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May 14, 2012

M (2007)

m 1.jpg

Lee Myeong-se - 2007
Panorama Entertainment All Region DVD

From a long time ago, I have always been interested in dreams. Dreams have always fascinated me. I dream a lot. I had a dream in the year 2000 in which Hitchcock gave me a book, and that book was titled "M." I said I would look at in a little while, and then I woke up from the dream.

Since then I have chased the meaning of "M" in that dream. I realized that "M" means MacGuffin.
- Lee Myeong-se

What makes M of interest within the context of films and filmmakers who have claimed inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock is that Lee's film takes on some of the content, but not the style of Hitchcock. This is not a mystery film in the conventional sense, nor a thriller. Instead, what Korean filmmaker Lee is more interested in is the Hitchcock who makes films about false and real memories, dreams, and love lost and possibly recovered.

Even the narrative aspects can not be fully trusted. Minwoo is a popular writer who dismisses his work as trash, and wishes he could write like James Joyce. He may be working on a new novel, but he seems to have writer's block. A young woman follows him in the street. She in turn may be pursued by someone else. Minwoo finds himself in a bar, the kind that has an entrance in a dark alley, the kind of bar that one sometimes finds by accident rather than design. Minwoo's relationship with his wife is shaky. Minwoo is also consumed by memories of his first love, a girl named Mimi.

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Unlike a Hitchcock film, there is no progressive story line. Instead, the narrative goes forward, backward and loops around itself, and into dead ends that ultimately lead nowhere. To best enjoy M you have to totally surrender to the dream logic where different characters repeat the same dialogue, where time and space blend into each other.

Lee uses a lot of reflective surfaces - mirrors, glass, water. The viewer may find themselves as disoriented as Minwoo with the shifts in use of space and combination of images. There is also voiceover used from Minwoo and Mimi. There are moments when I wasn't sure if I was watching a dream, and if so, who was the dreamer? That's not criticism of the film, but one of the ways Lee keeps on upending viewer expectation.

While Lee has stated that Hitchcock inspired this film, other references are more clear. It is impossible not to think of Fritz Lang's movie of the same title. There is the mysterious bar, with its curious, aged bartender. The bar is named after the French fictional detective, Arsene Lupin, and an image of Lupin is seen on the bar sign as well as a matchbook. The bar, and the patrons are lit in such a way that may remind viewers of the bar in Kubrick's The Shining. The visual reminders of Kubrick are also in the scenes of Minwoo typing small phrases repeatedly.

While some of the stroboscopic lighting and editing would not strike traditionalists as being Hitchcockian, Lee shows Minwoo and Mimi on the run at various points, through long, dark alleys and hallways, in and out of shadows. It is the sense of space, of being in a place where there is some kind of unknown and unseen danger, that is most closely associated with the films of Alfred Hitchcock. And, as happens in several Hitchcock films, Lee Myeong-se pokes the viewer, to remind them not to trust too much in images, that not everything is necessarily what it appears to be.

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This post is part of the Third Annual For the Love of Film Blogathon. Another word that starts with the letter "M" is Money. Send yours here if you want see the silent film, The White Shadow stream onto your internet connected device. And check out the other postings at Ferdy on Film, no letter of introduction needed.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 14, 2012 08:05 AM


Peter - This sounds like a fascinating movie I'd like to see, certainly not the type of Korean film I'm used to seeing or hearing about. The screencaps make it look very inviting. Thanks for drawing my attention to yet another hidden gem and for being part of the blogathon.

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at May 14, 2012 10:25 AM

Like Marilyn, I'm unfamiliar with the film but now curious! And I love the dream...

Posted by: Tinky at May 15, 2012 07:26 PM

Tinky! Thanks for coming by. I decided instead of writing directly about Hitchcock, that it would be interesting write about films that illustrate just how wide his influence was on other filmmakers.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 16, 2012 09:56 AM

Another one to add to the list. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Joe Thompson at May 18, 2012 11:41 PM