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Lee reinvigorates Korean cinema

2007/06/04 Source

Lee Chang-dong, a leading Korean director, has only four films under his belt, but he is recognizable on the international stage. His latest dark drama "Secret Sunshine", which earned Jeon Do-yeon the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, has apparently helped, but his talent has been widely recognized in the past decade.

Lee, born in 1954, made a relatively late debut as a filmmaker in Korea. It was 1997 when he made his first feature-length film "Green Fish", and critics and juries at home and abroad instantly noticed his knack for refined storytelling. "Green Fish", offering a critical view of Korean society through the eyes of a young man, won the best film title at the Blue Dragon Awards in Korea, and then went on to grab awards at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Three years later, Lee came up with another moving tale, "Peppermint Candy", and the reaction from moviegoers and critics was more enthusiastic. The film follows a single man in reverse chronology through 20 years of the country's history, revealing Lee's unique filmmaking techniques. In addition to several awards at international film festivals, "Peppermint Candy" received the best film title at the Grand Bell Awards, Korea's most prestigious film award, propelling Lee into the top ranks of filmmakers here.

In many unfortunate cases, filmmakers who rise to instant fame tend to see their creative energy running out of steam a bit, but Lee was not an ordinary director. In 2002, Lee shook up Korean cinema again with his masterful work "Oasis", a story involving a mentally ill man and a woman with cerebral palsy.

The film's original storytelling brought Lee as many as 12 awards at home and abroad, including the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival that introduced talented Korean actress Moon So-ri to international audiences.

Then Lee decided to convert his creative energy into public office. Between 2003 and 2004, he served as minister of culture and tourism, the first filmmaker who was appointed to the highest position in the cultural sector.

Despite a hiatus in filmmaking career due to the tenure at the Culture Ministry, Lee has returned to the Korean cinema, this time offering a deeply gloomy yet insightful story about a woman struggling to restore her shattered life -- only to see her hope crushed miserably.

It is indeed a positive development for the Korean film industry that a growing number of filmmakers have international recognition. But Lee expressed his concerns over the domestic movie industry confronting a slump at a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday.

"Currently many people in the film industry are striving to come up with solutions for the current crisis, and one of my concerns is that today's young Korean filmmakers are reluctant to make audacious and experimental films", he said. "Under the current distribution system, such films may not secure enough audiences, but still we should make bold and experimental movies, thereby infusing more energy into the sector".

Essentially, director Lee did not like a fixed style, said actor Song Kang-ho at the news conference. "I worked with him about 10 years ago in 'Green Fish' and 'Secret Sunshine' is the second film I worked with him. Some actors find Lee's style quite difficult because he does not specify what actors should do in detail. He does not push actors to move in a certain direction. Instead, he just encourages actors to feel the character themselves", said Song, who played the owner of a car repair shop in "Secret Sunshine".

Meanwhile, Lee is proving what he has preached about the importance of experimental films. "Secret Sunshine", a serious film that tackles a not-so-mainstream subject, is estimated to have sold about 1 million tickets, thanks partly to its heroine receiving the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film, released on May 23, is performing strong at box offices in competition with Hollywood blockbusters, demonstrating that a well-made experimental movie can infuse much-awaited energy into the Korean cinema.

By Yang Sung-jin

Source : www.koreaherald.co.kr...

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