Director Goes From Mythical to Personal

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Director Goes From Mythical to Personal

Im Kwon-taek, 65, whose last film "Chunhyang" caused a sensation at home and abroad last year, confesses that, far from wallowing in success, he is in agonies of indecision.

What is eating this great filmmaker? The problem is nothing other than his fixation with his next film. He is so stressed out that he recently started smoking nearly two packs of cigarettes a day, despite an allergy to cigarettes.

Mr. Im's previously acclaimed films include "Sopyonje" (1994), which dealt with the traditional Korean music called pansori and its musicians who feel han, an accumulated national rancor or regret borne by Koreans. "Chunhyang" was a story of two lovers who were kept apart by the difference in their social positions. The beautiful heroine, Chunhyang, remains chaste and loyal to her sweetheart even when under threat by a lord who has dark designs on her, and in the end the couple manage to come together and live happily ever after. This popular traditional story was successfully transferred to the big screen and gained much attention at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival.

But Mr. Im is not yet satisfied. "I have this compulsion to make my next film something new and different," he said. "I am desperate that my films don't stay still."

The complex, difficult character of his next film is the painter Owon Chang Seung-up, who was born in 1843 and died in 1897 in the last years of the Choson Dynasty. Chang Seung-up is one of the four most renowned painters of the Choson Dynasty, along with Ahn Gyeon, Kim Hong-doh and Jeong Seon.

Orphaned early on, he is remembered for his all-consuming passion for painting. He was so bent on painting that he was indifferent to money, power, fame and even his own family. The only other thing that appealed to this great painter was drinking.

Why Chang Seung-up, of all the other possible historical figures to study? Mr. Im remarked that, through this illustrious painter's life and masterpieces, he would scrutinize the relations between art and life. Unlike his former works "Sopyonje" and "Chunhyang," which presented symbolic characters whose only significance was in terms of the story, Mr. Im said in his next film he wants to make a profound investigation into the workings of this human being.

"I was hesitant at first," he said, "for I was not sure that I could possibly be capable of making this film. However, I eventually took the decisive step. After all, if it is to work, I must face up to my fears."

Mr. Im also gave advance notice that his style of direction would differ from his former works. "This time, I've got the challenge of coping with a painter and his works, which means that the direction and visual style of the film must undergo substantial change." As both painting and film rely on visual appreciation, Mr. Im's fans have high hopes for this next project by one of the most prominent figures in the Korean film industry.

Mr. Im is preparing to reproduce the life of the fervent painter by sharing his vision and fears with the screen director Jeong Il-sung, who will assist him. The movie will begin filming in May and is due for release next year.

by Park Jeong-ho

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