Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cinema On the Park Review: Paju (Park Chan-ok, 2009)

We welcome another new member to the blogging team today, with Sam McCosh delivering her first article on PAJU. If you are interested in joining the team just drop us an email at Otherwise if you are in Sydney come along to the Korean Cultural Office's free weekly film night, Cinema on the Park, each and every Thursday from 6:30pm. Did I mention its FREE! Read on to see what she thought of the film!

Russell Edwards at Cinema on the Park

Paju (파주) is an unconventional film which tells an emotionally-rich story about the relationship between two compelling characters. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to see this film at 'Cinema on the Park', which is hosted by the Korean Cultural Office. This film was playing as part of a month of films which share the theme of 'dramatic relationships'. The film was introduced by Variety Magazine film critic Russell Edwards, who offered audiences some insight about the film and a way to appreciate the film's complex nature.

We first meet Choi Eun-mo (Seo Woo) as she stares absently mindedly out of a taxi window while the driver makes unneeded and unwanted conversation. She looks sad and reflective, and we soon come to find out why. Eun-mo is returning to her hometown of Paju after an extended period away travelling in India. Paju is not really somewhere that she was happy, and it’s certainly not a joyful homecoming. Before we get to find out why she has returned the film jumps back 8 years an introduces us to Kim Joong-sik (Lee Sun Gyun). Although it’s not initially apparent who he is, we soon learn that he becomes Eun-mo’s brother-in-law, and the film is going to centre around the relationship and interactions between the two.

The film is set over an eight-year period and flicks forward and back in time several times. While this initially is a little confusing, it is what makes the film so rich and multi-layered. Their relationship is very unique and through it the film explores many facets of human emotion and the repression of those emotions. We first see the two together when student-activist Joong-sik comes to Paju and takes up teaching. Eun-mo doesn’t like her teacher paying her sister Eun-su (Shim Yi-Young) so much attention and takes an instant disliking to him. However he marries her sister and the three live together in an odd truce. Joong-sik finds it difficult to connect with Eun-su sexually and the two have a strained marriage. Sadly, Eun-su is killed in a tragic accident, and Eun-mo is forced to live with her brother-in-law.

The film shows the change and development in their relationship over the eight-year period by flicking from the present to important moments in the past eight years. In the present we see that Joong-sik has returned to his activist roots and is leading a protest against the demolition of a number of buildings for large-scale redevelopment. Paju sits near the border of North and South Korean and was previously chiefly a military area, although it’s now a rapily developing urban and commercial area. The people are generally poorer and have strong feelings against the development of the area. The film shows Joong-sik and other residents defending the buildings in appalling conditions. We see violent attacks against the protesters and the pain of the residents as they fight a seemingly impossible battle. It is unusual to see the specific politics of an area in this part of the world played out on-screen like this, and while the politics are secondary to the relationship between the main pair, it makes for compelling viewing.

Because of the complexity of their relationship, and the multiple time-shifts, the story between the two has such emotion and depth. As the time shifts we discover new things about each of them and are constantly wondering what their motivations are and what they truly feel. This is not a love story as such, and it’s certainly not a romantic film. It’s a tale that shows how a relationship between two people develops and changes when life throws things in the way – nothing is ever simple.

The cinematography in this film is simply stunning. The use of light is particularly strong and really sets a strong mood and atmosphere in most of the scenes. There are some extraordinary shots in this film, which not only heighten the emotion of the scene, but also use the setting to its best advantage – it really is a visual joy to watch. A couple of tracking shots are particularly impressive and really amazed this reviewer. The performances from the two leads are excellent and both truly embody their characters. They say more with their eyes than many actors do with their words.

Paju may not be an easy film to watch – director Chan-ok Park doesn’t give you the answers, she leaves you seek them out. However, it’s a visually stunning and emotionally rich story that is worth your time and effort.

By Sam McCosh
Follow Sam on Twitter @sakura_59

Meet Sam -
I am a Sydney-dwelling, Japanese-speaking New Zealander with a love of all things film related. I indulge my passion for film through my blog An Online Universe where I review and discuss both block-buster and indie/art-house films. As someone who has lived in Japan, I have a special interest in Japanese cinema and the cinema of the East Asian region.

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