Matthew Jackson’s impressions from last Thursday’s screening of “Beyond the Years” at the Korean Cultural Centre
There is definitely something extra that you get out of going to see a film in the company of people that you do not necessarily know, in surroundings that are not quite the same as any other you are used to, whilst being exposed to a culture that you like but do not entirely understand.
Regarding the surroundings, whilst I thought they were pretty good to begin with, the ever friendly and welcoming KCC team are continuing to process feedback. Mr. Choi announced in his pre-performance speech that they are investigating how to make the somewhat purist theatre seating more comfortable. The tiered benches are probably ideal for an audience accustomed to adopting the lotus position, but for more senior members of a Western audience, the chairs currently provided on the right hand of the theatre in some cases make it difficult to see the subtitles.
The subtitles of ‘Beyond the Years’ were useful, particularly during the many examples of pansori which occurred throughout the film. Although I could enjoy this music to a certain extent, it remains a relatively impenetrable art form to me, especially when I compare it to English folk music. Like many Korean art forms in fact. I wonder what Vaughan-Williams would have made of it.
The actual story of the film was not what you would immediately recognise as uplifting, following as it did the intermittently successful quest of a man to be re-united with his sister, with whom he grew up playing as part of a pansori duo.
As much as telling a story, the film took the viewer away from airbrushed views of gleaming modernity. The time frame was that of the late fifties to the early eighties, before economic progress had permeated to the countryside, and a taste was given of lifestyle of rustic communities, where the old traditions lived on.
While the focus of the story was technically on the brother Tong-ho (Jo Jae-hyun), his sister Song-hwa (Oh Jeong-hae) emerged as the central figure, passing through each successive misfortune with an imperturbable majesty.
From the perspective of someone who is fascinated by the otherness of Korean culture, I initially felt that the mere experiences the film left me with were more valuable than any ‘message’ that might be drawn. It felt at the end of the film that I had come a tiny bit closer to solving the riddle of Korea.
Thinking more about the character of Song-hwa, though, I started wondering whether she was supposed to represent something more than a heroine. I recently learned about the significance of the lotus flower in Korean thought, and how its ability to remain untainted and beautiful in the mud is symbolic of wisdom and virtue.
While the director was clearly thinking of the huge changes that have occurred in Korean culture during his lifetime, this might imply that he feels that there is hope for what he might regard as the essence of Korean culture.
Although there was only one film night this month, it appears that they are to be held twice a month from now on. The next one is on the 11th of April, is Ki-duk Kim’s Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, which I have not seen but am reliably informed is not to be missed. See you there.