Pink: Busan Film Review

Muted but effective performances by two fine actresses highlight Jeon Soo-il’s eighth feature.

Busan’s resident auteur Jeon Soo-il relates a tale of hardship in a nearly abandoned seaside community in his typical austere style.

The other Korea is on display in Pink, a film made by one of Busan’s resident auteurs, Jeon Soo-il. Unlike the sleek skyscrapers and myriad construction sites that surround Centum City and the new Busan Cinema Center where the festival has set up camp, Pink takes place in a mostly abandoned and derelict beachfront area where the film’s middle-aged heroine, Ok-ryun (Seo Kap-Sook in a return to the screen after a decade-long absence), runs a shabby bar called Pink.

Local workers and drifters are her small cliental. Like the proprietress and her newly hired helper, the mysterious Soojin (Lee Seung-yeon), each probably has a story to tell. Only nobody talks much in this movie except for the inebriated customers. For Jeon’s style is one of a rigorously imposed austerity: Actors stare expressionlessly into space. The camera moves seldom, content to gaze at moody water or silent buildings. The story inches forward without much incident.

The film is, of course, aimed at festivals and art houses. But within its own frame of reference and aesthetics, the story, written by the director and Kim Kyung, achieves poignancy.

The area surrounding Pink is scheduled for evictions and building demolition but Ok-ryun is a holdout. She takes part in sit-in demonstrations against the demolitions that have so far accomplishednothing.

Hers is a hard life as her son (Park Hyun-woo) is autistic and her only romance is an occasional tumble with a policeman, who otherwise can’t understand her stubbornness in clinging to Pink.

Meanwhile, Soojin drifts through her days and nights at the bar and in quarters she shares with her boss and son in a kind of daze. You sense a past trauma, one that must involve the ghostly appearances of an old man whose sight she cannot bear.

Men eye this lovely woman so lost in her own thoughts. The only male she does develop affection for, curiously, is the handicapped son to whom she is drawn. The guy at the fish market can’t get her to talk to him. A local worker, who plays acoustic guitar, does get her out on his boss’ boat. She then jumps overboard and he has to retrieve her.

In these moments and the occasional unsettling behavior, Jeon examines the lives of his two female characters. He clearly isn’t big on exposition; nor does he trust dialogue. Rather he lets a viewer discover the characters for themselves, interpreting motives and imagining past lives. (The specter of the old guy might seem obvious even before it’s explained.)

There is something a little too artful in this film though, something a little too much controlled by the filmmaker, that adds an artificial note to his otherwise naturalistic style. Thus, you sense a lead-up to another revelation or epiphany or startling incident. You might even imagine that the bar’s metaphorical pink sign will finally go on at the end as the guitar player sings a haunting melody. You would not be wrong.

Venue: Busan International Film Festival, Korean Cinema Today

Production company: Dong-Nyuk Films, Mountain Pictures

Cast: Lee Seung-yeon, Seo Kap-Sook, Park Hyun-woo, Lee Won-jong, Kang San-eh

Director: Jeon Soo-il

Screenwriters: Jeon Soo-il, Kim Kyung

Producer: Lee Jae-sik

Director of photography: Kim Sung-tai

Production designer: Kim Geon-woo

Music: Kang San-eh

Editor: Kim In-su

Sales: M-Line Distribution

No rating, 97 minutes