A minimalistic view of the struggle for life

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A minimalistic view of the struggle for life

BUSAN - During a question and answer session after the screening of his film at the Cannes film festival, a woman in the audience told Zhang Lu that the film felt like a story about her own life.
“I didn’t expect this film would speak so closely to the audience,” says Zhang, an ethnic Korean director in China whose film “Grain in Ear” was also shown at this year’s Pusan International Film Festival following the Cannes’ screening in May. “Anyone who knows about life in the lower levels of society could identify with this film. Many critics came to me and said it was the first film among my work that seemed to have been made for the general public, not for arthouse critics.” Still, the film, a story about a struggling, ethnic-Korean single mother, who scrapes by selling kimchi in an unlicensed cart, is far from pleasant to watch.
Cui (played by Liu Lianji) is a woman, a young mother and an ethnic Korean in suburban China, where being an ethnic minority means living in a run-down warehouse with prostitutes. Out of desperation, she gets involved with a fellow ethnic Korean, Kim, but his wife finds out about the affair and denounces Cui as a prostitute to the police.
The Chinese title of the film, “Mangzhong,” which means harvest season, plays with the irony of Cui’s situation. Despite the film’s disturbing metaphors of Cui’s psychological turmoil ― such as the rat poison and chickens (slang for prostitutes in Chinese) ― the film conveys a sense of dignity when depicting Cui giving her son Korean lessons.
“In China, the only way you can tell Koreans from Chinese are the women who sell kimchi on the streets,” he says. “I thought this was an interesting signature of their identity.”
Stylistically the film is beautifully shot with a minimalist sensibility, also evident in the director’s debut film “Tang Poetry.” “I didn’t use trained actors. My script barely showed anything substantial, and the film was shot in less than three weeks,” he says. “So in the end, it’s a story I told as I felt.”


by Park Soo-mee

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