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Well-Paced `Dance' Shimmies Between Art and Swindle

2004/04/08 | Permalink | Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter

Park Jeong-woo, the screenwriter behind such hit local films as "Kwangbokjol Tuksa" ("Jail Breakers - No. 815") and "Chuyuso Supkyoksakon ("Attack the Gas Station!"), has stepped up to direct his first feature and he doesn't fail to deliver. A story about a man and his utter devotion to a craft, "Param-ui Chonsol" ("Dance With The Wind") moves with the smoothness of a waltz and yet has the slyness and energy of a jitterbug.

From salsa to techno, dancing has grown in popularity here, but there was a time when it had a stigma attached to it. Now predominantly viewed as a fun way to shed pounds and make friends, ballroom dancing is also seen as a tool of seduction for the "chebi (swallow)" _ a slang for gigolos out to squeeze money from older women _ in the nation's seedier nightclubs.

Suspected of being tied to this sordid side of dancing is the film's protagonist, Pung-sik (Lee Sung-jae), who begins the film in a hospital nursing mysterious wounds. Eager to catch him admitting to a sizable scam, the police send in Yon-hwa (Park Sol-mi) to go undercover as a patient and befriend the stylish and debonair dancer.

Little by little, Yon-hwa finds out how an ordinary salaried man stuck on life's deadening treadmill becomes transformed after meeting an old school friend and professional chebi, Man-su (Kim Soo-ro). For the charismatic yet slightly slimy Man-su, ballroom dancing is just a means to seducing his female preys. But Pung-sik, who reluctantly agrees to take one lesson from Man-su, discovers that it's his true calling with the very first step.

The story really takes off from there, as Pung-sik drops everything in his life, including his wife and child, to go on an obsessive quest to master dancing. Like a spoof of a martial arts flick where the lead character searches far and wide to find the perfect Kung-fu style, Pung-sik's journey takes him to strange and often hilarious places. Some of the best scenes in the film are his meetings with the oddball teachers, who include waltzing homeless drunks, quick-stepping shepherds and Buddhist monks who tango.

Though Pung-sik's devotion to his craft seems unquestionable, it also leads him to a lifestyle that's awfully similar to that of a chebi. Pung-sik insists these sexual relationships, and the money that seems to inevitably find its way into his hands, are merely byproducts of his love of dancing.

The strength of "Dancing", however, is that it never quite resolves the contradiction. Instead, the lyrical film succeeds in showing a man trying to find something pure in a world where art and swindle live hand in hand.

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