A Little Pond -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- In "A Little Pond," Lee Saang-woo recounts in a conventional narrative with unswerving power the South Korean equivalent of the My Lai Massacre. This suppressed story of how the evacuation of a village during the 1950s civil war turned into a massacre by American soldiers compels by its genuine tragic nature.

With global attention fixated on the Gulf, this untold chapter of a war crime occurring nearly 60 years ago may strike overseas distributors as too little (in scale), too late. Nevertheless, this somber yet accessible work is a possible acquisition for knowledge channels.

The film is set in July 1950, one month after the start of the Korean War, in Nogunri, a little South Korean hamlet that borders the North. The cinematography, so lush it verges on artificial, transports us to an arcadia of pristine mountains, lakes and fields captured in resplendent green and emerald.

With a few light strokes, Lee evokes the lull before a storm in a close knit community. A night raid on an ex-Communist's home casts a cloud over idyllic images of elders playing chess while cute children whirl around them in ignorance of impending doom.

Without lingering on any character or relationship, the turning point arrives with unexpected swiftness. U.S. forces come to clear the area for battle but speaking through Japanese interpreters, their orders confuse everyone. The villagers evacuate to the woods but are driven out into the open, to be exposed to air attacks and American soldiers ordered to shoot indiscriminately.

The carnage has a sense of immediacy by being shot brusquely without music, sound effects or excessive camera movements. Even with current proliferation of war themed films, the scenes manage to be quite disturbing.

The unsentimental realism is then deliberately violated by two CGI images of giant fish swishing in the sky, momentarily lifting everything into the realm of dream and poetry. This visual reference to the title also symbolizes the victims' insignificance -- like fish in a pond.

The film's one problem is it is comprised almost entirely of crowd scenes. The anonymity of the roles helps sharpen focus on the action, but also causes emotional detachment.

Pusan International Film Festival -- Gala presentation

Produced and presented by: Nogunri Production, co-produced by Mofac Studio and Trans-dimensional Stageship Theater Company
Cast: Moon Seung Geun, Kim Rae Ha, Jeon Hye Jin, Park Gwang Jung
Director-screenwriter: Lee Saang Woo
Based on books by: Jung Eun-yong/Choi Sang-hoon, Charles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza
Producer: Lee Woo Jung
Executive producer: Lee Eun
Director of photography: Choi Jin Woong
Production designer: Yoon Jung Sup
Music: Bang Jun Seok
Editor: Jang Sung Ho
Sales: M-Line Distribution
No rating, 86 minutes