The Sound of Memories: Busan Review

Unintentionally hilarious and thoroughly pretentious experimental “art” film says nothing and goes nowhere.

South Korean writer-director Lee Gong-hee explores themes of memory, technology and transience in this feature debut.

It’s difficult to decide if watching the opening sequences of writer-director Lee Gong-hee’s The Sound of Memories is more like basking in a 1980s era Mexican telenovela or a sketch comedy troupe’s Ingmar Bergman parody. Either way, the willfully abstract and screamingly oblique film about a woman’s growing obsession with her dead sister is a disjointed, pretentious mess that claims also to be about the “sound of memory,” and can’t even get that right — the film’s sound quality is distractingly poor. The Sound of Memories is nigh on unsellable as an art house film both regionally and internationally, and even extended festival play seems like a long shot.

The film begins with a filmmaker (Jung Chung-gu) intoning dramatically about the story he’s telling about the film within the film and how it all started with the cave. We then see Yunhui (Yeo Min-joo) and Hangi (Hong Do-yun, a younger, less talented Jang Dong-gun), spreading the recently deceased actress Yunju’s (Kim Soo-in) ashes on the lake near her country home. At the time of her death, Yunju was making a film about some strange shenanigans in a sinister cave nearby, which the director suggested she better understand by listening to various sounds, which promptly make her crazy. In the present, Yunhui continues to carry on with Yunju’s old boyfriend Hangi, a relationship that began when Yunju was still alive, as well as take over her role in the film. There’s a jealous costume designer and a love struck production assistant lingering on the sidelines, and in between all the angsting and soulful staring we’re treated to some random modern dance. Eventually Yunhui is totally consumed by the memory of Yunju, which compels her to stab at the lake with a large blade.

The community theater-level performances don’t help the muddled, time-shifting story, such as it is, though it’s hard to hold much against the actors who were given the material. The Sound of Memories is one of those films that, when viewed, you can easily imagine the director on set saying, “Now, gaze into the distance!” This is the worst kind of vanity filmmaking — the kind that tries desperately to be deep but only succeeds in being completely baffling, both artistically and commercially. Early segments hint that the film might take a campy horror turn (think Karen Black’s cult classic Trilogy of Terror, particularly the segment featuring the tribal doll) but Lee remains steadfastly serious in her exploration of identity, memory and remorse. Gee, that’s new.

Producer: Lee Gong-hee

Director: Lee Gong-hee

Cast: Jung Chung-gu, Yeo Min-joo, Kim Soo-in, Hong Do-yun

Screenwriter: Lee Gong-hee

Director of Photography: Choi Chan-kyu

Production Designer: Chang Suk-jin

Music: Son Byoung-ha, Kim Dong-yeoul

Editor: Kim Sun-min, Chung Sang-hyuk