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September 08, 2009

Sorum

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Yun Jong-chan - 2001
Tartan Asia Extreme Region 1 DVD

As one who spends a large portion of my time thinking about, writing about, and simply watching films, I realize that part of my life is outside of mainstream existence. I felt even more apart by the simple fact that news that had meant something to me was not even mentioned in any of the "entertainment" news from sources like Yahoo or Huffington Post. The news I received was through the informal alliance of other people who write about films. Most disturbing was the murder of Nika Bohinc and Alexis Tioseco at their home in The Philippines. I've been a sometime reader of Criticine since my own deeper explorations into Thai cinema in 2006. More about Nika and Alexis, and arguably, what the deeper purpose of writing about film should be can be found at Girish Shambu's site. It was through my Facebook connection with Catherine Grant that I learned about the death of Keith Waterhouse. This was significant for me as one who generally likes the British films of the early Sixties, the so-called "Kitchen Sink" period. It was through Todd Brown and his site, Twitch that I found out about the untimely death of Korean actress Jang Jin-young.

Jang made two films with writer-director Yun Jong-chan. I had seen the second, Blue Swallow, knowing nothing about it, but taking advantage of a very brief period when I was able to buy subtitled Korean, Hong Kong and Chinese DVDs in Thailand from some local entrepreneurs. The biography of Park Kyeong-Won, one of Korea's pioneer female aviators, the film starts off as a Hawksian adventure about a young woman who demonstrates her ability to be one of the guys with her flying skills and sense of adventure, before shifting to a much darker film about the relationship between Koreans and Japanese in the years before World War II. Because of the controversial aspects of Park's life, Blue Swallow was a box office failure in Korea, although those who have seen the film agree on the quality of Jang's performance.

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Yun first film with Jang, also is directorial debut, Sorum is more easily available for western viewers. The film has several of the elements of several Asian horror movies - the dilapidated apartment building that is inches away from condemnation, the mysterious neighbors, the rumored death of a child by a former resident, the protagonist who moves into the building because there is no available money for anything better. Yun goes against some of the genre expectations by keeping most of the violence off screen. The viewer is aware indirectly of what has occurred by a couple of scenes that suggest some very confused memories comprised of brief, subjective shots. Also, the closest Sorum comes to having any ghosts appear in the film is in the dreams of one of the characters dreaming about her deceased husband. The creepiness is created by a few flickering lights, objects that seem to fall down on their own, and a soundtrack of creaking doors and stairs, faint lullabies heard from an unknown source, and rainfall so dense it is if one can hear every drop.

Jang appears as Sun-yeong, a woman working a late night shift at the loneliest 7-11 in Seoul. Yong-hyun (Kim Meong-min), a taxi driver has just moved into the same building and same floor. The two become connected in ways unexpected following Yong-hyun's first late night purchase of a candy bar. Yong-hyun first becomes learns about the violent death of the previous tenant in his apartment from another neighbor, a failed publisher who is writing a novel. It is the death that has taken place in the building that serves as a connection for the Fifth floor residents, as well as wedge that causes more violence. Yong-hyun thinks his apartment is a cheap refuge from his own past, only to find his life entwined with that of his neighbors, who find themselves unable to leave. While less explicit in this regard compared to films inspired by Poe's Fall of the House of Usher, or Robert Wise's version of Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, the building that Yong-hyun and Sun-yeong live in serves as another character in Sorum.

Yun often keeps his distance from his characters, with several scenes composed of static medium or long shots. Only in a few scenes are there close-ups, in some of the most dramatic moments. The display of technique is saved for a couple of flashbacks of past incidences remembered or possibly imagined. Yun will even undermine how a scene is expected to be filmed as when Yong-hyun sees Sun-yeong in the distance, and his head completely blocks her out of the shot. The sense of isolation, the distance of the characters from each other, and from the audience, is also emphasized by the absence of people, either barely seen in the distance in the streets of Seoul, or pointedly not scene, as when Yong-hyun and Sun-yeong are in a rural village that has served as a film set. The effect is one where the attempt to be close with another person is an invitation to tragedy, and far from truly being alone, we bring with us our own ghosts.

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Posted by peter at September 8, 2009 01:00 PM