Panda
A moving tribute to film and filmmakers.

Chinese-Korean filmmaker Zhang Lu delivers an experimental ode to cinema starring A-listers Ahn Sung-ki, Moon So-ri and Park Hae-il.

A four-part piece presented in just as many different styles, Chinese-Korean director Zhang Lu's latest is an experimental, poetic and moving visual paean to cinema. While one of the more left-field titles in Zhang's oeuvre, Love And... boasts probably the director's most stellar cast, a sign perhaps of the filmmaker's cachet today in South Korean cinema. A sustained run for Love And... is definitely in the cards now after its bows at Vancouver, Busan and Hong Kong.

Having established himself with a string of harsh dramas (Grain in Ear, Dooman River) and the odd migrant documentary (Scenery), Zhang seemed to have turned a creative corner last year by delivering the bittersweet romantic drama Gyeongju. The director has now returned with something that strays even further from conventions than before: a melancholic, formalist piece inspired by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges.

The literary giant's specter is omnipresent in Love And..., via the labyrinthine, mirror-filled interiors in which the characters and the camera move or the intriguing leaps between reality and fantasy. Moreover, at one point, a voiceover recites a part of one of the writer's essays, in which he reflects on Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuang's legacy of burning libraries and building the Great Wall.The despot's double act of destruction and conservation ties in with Zhang's primary concern in Love And... , which are the past, present and future of the fragile and seemingly declining medium of film.

The first part sets the scene by offering a view of modern filmmaking in action. Set in a hospital, this stretch of the movie ("Love") begins in black-and-white, with a mentally disturbed man (Ahn Sung-ki) visited by his granddaughter (Han Ye-ri), and then entangled in a violent stand-off with his nurse (Moon So-ri). As the deadly drama ends, things revert back to color and the action turn we just saw is revealed to be part of a film. As the cast and crew preps for another scene, a gaffer (Park Hae-il) suddenly confronts the director, decrying him for making something which is "an insult to love".

Disgruntled, the electrician walks off the set, swiping a can of shot film stock on his way out. Love And... then skips to its second act: shot in a smaller aspect ratio and on what seems to be 16mm stock, "Film" features a long montage of still and moving shots within the hospital that provides the backdrop to the first section. As the camera navigates the maze of empty rooms, corridors and underground walkways filled with ventilation ducts, we hear the reading (in Mandarin) of the Borges essay, a recording by Chinese singer Zhou Xun from the 1930s and another Korean rendition of a poem about the dead and the living. This passage is at once a play on urban space and a tribute to the gritty indie filmmaking of previous eras, like a relocation of Chantal Akerman's News from Home to 21st century South Korea.

Abstraction gives way to a mix of humor and remembrance in the third section, "Actors". In line with the many found-footage films flooding festivals today, he creates a dialogue-free montage of clips featuring performances of his stars in other films: Park in neo-noir Memories of Murder, Ahn in political thriller May 18, Moon in allegory Peppermint Candy and Han in harsh social drama A Blind River. The final part of Love And... serves as a corollary to the previous segment, as "Love, Again" repeats the first section — complete with similar camera movements and soundtrack — but with the shots emptied of actors.

As Zhang builds this reprise into a new symphony of sounds and images — a telephone ring, a wedding march, objects moving in and out of view — the gaffer appears again onscreen, still perplexed by his row on set and seeking solace by re-imagining the film being made as he sits on the seashore. His views about love and art might be opaque, but perhaps that's a moot point; it's his critical temperament about film that matters, just as the similarly elusive narrative or structure of Love And... is its most note-worthy attribute.

Production companies: Smile Entertainment, Lu Film

Cast: Park Hae-il, Ahn Sung-ki, Moon So-ri, Han Ye-ri

Director: Zhang Lu

Screenwriter: Zhang Lu

Producer: Leila Jo

Director of photography: Cho Young-sik

Production designer: Yeoo Jeong-eun

Costume designer: Nam Ji-soo

Editor: Lee Hak-min

Music: Kim Soo-young

Sound designer: Kim Bong-soo

International Sales: Contents Panda

In Korean and Mandarin

No rating; 70 minutes