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Manuel de Layet [Film Festival 09.29.09] movie review drama south korea

Year: 2009
Directors: Yang Ik-Joon
Writers: Yang Ik-Joon
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: The Crystal Ferret
Rating: 8 out of 10

Love is a pulmonary affliction above all things; it’s then no surprise to see a movie about its lack bearing Breathless as a title.

Breathless as in without love, without that wind turning inside the saggy bag of leather we are all. Breathless as in repressed until not a whimper will find enough air to sustain its travel out of the body. Breathless as in running, fleeing, trying to catch our fleeting life, fearing what will happen if we stop. Breathless as in what is shown this day in the increasingly incredible l’Etrange Festival. The first long of director Yang Ik-Joon, managing the exploit of being at the same time actor, writer, producer, director, and getting things done properly.

Sang-Hoon, our hero, played by Yang Ik-Joon himself, makes a living dispersing crowds and gatherings, collecting overdue debts and on the whole beating people to a pulp. Yeon-Hue, played beautifully by Kot-bi Kim, is a high school girl crushed between a crippled father, violent and insane half the time and a good for nothing brother, living like a parasite and pretty proud of it.

Be it a western movie, the review would end here. The starting pitch is obvious and could be shot with Meg Ryan: they meet bumping into each other, he takes her to starbucks, she giggles at his jokes, and they get married. Credits rolling, tissues protruding, happy vanilla ice cream. Blessed be l’Etrange Festival it’s NOT a bubblegum rom-com even if some aspects look like it.

So yes, they do meet fortuitously, Sang-Hoon spitting at her out of habit of being an arsehole, Yeon-Hue insulting back like a docker on a bad day and slapping him this having as ultimate result a wonderful punch to the jaw knocking her out. After she wakes up, a few more insults and a beer will cement the start of their friendship.

Yet, what starts as a foul mouthed trashy rom-com, will develop into social drama without the audience noticing a thing. Violence, pure, unbiased and true is thrown at use during the first third of the movie, setting the daily environment of the characters. It’s so harsh and absurd we, clearly and quickly, assimilate it as a setting instead of a medium, and we forget about it. Once this psychic paperwork is filed, we are able to be mesmerized by Yang Ik-Joon narrating talent.

Basically the whole movie is a 130 mins “mise en abîme”, a unique recursive story, rippling through the characters and carrying them. It’s not every day you get a fractal treatment of narration with “sheeba1” as the main operative word, but it’s here and it works.

Over three generations of characters will the same story unfold at the same time. Each event is reproduced at a level or another, great or small, but entwined into the lives of the characters revolving around Sang-Hoon. Domestic violence, lack of love and survival are the never ending cycles of the tale until the poignant end.

There’s one question the mirror of the screen asks us then: Will a wrong done enough times become a good?

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