It’s tremendously good news that the closing gala screening of the London Korean Film festival 2014 is Im Kwon Taek’s 102nd film, Hwajang (western title: Revivre). It synchronises nicely with the KCCUK’s focus on literature this year, as it is based on a short story by Kim Hoon. More importantly, it’s a film that has been very well-received.
“It’s a scandal that it’s not screening in the BFI London Film Festival,” commented Korean film critic Tony Rayns at yesterday’s official launch of the programme of the 9th iteration of the KCC’s own festival. Director Im is now in his 80s, but the film is “youthful and remarkable,” said Rayns. It also contains a “high degree of physical frankness,” as a middle aged businessman finds himself torn between two loves: his terminally ill wife and a young marketing executive.
“Hwajang” in Korean means both “make-up” and “cremation” – a difficult play on words to translate. The short story on which the film is based is also called Hwajang, but has been given the English title “From Powder to Powder” in the M.E. Sharpe collection Land of Exile, which to LKL’s knowledge is the only place it is available in English. The foreign title of the film, Revivre, doesn’t really capture the deliberate ambiguity which nicely brings together two of the themes of the plot – the cosmetics industry and death.
In the programme to the Venice film festival this year, Im Kwon Taek commented as follows:
I have always been impressed with the realistic touches the author Kim Hoon projected through his works and I was convinced that Hwajang was especially worth a screen adaptation, as it sets itself apart from the subjects of artistic soul, Korean tradition, truth-seeking journeys I have been exploring through the 101 films I directed, and takes a step further as it contemplates the fundamental questions of life, death and sexuality. I want to reveal the pain and love embedded in one’s heart through Hwajang. Everyone carries love and an inner life that is hard to express. I would like to bring this out so that the audience can empathize and understand that ultimately “we all live like that.”
With Ahn Sung-ki in the starring role and Kim Gyu-ri (Memento Mori) as the younger woman, this is certainly a closing gala to look forward to.
Other strands in the festival include a focus on Kim Ki-duk’s latest films, the actor Jung Woo-sung and the producer Lee Jun-dong (brother of director Lee Chang-dong). The festival opens on 6 November.
Here’s the official synopsis from the festival website:
Director: Im Kwon-taek
2014, 93 mins
Cast: Ahn Sungki, Kim Gyuri, Kim Hojung
Odeon West End, Saturday 15 November 2014, 7pm
I want to reveal the pain and love embedded in one’s heart through HWAJANG (Revivre). Everyone carries love and an inner life that is hard to express. – Im Kwon-taek
Mr Oh, a marketing executive at a major cosmetics company struggles to juggle corporate life while caring for his ailing wife. Over the last four years his wife’s health has steadily and painfully deteriorated and it has become apparent that her time is short. Though Mr Oh is an extreme devoted husband he is distracted by the launch of a new seasonal range of cosmetics by his company and an alluring young co-worker, Ms Choo. When his wife finally subcomes to her disease he is troubled by his lack of focus and daydreams, not about his dearly departed wife but that of the sensual Ms Choo. Confused, Mr Oh does not know how to balance his newfound passion and his profound grief over his wife.
With an adaptation of one of Korea’s most beloved novels, Hwajang, Im Kwon-taek returns with his 102nd feature. Revivre is an incredibly touching and heartfelt story which carries on the themes and ideas of life, death and sexuality that the director has been fascinated with since his debut feature Farewell To The Duman River in 1962. Portraying Mr Oh is ‘Korea’s Most Beloved Actor’ Ahn Sungki making Revivre the actor’s sixth film in collaboration with Im Kwon-taek.
Director Im Kwon-taek born in 1936 has been working tirelessly ever since his first film Farewell To The Duman River in 1962 and has become one of the world’s most important filmmakers amassing 102 films as a director. Over the last 52 years he has embraced numerous genres including war, period-pieces and action with being most known for the General’s Son trilogy and Chihwaseon. Many works of his have invited to and have won major awards at international film festivals,. In 1993 the director’s film Seopyeonjae became the first film to hit the 1 million admissions mark in Korean cinema history.
Q & A with actor Ahn Sungki