[NOTEBOOK]Let's stay cool, calm and collected

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[NOTEBOOK]Let's stay cool, calm and collected

After watching the Korea-France soccer game Sunday night, I strolled over to a bar. I was excited by the game, and I wanted to see what others thought. The Korean team lost the match, 3-2, but the bar was crowded with people who had just seen an exhilarating and remarkable game. The place was boisterous, with excited talk about the game among friends, families and partners. Everyone was intoxicated with self-confidence and oblivious to the troubles of day-to-day living.

That night, the full moon reminded us of the balls that rattled the French goal earlier that day. And another piece of good news arrived, this time all the way from France. At 3 a.m. Mon-day morning, a report told of the news that a Korean film director, Im Kwon-taek, had received the best director award for his film "Chihwaseon" at the Cannes International Film Festival.

The recognition came at a time when the Korean film industry, while enjoying its greatest financial success ever, was looking inward because of criticism that the industry was leaning too much toward commercialism, lowering its standards and focusing on gangsters, comedy and nudity.

"Chihwaseon" depicted the climax in the life of a traditional Korean artist in a unique Korean style of cinematography. The story is that of a late Joseon Dynasty artist, Jang Seung-eop, who came from a poor lowly background but rose to become a royal artist. But, the tale continues, he left it all behind, choosing to lead a life of a wanderer in search of freedom as an artist, and eventually became a hermit in the woods. His life and his spiritual world were highlighted against the backdrop of a grassroots revolution in the late 19th century and the invasion of Japanese colonial power ?all that against the background of the country's dazzling beauty.

Lee Chung-jun, the author of the novel on which the movie was based, wrote that Jang was "a truly free man who was guided by a free spirit that could not be content with any worldly value or accomplishments; someone who thirsted to be beyond the values of the establishment." Mr. Lee praised highly both the movie and Mr. Im, the director.

Mr. Lee and Mr. Im first collaborated in 1993, when the writer's book "Sopyeonje" was adapted for film by the director. Their relationship has become close and comfortable. Both are quiet men, but when it comes to each other's work, they cannot hide their interest and excitement. Jang Seung-eop in the film is, as Mr. Lee observed, perhaps the director himself in search of life and art as the great free man.

Born in 1936, Mr. Im's schooling stopped at middle school during the Korean War. He entered the film industry when he was 20. His debut film was "Goodbye, the Duman River"; he had directed more than 80 films by the late 1970s. Most of those films put food on his table but little else; that changed in 1981 when he began working out of his own cinematic conviction with "Mandala." His reputation grew internationally when he released "Ssibaji," "Sopyeonje" and "Chunhyang," and culminated in the recognition at Cannes.

"I wanted to be free from the sense of duty of having to do something for Korean film," he said after the announcement. "Wouldn't it be possible then to make a more liberating piece of work?" The tenacity for movies that is deep-rooted in the Korean psyche made possible that freedom ?or perhaps well-intended tenacity is great freedom in itself.

The Korean soccer team's head coach Guus Hiddink had some complaints to deliver to his players after Sunday's inspired game. They were too excited in the later stages of the game, he told them; they should learn to engage in the sport with a sense of calm.

The Korean players have no doubt gained confidence from having played well against strong European teams ?so has everybody else in Korea as well. The success came from a feeling of tenacity that we could win against anybody.

But just before the World Cup begins, we need to free ourselves from that tenacity. We need to shed the pressure to make the second round. By heightening our sense of confidence to a state of calm and reserve, we can lift the quality of our lives and unite among ourselves.


The writer is culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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