[Sidebar] April 5 - 12, 2001
[Movie Reviews]
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Western distributors' infatuation with lucrative Asian fare continues, but audiences may find the artistic ambitions of veteran Korean director Im Kwon Taek's period piece more of a challenge than the martial arts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It depends on your feelings about pansori, traditional Korean sung storytelling, a stage performance of which not only narrates this legendary 18th-century love story but periodically interrupts it (the singer, Cho Sang Hyun, is a vocal prodigy reminiscent of Janis Joplin and Pavarotti).

Strange though the form might be, the story is an old one. When teenage Mongryong (Cho-seung Woo), the spoiled and ambitious son of the provincial governor, takes a break from his studies to visit the local sights, which are radiantly photographed and a big part of the film's appeal, he glimpses the beautiful Chunhyang (Lee Hyo Jung), a courtesan's daughter with an independent spirit. She resists, he persists, and they get married -- secretly, like Romeo and Juliet, because Mongryong is afraid of disgrace and his father's disapproval. His dad is promoted, the family moves to the capital, and Mongryong tells Chunhyang to be faithful and wait. Easier said than done when the brutal new governor takes a fancy to her charms. At this point Chunhyang takes a tentative stab at such anachronisms as women's rights, but the exuberant performances and the film's austere and erotic beauty are what make it a satisfying mix of the alien and the familiar. At the Cable Car.
-- Peter Keough

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