By Admin | October 11, 2000

Although he’s made close to 100 films in his native South Korea, director Im Kwon-tæk remains a relative enigma here in the West – although the rapturous “Chunhyang” is his 97th feature overall, just how much its lushly romantic lyricism and formal elegance are typical of his overall output is impossible to say, but based on the evidence at hand it’s clearly a body of work worth further investigation.
Set at the close of the close of the 18th century, the film charts the star crossed romance of Mongryong, the teenaged son of a provincial governor, and the title heroine, the poetess daughter of a proud courtesan. The young lovers are secretly married, but when Mongryong must follow his father to Seoul he is forced to leave Chunhyang behind, where she is imprisoned by the new governor after spurning his advances.
Framing the fable is the pansori, a traditional Korean storyteller whose sung narration illuminates the action much like a Greek chorus; while the material is familiar and the plot predictable, Im invests “Chunhyang” with stunning visual artistry, masterfully deploying rich, deep colors and exquisite natural lighting to create a hypnotically sensual tone-poem which, for all its painstaking attention to period detail, still manages to make a pointedly contemporary commentary on Korea’s dark history of social and gender inequity.

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