Country: South Korea
Director: Song Il-gon
Screenplay: Han Gi-hyeon, Song Il-gon
Cinematography: not specified
Cast: Jang Hyeong-seong, Lee So-Yeon, Cho Sung-Ha
Runtime: 80 min
Trailer: on YouTube
Seen at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK) during the Song Il-gon (송일곤) month of KCCUK’s Korean Film Night programme “2012: Year of the 12 Directors”.
For a film that some critics have praised as “the greatest Korean romance ever made”, Song Il-gon’s 깃 (Git/Feathers in the Wind) features rather little romance. This is not due to the set up, which does have all the potential for a love story: Jang Hyun-seong (played by an actor of the same name), age 33 and single, is a screenwriter suffering from writer’s block, who travels to Biyang-do, a remote island in the south of Korea somewhere near Jeju-do, to keep a promise made with an ex-girlfriend a decade earlier. While he hopes to meet the ex there again, the much younger Lee So-yeon (Lee So-yeon) appears in his life.
So-yeon is a few years out of secondary school and in the process of applying to university. Waiting for time to pass, she is meanwhile running a motel on the island together with her rather odd, bleached-hair uncle, who has been rendered silent ever since his wife abandoned him. It is in So-yeon’s motel that Hyun-seong takes a room (the very same one he occupied with his girlfriend ten years prior) and spends several days, (half-) expecting for the former lover to arrive. Still unable to write and with little else to do, he befriends So-yeon, helping her fold laundry, piling stones on a wall and playing the “you bet” game, all of which could serve a tale of grand romance. Indeed, the elements are all there: the dramatic, long-lost love storyline, an isolated, wild but scenic setting, two lonely characters. And yet, things don’t quite add up. The exchanges between Hyun-seong and So-yeon feel friendly rather than having any spark of flirtation, Hyun-seong’s tugging-the-sheets folding techniques being the most excitement we get as So-yeon inevitably is pulled towards him. Given that there are quite a few dance scenes, with tango – one of the most sensual dances there is – no less, opportunities are lost: So-yeon’s lone dancing is more atmospheric than when she teaches Hyun-seong a few steps.
The always-smiling So-yeon doing laundry duty.
It may simply be a matter of the lack of chemistry between the leads, but this is too quick a dismissal. While the actors’ performances are not out of this world, neither are they particularly bad, rather, the failure seems to lie on the part of the director to build a romantic atmosphere through all the tools and techniques available to him. Song opts, for example, quite often for natural sounds (ocean waves crashing onto the shore, the storm wind, etc.) when a more pervasive music score might have heightened the passion more easily. The lack of insight that viewers are given into Hyun-seong and So-yeon’s characters – quite in contrast to Song’s 꽃섬 (Ggotseom/Flower Island, 2001) – is another hindrance. Although Hyun-seong provides the film’s narrative voice, it’s difficult to get a real grasp of who and what kind of person he is; with So-yeon there is some sense of her carefree and open-minded personality that is not intimidated by social protocols but plenty remains hidden about her as well. Most of all, however, it wasn’t clear to me after 80 minutes why these two should be together. The time they share is too short (a handful of days only), there are no moments of catharsis or real sparks, the age gap (12 years) is too significant to leave unaddressed, – and yet they are destined to find each other a year later, with a happy-ever-after strongly signalled.
The failure invites comparison. 만추/晚秋 (Manchu/Late Autumn, 2010), 호우시절/好雨時節 (Howoosijeol/Season of Good Rain, 2009) and 빈집 (Bin-jib/3-Iron, 2004) come to mind as films that share note and tone. In these cases, scenes (tiny moments and more grandiose ones) and acting (mere glances, subtle gestures) allow better understanding of characters as individuals and as couples, and by the time the films’ leads resolve to be together, the passion on the screen is intense: Manchu doesn’t simply provide the longest kiss I’ve ever seen in a Korean production, it builds up to it effectively despite one of the protagonists being a taciturn introvert; equally, when the characters of Howoosijeol decide to sleep together, the despair of the female to be held and loved is very palpable.
Time for tea… but no romance?
Unlike Git these films also explore dark moments when characters are exposed to one another in their weakest and most vulnerable states, creating opportunities for empathy and, in the long run, for love to develop. This not so in Song’s film. The potentially heart-rending letter that arrives from Hyun-seong’s ex, bringing both good news and bad, amounts to no more than a side note as So-yeon, who accidentally discovers the message, reads it by herself and in silence, while Hyun-seong takes it in off-screen, no conversation ever following about it. There are more wasted plot points still: The uncle’s story receives superficial treatment, barely any details are provided about the wife’s disappearance and even less about her reappearance, the presence of both these characters being extremely peripheral (not to say irrelevant). With So-yeon too one senses that there must be more of a back story and that something else lies beneath that permanently cheerful, smiling demeanour. However, beyond a single line at the very end noting what the stone wall is all about (sort of – we know what it is, but not what purpose the stone-piling serves), we do not learn about the young woman’s background or the feelings she is concealing.
Song finishes the film as he opens it, using a voice-over from the male character. The voice echoes words uttered at the beginning, making the conclusion feel just a little too neat – like an exercise out of a film school book, both bland and unnecessarily cliché. Given that Song’s 2001 Ggeotsom showed great promise – and a lot more originality and heart than this -, it’s disappointing.
And the greatest Korean romance? Although the label is a bit too grandiose for my liking as it seems to invoke a tale of love on an epic scale (à la Helen of Troy or Romeo & Juliet perhaps), if you do want to press for an answer, it’s Kim Ki-duk’s 빈집 (Bin-jib/3-Iron, 2004) for me.
Overall verdict: Deemed “the greatest Korean romance” by some critics, this description proves too large a label for Song Il-gon’s Git, which, despite containing a potential love story, never quite amounts to one.
- For those interested in seeing Git, the film isn’t easily obtainable. I was unable to find a DVD to purchase anywhere.
- As always, I am providing my personal verdict on the film – others clearly disagree, Darcy Parquet for example reviews Git rather favourably.
- And as for that “greatest Korean romance”, Cine International puts 엽기적인 그녀 (Yeobkijeokin Geunyeo/My Sassy Girl, 2001) in the #1 spot for Best Korean Romance. I disagree with that one too, but then I seem to be the one person who cannot stand Yeobkijeokin Geunyeo.