Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Yeonghwa ’12: Poongsan
much is known about the poongsan breed of doggie, because of their native
region: North Korea. Given the stories
of their tenacity, it seems like an apt enough moniker for a mysterious
messenger who traverses the DMZ seemingly at will. It also happens to be his favorite brand of
cigarette. Unfortunately, his unique
talent will attract the wrong sort of attention in Juhn Jai-hong’s Poongsan, which screens during the 2012
edition of Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today,
now underway at MoMA.
never speaks. For his line of work that
is not so bad. Typically he smuggles video-taped
messages and family heirlooms to loved ones on opposite sides of the border. Occasionally, he carries a child across. Those trips only go in one direction—south. Finally getting wind of the silent mystery
man, the South Korean NIS recruits him for a special gig. They eagerly covet the intel a North Korean
defector has promised them, but he refuses to talk until they also bring over
his lover, In-oak. No problem, he can
deliver her in three hours.
the nameless antihero is good to his word, this crossing was more eventful than
usual. Those intense three hours left an
impression on In-oak. Considering her
feelings for her former Communist sugar-daddy-defector lover were already
ambiguous at best, their reunion quickly turns sour. Meanwhile, the NIS rewards their taciturn
freelancer by opening a can of interrogation on him, obsessively asking whose
side he is on. Soon the Poongsan smoking
trafficker and In-oak become pawns in a shadowy game played by the NIS and a
ruthless NK terror cell.
and produced by Kim Ki-duk (the proud new owner of Venice’s Golden Lion for Pieta), Poongsan is somewhat akin to other why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along
espionage thrillers coming out of the South in recent years (like for instance,
Secret Reunion), but at least it
shows the Northern Communist agents are at least as coldblooded as their
Southern counterparts—and quite arguably crueler. The fact that most people are starving in the
DPRK is also acknowledged if not belabored.
Nonetheless, the hawkishness of the NIS seems to take it disproportionately
in the shins throughout the film.
Indeed, how dare they try to protect their country from a personality
cult willfully starving its population into submission.
working strictly non-verbally, former boy band member Yoon Kye-sang gives a
career making performance. Totally
credible in the action scenes, he also expresses the sort of deep passionate
yearning that never goes out of style at the Korean box office. Likewise, Kim Gyu-ri develops vivid chemistry
with him, culminating in one of the most extreme (yet chaste) love scenes you
will ever see on film. However, her
little-girl-lost act gets a tad wearying when her taciturn protector is not
around. At least, Kim Jong-soo is not
afraid to let loose the oily bile as the dubious defector. Confusingly though, several of the supporting
cast members look as though they were recruited at a Song Kang-ho lookalike
contest (but no, that does not include Song himself).
By action movie standards, Poongsan is remarkably dour.
Yet, the film’s need to be tragic is apparent right from the start. Kim Ki-duk protégé Juhn has a strong handle
on both the tense border crossing sequences and the star-crossed romance. However, he lets the scenes of morally equivalent
in-fighting get a bit draggy. Nonetheless,
Bourne fans should appreciate the
gritty vibe and Yoon’s star turn.
Recommended accordingly, Poongsan screens
this coming Wednesday (9/26) and Saturday (9/29) as part of MoMA’s annual Yeonghwa celebration of Korean cinema.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Yeonghwa '12