A Brief Guide to Novelist Lee Chang-dong’s Tragic Cinema

Ahead of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, we recommend five films for Lee Chang-dong – the director who helped put Korean cinema on world stage


Korea is preparing for another big year at Cannes this month, like Park Chan Wook Decision to leave Competing for the first prize alongside Hirokazu Koreida’s first Korean film, mediator. The star of the latter is Song Kang-ho, who performed in parasite Help launch Palme d’Or winner Bong Joon-ho into the global cultural zeitgeist – where he has remained ever since.

It was very successful parasiteDespite this, it often overshadows the achievements of other Korean filmmakers who successfully paved the way for Bong’s success. There is no doubt that one of the most prominent Lee Chang Dongboss burning And countless other artworks, for which it received Palme d’Or and Oscar nominations in 2018 and 2019 are presented to parasitebreakthrough the following year.

Lee, an elite screenwriter, director and producer, is no stranger to Cannes – four of his six features have appeared in competition at the festival throughout his career. He is best known for his sharp presentations, themes of tragedy and trauma, and intricately woven narratives—which often focus on highly complex characters from corners of society (Argentine writer Eduardo Antin sums up his films as “a social x-ray of Korea,” while actor Stephen Yoon describes how he “captures the state of human in all their forms, ugly or beautiful”) – he also boasts of his uncanny skill in selecting outstanding talents for pivotal roles. His awards include the Silver Lion in Venice, the Fipresci Award at Cannes, and three Best Film Awards from the Korean Grand Bell Awards; Three of his works have also been selected by his homeland as official submissions for the Academy Awards.

At this month’s Jeonju International Film Festival, Lee’s latest short film, heart beatThe world premiere, along with a new documentary about the director’s work, titled The reality of the invisible. With a whole series of Lee films also shown in retrospectives at the famous festival, AnOther took a closer look at the career of Korea’s most feature filmmaker; And one of the greatest contemporary authors.

mint candy (1999)

In the opening act of Lee’s second film, desperation Kim Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu) throws himself in front of a moving train in an act of suicide. In a story told in reverse chronology afterward, the film unravels the mystery of why in a seven-act series, revealing a major shocker 20 years ago. All the while, a painful omen recurs in the periphery: the ominous presence of the train and its tracks looms over each part of the story, constantly reminding the viewer of the terrible fate awaiting the troubled protagonist.

In a Q&A at the Jeonju International Film Festival in May 2022, Lee’s name is verified by Wong Kar-wai and Quentin Tarantino as fellow filmmakers who experimented with time in storytelling in the run-up to the turn of the century (Christopher Nolan). souvenir, Released a year later mint candy, a more convenient comparison). But the topic has been particularly poignant for Korea, a country that has evolved from a developing country and military dictatorship to a democracy and economic power in the twenty years examined in Mint candy. The nation’s growing afflictions are implicitly and explicitly referenced throughout the film, with images and themes reflecting events such as the 1980 Gwangju massacre and the resulting student uprisings.

With such historical depth and narrative in the show – which capitalized on a stunning and astounding performance by actor Seol Kyung-gu, who has won awards at the Grand Bell and Blue Dragon Awards for his work – Lee hit the world stage in breathtaking fashion, competing for the CICAE Award in Cannes. The film remains a landmark in new Korean cinema, and one of the country’s greatest film productions.

oasis (2002)

In the middle of a cold, gray Korean city, a man gets off the bus to catch a cigarette from a stranger. He bends and fidgets, and the camera shakes as it follows him. This is Hong Jong-du (played by magnet Sol Kyung-gu); A lovable eccentric with a mild mental disorder, who has just been released from prison for manslaughter. While trying to reintegrate, he meets a beautiful woman, Gong-ju (Moon So-ri), who has cerebral palsy. She is the daughter of the man who accidentally killed him in a car accident – and there is no place for romance in the world in the eyes of their family.

oasis It is a beautiful tale of love and loneliness told through the eyes of two incompetent people rejected by society. With two distinct shows carrying the film (the same two threads for mint candy) and Lee’s sympathetic and intimate filmmaking with liberal use of comedy, this honest drama is captivating from start to finish.

At the Venice Film Festival, oasis Nominated for first prize: Golden Lion. It didn’t win, but it did take home four other awards—including the Silver Lion for Best Director, and the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Emerging Actress for Moon So Ri—making it the second Korean film to win an award in and its first since 1985.

Saraya Sunshine (2007)

In Lee’s fourth movie—the first to feature a female role—a young mother named Lee Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon, Housekeeper) with her only child to the rural town of Miryang after her husband’s unexpected death. But soon after her arrival, Shin Ai suffers an even greater tragedy that leaves her utterly devastated.

A local pharmacist invites Shin Ai to join a local religious community, with the promise that allowing God into her life will enable her to see light and happiness in the world, but this path also suffers from difficulty. All the while, a kind-hearted mechanic (Song Kang Ho, parasite) a quiet affection for Lee, and she has become a kind of guardian angel as she endures unimaginable grief.

Once again, the complexity and depth of Lee’s fiction writing ensured that Saraya Sunshine It is as powerful a story as any of his other works. No shot is wasted in this tale of loss and faith, as motifs like blue sky and rays of light fill each shot with thoughtful meaning and mystery. In the end, it is another thrilling acting performance that makes the film even more impressive to watch, Jeon Do-yeon deservedly awarded the Prix d’interprétation féminine in Cannes, while the film itself competed for the first prize of the festival.

Poetry (2011)

Poetry It is the story of quiet Mi-ja (played by Yoon Jeong-hee in her first role 16 years ago) – a woman living on the outskirts of a rural town, who discovers she has Alzheimer’s disease shortly before enrolling in a hair class. At the same time, Mi-ja is shaken to learn that a schoolgirl has recently committed suicide by jumping off a bridge; In her diary, the schoolgirl mentioned that Mi-ja’s grandson is one of six of her classmates who repeatedly raped her in the science lab.

A plot like this could easily slip into melodrama, but Lee’s film instead offers a ruminative character study delivered with poise and precision, shot with bright natural light that captures a wealth of pristine rural landscapes. The latter serves as a poignant backdrop where Mi-ja yearns for a spiritual awakening in the twilights of her life. Despite feeling frustrated as she searches for inspiration, the answer lies right in front of her: “Hair can be found even in the dishwasher,” her teacher told the class.

Lee’s fifth feature film won Best Screenplay at Cannes 2010, and four awards including Best Film and Best Actress at the prestigious Grand Bell Awards in Korea. WatchmanLead film critic Peter Bradshaw later likened the film to the restrained work of Japanese icon Yasujiro Ozu. It later put it on the list of the best modern Korean films of 2020 – only coming in at number four big boyAnd parasite And the maid.

burning (2018)

Eight years passed between Poetry And Lee’s latest feature release – but the wait was worth it. burning Effectively anticipate success parasite A year later, having competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and reached the nine-film final shortlist for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards – and it remains Lee’s most internationally respected work thanks to widespread distribution and acclaim. Huge cash.

Like the 2022 Academy Award winner Ryosuke Hamaguchi Driving my car, burning He adapts Haruki Murakami’s short story and expands it into something larger. The movie begins with a young man named Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in, from Netflix’s destined to perish) who encounters a beautiful and mysterious young woman, Hae Mi (Jeon Jong Seo), who claims to know him from the city where they both grew up. After mutual attraction leads to infatuation, she disappears on a journey, only to return with a wealthy new friend in tow, Ben (the walking Dead And MinaryStephen Yeon). The trio form a temporary friendship, but Jong-su finds himself increasingly uncomfortable. When Hae Mi disappears without a trace again, and when Ben reveals the curious hobby of burning greenhouses, Jong Soo experiences an overwhelming sense of paranoia.

Now, of course, great acting performances are to be expected – and Yoo, Joon, and Yoon are all great in their corners. burningTwisted love triangle. Other crew members shine, too; Chief Cinematographer Hong Kyung Pyo (parasiteAnd wailing) excels, particularly in capturing the film’s most hypnotic moment Lynchian – when Hai Mi dances half-naked at dusk to the sound of a hypnotic jazz number by Miles Davis. JenrikA pivotal moment in the movie. Elsewhere, the desolate and frightening result coined by Mowg (I saw the devil) evokes an atmosphere that directs the film’s subtle shift from mystery to psychological horror.

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