Even by my standards, this is a mini-Women Filmmakers’ Wednesday entry, as I’ve only seen two films by Yim Soon-rye. However, born in 1961 and having studied film in Paris, she’s had a long career in the Korean film industry. Her films are characterised by their focus on women protagonists, that are a bit more contemplative than much mainstream cinema, though having only seen two I can’t really extrapolate much further myself. However, I will certainly be seeking out more opportunities to view her films.
우리 생애 최고의 순간 Uri Saengae Choegoui Sungan (Forever the Moment, 2008)
I can’t say that the idea of watching a film about handball is exactly a thrilling prospect, but then again that’s largely because I know almost nothing about handball. Turns out it’s like basketball crossed with hockey — to my untrained eye — but really this film is about the women who compete, and it’s in that classic genre of ‘we need to put a winning team together, let’s go!’ After all, it seems as if Korean handball was in a parlous state in 2004, so when a coach is appointed he needs to shape his unruly players into a winning combination, using new tactics and training. The film takes a little bit to get going, as it takes a while to get a sense of who the key players are. That said, the coach immediately comes across as an egotistic petulant idiot, and never really softens much from thereon in — indeed, there are plenty of sequences of the women he coaches restraining themselves from punching him (they really should have done so). The linchpin ends up being the two older women (played by Moon So-ri and Kim Jung-eun) who return for one last shot at glory, and manage to hold things together just enough to take everyone through to the Olympic final. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I suppose the outcome must have been pretty well known in Korea. Still, now that it’s been proven a handball movie can be done, perhaps they’ll move onto archery next if they haven’t already (an Olympic sport that Korea truly dominates).
Director Yim Soon-rye 임순례; Writer Na Hyun 나현; Cinematographer Hwang Ki-seok 황기석; Starring Moon So-ri 문소리, Kim Jung-eun 김정은, Uhm Tae-woong 엄태웅, Kim Ji-young 김지영; Length 124 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix), London, Sunday 14 July 2019.
리틀 포레스트 Liteul Poreseuteu (Little Forest, 2018)
Most Korean films I’ve seen (many of them by Hong Sang-soo to be fair) involve groups of people coming together around food and drink — and there are a few such scenes in Forever the Moment — but Little Forest takes it one step further and basically inserts entire recipes into the film, all lovingly shot and executed. It is, by some measures, a fairly sentimental film, about young 20-somethings who’ve gone away to college in the big city re-engaging with rural living: the passage of the seasons, life growing, weathering storms, and thereby becoming stronger. There’s a generative metaphor being deployed here with the fields and farming, and although at some level I still personally believe the countryside is as much a place of danger and death, that’s not really the tone of this film, which manages to remain light and positive and somehow warmly sustaining, even as our heroine’s mother (Moon So-ri) just ups and disappears from her life. And I think it’s that underlying sense of melancholy that keeps the film so balanced and even, dare I say it, rather wondrous.
Director Yim Soon-rye 임순례; Writer Hwang Seong-gu 황성구 (based on the manga リトル・フォレスト Ritoru Foresuto by Daisuke Igarashi 五十嵐 大介); Cinematographer Lee Seung-hoon 이승훈; Starring Kim Tae-ri 김태리, Ryu Jun-yeol 류준열, Moon So-ri 문소리; Length 103 minutes.
Seen at Barbican Cinema, London, Sunday 24 March 2019.