An illicit love affair mixed with mystery

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An illicit love affair mixed with mystery

By Park Sun-young

“There was never a moment when I didn’t love you.”

This would be such a romantic line in most movies, but it takes on a different meaning when uttered by the leading man in director Park Chan-ok’s new film, “Paju.”

The movie, which was screened in the New Currents section of the Pusan International Film Festival that ends today, attracted the attention of moviegoers even before its world premiere at the event in Busan.

The buzz centers around the film’s sensitive theme: a forbidden love between a girl and her sister’s husband. It is Park’s second feature, coming on the heels of the award-winning film “Jealousy is My Middle Name” in 2002.

Before seeing this movie, I imagined - as many others have - that the film would be filled with scenes of love and betrayal. But I was wrong. There is much more to this movie than an illicit love affair.

The story follows Eun-mo (Seo Woo), who returns to her hometown Paju after three years abroad. She quickly learns that her sister Eun-soo (Shim Yi-young), who met an untimely death years earlier, passed away in a different manner than she was led to believe. The other surprising news is that her sister’s husband, Jung-sik (Lee Sun-kyun), has transferred a large sum of the death benefits he received to Eun-mo.

The film then flashes back seven years, when Eun-soo fell in love with and married Jung-sik, a democratic activist student-turned-teacher at a night school in Paju.

Eun-soo, however, dies a few years later. At the time, Eun-mo was living in Seoul after having run away from home. Eun-mo, who is told that her sister died in a hit-and-run accident, returns to Paju and begins an uneasy cohabitation with Jung-sik, developing a risque relationship in the process.

But Eun-mo suddenly leaves Jung-sik one day to move to India.

Upon her return three years later, Jung-sik declares his undying love for her, as mentioned earlier. But it is somewhat abrupt and decidedly unromantic, considering his reserved attitude toward Eun-mo in the past and the nature of their relationship.

The director of the film said that was intentional.

“More than a love affair between a man and a woman, the relationship between Jung-sik and Eun-mo is more of compassion that those in agony are likely to develop for each other,” Park said.

What makes the story more intriguing is its well-constructed plot, which includes a hefty dose of mystery surrounding Eun-soo’s death, as well as the director’s superb psychological description of the characters. The film also offers a vivid glimpse into Korean society and the struggles some residents of Paju face.

Park said Paju is the perfect backdrop for this mysterious and gripping story.

“When I think of Paju, I always view it as a mysterious place because it was always foggy whenever I visited there and it also sits right next to the border area dividing the two Koreas,” Park said in a meeting with the audience after the film’s first screening at PIFF. “I wanted to portray that mysterious feeling in the film.”

Paju hits local theaters on Oct. 29.

Paju

Drama / Korean

110 min.

Opens Oct. 29

By Park Sun-young [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]

Director Park Chan-ok


Park’s new movie “Paju” deals with a forbidden love between a man and his sister-in-law in the unique locale of Paju, a suburban city of Seoul and a longtime military area. Provided by PIFF

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