[DVD REVIEWS]Profound tragedies bloom with hope

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[DVD REVIEWS]Profound tragedies bloom with hope

Recently, the divide between Korea's best movies and its biggest money-makers has grown from a narrow gap to a gaping chasm. While locally produced films have gained increased recognition at international film festivals, none of the top-10 moneymakers in 2001 could be considered an artistic masterpiece. Here are reviews of two of the most critically acclaimed films from last year that were largely overlooked at the box office.

Failan (2001)

Directed by Song Hae-seong. Starring Choi Min-shik and Cecilia Cheung.

A real weeper of a love story about two people who never meet. Kangjae (Choi) is a third-rate gangster, fresh out of prison after a 10-day sentence for selling porn videos to minors. Disrespected and hopeless, he bumbles through his empty life. When something goes horribly wrong one night, Kangjae agrees to take the fall for his boss.

But then he finds out his wife died - not his real wife, just a Chinese woman, Failan (Cheung), he married for a few dollars so she could get a residency permit. He finds a letter of hers and begins to learn about her life. Somehow it begins to touch him deeply. He wants to live a better life, but those around him aren't about to let that happen.

This film is one of the few to show the misery and desolation of gangster life, without idealizing or romanticizing it like most Korean films do. And Choi's performance as Kangjae is outstanding.

Sadly, the spotty subtitling stops this film from being all it could be. This is a "special edition," with a second DVD loaded with extras, but as usual the extras do not come with subtitles.

Flower Island ("Kkotseom," 2001)

Directed by Song Il-gon. Starring Seo Ju-heui, Im Yu-jin and Kim Hye-na.

The Economist hailed this film as being on a par with Andrei Tarkovsky. While that seems a bit strong, Song, 30, is certainly going to be a major filmmaker in the years ahead. A short film of his, "Picnic" ("Seopung," 1999), won the Grand Jury award for short films at the Cannes Film Festival. "Flower Island" is his first feature film, and is nothing less that excellent.

A teenage girl has a miscarriage in a public toilet. A young singer in her 20s gets throat cancer that will require her to lose her tongue. A mother in her 30s gets caught prostituting herself to earn money to buy a piano for her daughter. The three end up on a quest together to find the mysterious Flower Island, a place where you forget about all your misery and pain. Along the way, they meet a collection of oddballs.

Each scene is beautifully and meticulously framed, and even though this movie was shot on digital video, it is still gorgeous to look at.

Notably, "Flower Island" does not dwell on the women's tragedies. A lesser film would wring every drop of emotion from their pasts, but Song shows them dealing with the grief.

A moving, deeply metaphorical film that will linger with you a long time.

by Mark Russell

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