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Bae brings fresh Jeju air to screen

2010/05/13 | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff reporter

Bae Chang-ho, who made a deep impression in 1980s Korean cinema with road movies such as "Whale Hunting", has returned to take viewers on another lasting journey.

His comeback piece, appropriately titled "The Trip", is an omnibus film featuring three heartwarming stories about being on the road, including one that marks his first collaboration with his wife, actress Kim Yu-mi.

A joint venture by the Culture Ministry and Arirang TV to promote local tourism, the film captures the charms of Korea's exotic Jeju Island. This is the veteran filmmaker's first digitally shot film, and some of the scenes are slightly marred by the shortcomings of the medium such as awkward light/dark contrasts. However, the technical glitch is of little consequence for the camera focuses on character portrayal, and the beauty lies in the details and the smiles they inspire.

While the breathtaking backdrop provides for a lovely mise-en-scene, it is first and foremost about human drama, and seethes with an almost analogue, nostalgic picture book quality. It's a small jewel of a film; however, its finely articulated, yet minute, yelp, is bound to be drowned out by towering summer blockbusters. Screenings are expected to be limited to small art house theaters and re-runs on cable television.

"The Trip" opens with two college students, Gyeong-mi (Park Joo-hee) and Jun-hyeong (Park Sang-gyoo-I). The two set off to backpack across Jeju in search of inspiration to enter a photography competition. The outspoken and tomboyish Gyeong-mi tries to get everything her way, while sensitive guy Jun-hyeong struggles to persuade her otherwise. However, when Jun-hyeong announces that he will be drafted into mandatory military service soon, Gyeong-mi suddenly loses her appetite.

The director enables viewers to return to a time of innocence as they accompany the bickering duo through a trip where they ultimately arrive at a crossroads between friendship and romance.

The second portion of the film zooms into local Jeju life. Fifteen-year-old Su-yeon (charmingly portrayed by an actual local student Kim Ji-eun-I) sorely feels the growing pains as she must deal with them on her own ― her father lives far away because of work, her "haenyeo" (Korean diving fisherwoman) grandmother is getting sick and frail, and schoolwork bores her.

She finds solace in daydreaming about mainland life, particularly Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, where her mother, who left the family when she was five, supposedly works. When summer break hits, Su-yeon decides to search for her mother, and is shocked to discover that she runs a manicure shop in Jeju.

Indie screen queen Yang Eun-yong stars as the estranged mother, Yeong-ok, who, for her own reasons had left her family. However she never stopped caring for her daughter and spent the years collecting gifts for Su-yeon's birthdays that she missed.

If the first two stories highlighted heart-fluttering excitement and longing that travel inspires, respectively, then the third looks into its more adventurous aspect.

"It feels surreal. I feel like a new person here", mutters Eun-heui (Kim Yu-mi) upon arriving in the resort island. This middle-aged, middle-class housewife has taken off on an impulsive getaway from the daily grind (though not without the hotel discount coupon), to take a break from picking up after her unemployed husband and teenage daughter.

She casts off her title as a wife and mother, to be just herself. Eun-heui thus turns off her cell phone and sets out to stroll by the beach, sip coffee at an atmospheric café and savor the charms of Jeju.

In theaters May 20. Distributed by Sponge.

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