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"M" is mystery in style and beauty"

2007/10/19 Source

"M" is writer/director Lee Myung-se 's latest film and the presence of Korean leading man Gang Dong-won presents the film with much attention. LEE's hand is omnipresent in his exploration of visual esthetics, rhythm, and a story thematically structured around love, loss, memory, reality and dream. Based on his previous creations which showed his giftedness in filmmaking, in how far will "M" be a culmination of his talents?

The film looks beautiful, in "M", LEE exchanges his rich color palette of "Duelist" for a darker one and the shadowy palette effectively sets the mood. The atmospheric lit scenes transform a familiar world into a twilight zone between reality and subconsciousness. In contrast, LEE includes scenes in 'reality' that take place on bright summer days. However, the presence of the same characters in both worlds and the employment of props that transcend from one reality into another, break down a clear cut border and keeps the viewer guessing and wondering about reality.

The story evolves around a celebrated but struggling novelist played by KANG. While suffering from a writer's block, he is also ill and seems to lose his sanity. He notices a young woman who follows him, but the meeting takes place on the 'other side', in a bar in a mysterious dark alley. When he wakes up in the real world the next morning, he has forgotten what happened the night before, but finds a matchbox from the bar in his pocket.

The young woman is a role by Lee Yeon-hee ( "A Millionaire's First Love"). Her casting as a young woman in love is a good choice, but her character is somewhat underdeveloped. The complexity of the film is found in the masterly construction of lighting and framing, creating worlds rich of interpretations and questions.

The visuals are interwoven with the structure of the narrative and the rhythm. Lee Myung-se moderately temporizes "M"; appropriate since his story contemplates several themes and the plot moves between different realities, and the past and the present. Moving too fast through the gloomy shadowy worlds would leave out too many details and beauty, and disrupt the inquiring and tangibly melancholic atmosphere.

The rhythmic quality of "M" is located somewhere between Lee Myung-se's frenetic paced "Nowhere To Hide" and "Duelist"'s stylized slow-motions filled tempo. Where the pacing in "Nowhere To Hide" and "Duelist" seem to a certain extent like stylistic experiments, LEE employs his rhythmic skills in "M" to optimize the effects of the story and atmosphere.

"M"'s story is engaging and holds its own when compared to most films, still, there is room for improvement. Lee Myung-se adequately juggles the movement between worlds, and the structure of stories within stories and flashbacks. Even though the ending is somewhat predictable it doesn't undermine the exploration of love, loss, reality, and dream; in a creative visual and rhythmic achievement. "M" could be improved in certain areas, but exhibits certain characteristics of a masterwork.

"M" does pronounce the contribution of Lee Myung-se to Korean cinema. A (Korean) friend recently voiced a nowadays regularly heard complaint that he watched newly released Korean films, but that they were pretty much the same story. It's a global phenomenon that there are only a certain number of stories and some variations. In addition, stories are strongly culturally linked.

Korean narratives operate certain particular characteristics, which define them in a cultural sense. However, it is a misunderstanding to think that this is an obstruction, like Lee Myung-se proves again. Even within a limited number of stories and the unconscious inclusion of particular characteristics, there is plenty room for experimentation and individuality to craft original films.

Besides Lee Myung-se, Kim Jee-woon ( "A Bittersweet Life", "A Tale of Two Sisters") is exemplary, to randomly name another inventive director. Lee Myung-se mastered visuals and is developing his storytelling craft. Kim Jee-woon produces strong narratives and created a fitting atmosphere and strong visual characteristics for his most recent "A Bittersweet Life". Both tackle film with imagination, representing vitality in Korean cinema, while working toward their magnum opus.

"M " premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. The finalized version was first shown at the 2007 Pusan International Film Festival and during a press screening in Seoul. "M" will be theatrically released on October 25, 2007 in Korea .

Yi Ch'ang-ho (KOFIC)

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