March 16, 2008

Ban Gyeumryeon: Hello, My Concubines

Since Japanese invaders destroyed Korea's films from the early 20th century, a director like Kim Ki-young (who worked regularly through the eighties), can be deigned an Old Master simply because his early work dates to the second beginning. If his torrid Ban Gyeumryeon is any indicator, that's like elevating Roger Corman to the status of D.W. Griffith or Orson Welles. (Not such a terrible idea, really, is it?) Created in 1975 then banned until 1981, the aforementioned, convoluted costume drama about a salt merchant and his Darwinian harem plays like Asia's answer to Hammer Films. Pretty women scheme and scream; men cackle crazily or feel up the ladies through fancy silks; cameras scan latticework or zoom in meaningfully to compensate for bad acting; footage of a slow-moving river is inserted (and occassionally tinted) as if a repeated symbol could gain meaning by not having any real meaning at all. But this isn't some museum piece of melodrama or an unintentional symbolist drama. It's much more fun than that. In Kim's universe, cats kill babies and faithful wives love their husbands even after death and decapitation. In a world where recycling has become a necessity, let's take the time to give trash the respect it deserves.

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