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Zack Mosley [Film Festival 10.10.12] Republic of Korea comedy drama

A Fish is part David Lynch, part The Wicker Man, part "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". The story concerns a bespectacled schoolteacher who hires a quirky private eye to help him locate his missing wife. She has fled their domestic life to join a shamanistic cult on the island of Jindo. But something fishy is going on. Even typing this out right now, it sounds kinda awesome. Yet somehow, A Fish flounders. (Groan.)

Let's say some good things about this movie before we go any further. Writer/director Park Hongmin is a creative visual stylist. His first film really pops with interesting camerawork. The opening shot of this film has been described in every review I've read, and it is indeed clever. According to VIFF programmer Tony Rayns (who has burned me with his hyperbolic recommendations more than any other man alive*) Park is still in college. He seemed humble and terrified when he spoke briefly before the screening. A Fish is shot in a Macguyvered 3D (although VIFF was unable to present it in the third dimension, so this reviewer saw it in good old-fashioned 2D) that Park developed at home. The visuals appear to be well-chosen for the stereoscopic format, rather than for their gimmick value. There's an admirable fuck-you-can-do spirit at work here, and you can feel it top-to-bottom as the movie unfolds. For an independent first-effort, much of A Fish impresses.

However, as a storyteller, Park is still in development. There really isn't much to the plot, which only engages in spurts. Instead, there is a lot of weird for the sake of weird. Our hero at one point pulls his car over to scatter some poor farmer's peppers as they dry in the sun. For no reason. Welcome to one of many kooky moments in A Fish. We slip in and out of fantastical hallucinations, to the point that it becomes hard to distinguish what's going on. Characters spout off-kilter dialogue and generally behave in ways that would earn you a punch in the face if you tried them in real life. Once we arrive on Jindo Island, things really take a turn for the bizarre. The missing wife turns up, but I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone would want this woman back (although I can understand why she fled her weirdo husband). Meanwhile, two fishermen in a dense fog discuss philosophical matters in a series of surreal interludes scattered throughout.

I will admit at this point that I was incubating a head-cold as I watched all of this. And a lot of it may be lost in translation. I may simply lack context. It has been a while since I've brushed up on my Korean shamanism and the symbolic significance of fish. But overall, I can't say I got that much entertainment value out of the proceedings. I'm left with a respect for the making of the film, but not much enjoyment in the actual viewing experience. That's my subjective opinion. Depending on your sensibilities, you may disagree, like Tony Rayns.

* Check out these quotes from Tony Rayns' short blurb on A Fish:

"A phenomenal achievement"
"More frissons-per-minute than most Hollywood neo-noirs"
"The latest wave in Korean cinema starts here"
"Startlingly different"
"Perfect, home-made 3D"

All of those quotes come from ONE PARAGRAPH! And every blurb he writes is this glowing. Every single film is a masterpiece. I know the Program Guide has to sell the movies, but JESUS.

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