October 3, 2009

Crossroads of Youth: The Oldest Surviving Korean Movie (So Far)

To really enjoy an American silent movie, you need live music. To really enjoy a Korean one, you need a live narrator (a.k.a. a byeonsa), too. But even four competent musicians and a talented actor making running commentary and funny voices couldn't make Crossroads of Youth a completely enjoyable experience at Lincoln Center this morning. The problem is Ahn Jong-hwa's melodrama just isn't that melodramatic. The story of a brother and sister (Shin Il-seon) who search for a new life in the big city and find a hard life instead, Crossroads is so polite in its references to prostitution, sex, violence, poverty, and illness, that you never get a real sense of conflict, downfall or danger. There are some strange moments (like when one shady character spends an inordinate amount of time stroking the face of miniature Venus de Milo) and some fun period details (check out the size of the matchbox they strike to light cigarettes) but with few standoffs and fewer plot twists, Crossroads is a fairly bland journey down a fairly familiar road. The climax which finds the brother armed with a sickle while tracking down the men who did his sister wrong culminates in a fairly sham fistfight during which clearly no real physical contact is made. This one is strictly for the vaults.

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