Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
LAFF ’15: A Midsummer’s Fantasia
and Korea share a lot of complicated history, but recent films too often reduce
it all to wartime rebellion and revenge dramas. However, the sleepy village of
Gojo is delighted to have Korean visitors and the Korean filmmakers are quite
charmed by their hosts. Frankly, they are not precisely sure what they are
looking or whether they find it, but they still find their trip rewarding in
Jang Kun-jae’s A Midsummer’s Fantasia (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival.
filmmaker has come to the provincial mountain village of Gojo to research his
next film, bringing along his assistant director Mijung to translate. They
definitely stand out, but not because they are Korean. Due to economic and
demographic factors, nearly all of Gojo’s younger generations have migrated to
the big cities, leaving a dwindling elderly population behind. While their
stories are somewhat commonplace, the director and Mijung still find them
compelling. Perhaps it is just something about their interview subjects’
they meet up with Gojo’s most eligible bachelor: a city official who was once
an aspiring actor. He will take them on a special guided tour, impressing the
Koreans with his choice of more telling, off-the-beaten-path locales. In fact,
it might provide the inspiration the filmmaker is hoping for. The resulting
film will probably be Well of Sakura,
which also constitutes the second half of Jang’s Fantasia, rendered in color, as a change up from the elegant
black-and-white of the first segment.
is now a scuffling Korean actress, who has come to Gojo as a tourist, seeking
some sort of spiritual detox. A local persimmon farmer offers to serve as her
guide after a chance meeting near the station. As they revisit the sites the
film director visited, he becomes rather smitten. Unfortunately, despite their
undeniable chemistry, Mijung does not feel free to reciprocate his romantic
interest. Yet, she does feel something.
its parallel structure and ships-passing-in-the-night themes, it is easy to liken
Fantasia to Hong Sang-soo’s Hill of Freedom. In a way, they are
inverse films, with Hong following a Japanese visitor to Korea desperately
searching for the ex-girlfriend he never got over. Hill is one of Hong’s better films, so it is a rather apt comparison,
regardless of his rep for mannered and precious filmmaking.
is hard to describe, but Jang completely captures the sense of summer laziness
morphing into something more serious. It is a carefully constructed film, but Jang
privileges vibe and atmosphere over narrative, which provides quite a
supportive platform for his small cast. As Mijung and Mijung, Kim Sae-byuk is
simply incredible, managing to be simultaneously sad and seductive, as well as
flirty and wise. Ryo Iwase is nearly unrecognizable as her two very different
guides, cranking up the romantic yearning in the second half. Although he only
appears in the black-and-white sequences, the distinctive maturity and humanism
of Lim Hyeong-gook’s director also wears well on viewers.
In a way, Fantasia
gives a slightly postmodern twist to the gentle, bittersweet Local Hero style of comedy, in which
city folk take the time to smell the roses while temporarily ensconced in a
picturesque provincial community. Yet, even with its gamesmanship, Fantasia is unusually fragile and
fragrant, lingering pleasantly as a hazy memory after the initial viewing.
Recommended for fans of summer breezes and brief but significant romances, A Midsummer’s Fantasia screens this
Thursday (6/11) as part of this year’s LAFF, as well as this Sunday (6/14)
during the Korean Film Festival at the Freer Gallery in DC (following Hong’s Hill).
Labels: Korean Cinema, LAFF '15