This old garden has fertile soil for a director’s imagination

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This old garden has fertile soil for a director’s imagination

What are the chances of fireworks when you bring together a controversial director and a controversial novelist?
Plenty. But that’s exactly what you hope for, says Lim Sang-soo, the director of, “The Old Garden,” a film adaptation of Hwang Suk-young’s novel by the same name.
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The book’s central character is a man who has just been released from 18 years in prison after being condemned for his political activities in the late 1970s. The action covers his first week of freedom and revolves around his memories of his late lover , who gave him refuge while he was on the run from state authorities.
“He [Hwang] came to the filming twice and said very little,” Lim said during a press conference at the Lotte Cinema in Myeongdong. “I guess he trusted me.”
Hwang, 62, is a Manchuria-born South Korean novelist, who is frequently discussed as a possible candidate for the Nobel prize. In 1993 he was sentenced to seven years in prison for an unauthorized visit to North Korea. “The Old Garden” is the novel he wrote after he was freed following a presidential pardon from Kim Dae-jung in 1998.
Lim is much younger but already has an impressive resume.
One of his controversial works is “The President’s Last Bang,” a black comedy about the assassination of President Park Chung Hee. The film received a court censure after complaints from Mr. Park’s son, Park Ji-man, who claimed it defamed his family. Instead of re-editing, however, the stubborn director chose to black out three minutes and 50 seconds of the film for public screenings.
“People keep reminding me that I should somehow have a different, more respectful approach in turning Mr. Hwang’s work into a film,” Lim said, although he seemed tired of discussing this question.
According to Lim, the film is a typical love story.
“I want to be a director who can be acclaimed for making all kinds of films that involve history, pornography but love stories too,” he said. “You will find yourself thinking ‘Is this actually Lim Sang-soo’s work?’ when you watch this heart-aching story about love,” he said.
Murmurs of surprise filled the room, but Lim was not at all daunted.
“It’s going to be very touching and will not upset any age group,” he said.
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Lim has reason to be sensitive about his reputation. “A Good Lawyer’s Wife,” another of his notorious films, depicted a “good housewife” involved in an intimate relationship with a next-door high school student who engages her in a daring sexual encounter.
“But this film has been rated for an audience of 12 years and over to watch,” he said smiling.
That does not mean the film will be comfortable viewing for all.
He said he was especially proud of a four-minute scene he and his staff worked on for three days at Chonbuk University to recreate a violent confrontation between college demonstrators and the riot police. Molotov cocktails are thrown, tear gas canisters are fired and the police drag away fighting and bleeding students by their hair.
Lim said he and the director of photography were at college during the turbulent early 80s and know quite well what the protests were like those days.
“It was protest after protest throughout the four years of college,” Lim said. “I think we have come up with a protest scene that is true to Hwang’s description.”


by Lee Min-a
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