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April 26, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Two

flame in the valley.jpg
Flame in the Valley

First screening of the day was the digitally restored Korean film, Flame in the Valley (Sambul) made in 1967. Furnished by the Korean Film Archive, the film provides a unique look at the Korean conflict, from the point of view of the women who populate a remote mountain village. All of the men have died or gone missing fighting for South Korea. The only man left is an elderly grandfather who constantly brays to be fed. The women, who eke out a minimal living, are not shy about expressing their sexual longings. A North Korean guerrilla hides near the village. He encounters one of the women, Jeom-rye. What initially appears as rape is quickly turned into something more consensual, as Jeom-rye and Kyu-bok create a clandestine relationship. Things get more dangerous when another widow, Sawol, blackmails Jeom-rye into sharing Kyu-bok.

Director Kim Su-yong begins with a couple of lateral shots establishing the bamboo forest that is eventually burned, and the rustic village where the women live. Had soldiers not appeared, one might think that the film took place in an earlier era, as nothing about the homes, clothing or way of life suggests the middle of the Twentieth century. The end of the film easily parallels activity in Vietnam and the concept of destroying a town in order to save it, as the women are helpless while a small band of soldiers burn the bamboo groves.

Soul poster

The Taiwanese film Soul (Shi hun) was submitted for Best Foreign Film Oscar last year. It's not the kind of film that the Academy would embrace, but this very arty thriller is worth watching. A man goes to visit his aging father in a remote mountain region, his sister also is there to visit. The sister is brutally murdered. When asked why by the father, the man states that the woman is unknown to him, and that the son is no longer in his own body, which is now host to this murderous stranger.

Chung Mong-Hong photographed as well as writing the screenplay and directing. The murders are played out almost elliptically with brief moments of blackness intercut with shots of moths, or insects on flowers. The father becomes complicit in covering up for his son. The son works at a Japanese restaurant in Taipei - the opening shots of fish being split open sets up the tone with imagery that suggests both the murders to come, and the split personality of the son.

The familiar name here is Jimmy Wang Yu as the father. As the reclusive father, this is a role that might surprise those more familiar with Wang during his days as an action star in martial arts movies such as The One-Armed Swordsman.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 26, 2014 09:44 AM