April 23, 2011

Flower Island: So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard Instead of a Shrink?

Somewhere along the line in Song Il-gon's teary Flower Island, I thought, "Oh, this is just like The Wizard of Oz without the comedy, the catchy tunes or Judy Garland." But you definitely have three broken characters, with self-esteem issues, heading to a magical place akin to Oz as they search for life-changing wizardry — in this case, the wish-granting comes courtesy of a fairly low-key woman with magical powers and a knack for hypnosis. Sad more than hopeful, this trio isn't looking for a heart, a brain and the nerve. Instead, one (Lim Yu-jin) is seeking peace of mind so she can die of throat/tongue cancer; another (Kim Hye-na), for the mother who abandoned her as a child; and the third (Seo Ju-hie), for her "angel" friend who she hopes will make her feel a little less guilty about having sex with an old man as a way to raise money to buy her daughter a piano.

As in the Emerald City, no one gets what they've asked for exactly but they do return to the real world a little less troubled (although in one case, a little less troubled happens to mean dead). Shot on a digital camera, Flower Island feels somewhat insolent because its hand-held P.O.V. is often obstructed and its actors look directly at the lens, sometimes because one of the characters happens to be an amateur videographer and sometimes just because. That former conceit doesn't really have a pay-off. The fictional filmmaker's shots aren't that different from those by the actual one and there's no point-of-view epiphany, notwithstanding the blurred image of a maternal doppelganger who appears on the beach at the same moment that the cancer lady is about to disappear mid-air via a pair of cardboard angel-wings. I like the spirit behind making a low-budget film with little more than an idea and a handful of game actors. I'm less into a slack editorial process that permits scenes to wander willy-nily and a storyline that for all its grief never triggers a well-earned tear. Every character cries; one of them screams. As to the audience, we're left waiting for a glimpse at the dark, doomed reality within. At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy returns home and sees Kansas anew; at the end of Flower Island, the main character may be over her depression but she doesn't get a memorable catchphrase like "There's no place like home."

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