July 13, 2015

Paju: Movies Can Have Their Own Language

Paju is a city located just south of the 38th parallel. In fact, it's so close to North Korea, that on clear days, you can see the North Korean bordertown of Kaesong from certain vantage points in the city. Given this proximity, it's no surprise that Paju is home to more than its fair share of military bases -- both American and homegrown. Yet none of this comes into play in Park Chan-ok's film of the same name. At least, not in the most obvious way.

I mean, there's militancy. But it's on the part of some housing rights activists/squatters who engage in actual warfare against unsympathetic developers. There's a very personal territorial battle -- specifically, over an inherited homestead that increasingly becomes a source of volatile contention. There's even border-crossing, if you're willing to stretch the meaning to include (as I am) an affair between a disoriented drifter (Seo Woo) and the man (Lee Sun-kyun) who may or may not have killed her none-too-bright sister (Shim Yi-young).

Holy smoke, that's a whole lot of metaphor. And to be honest, I don't know that this is Park's intent at all. Plus, I'm still stumped by the significance of the boiling water that gets spilled on the unattended baby, the silver fox of a nightclub owner (Lee Kyeong-yeong) who rides around in a fancy car and silently makes his backseat window go up and down or the final scooter ride to somewhere or other. All of these items feel laden with meaning.

I'm pretty sure that if you asked Park, she'd be able to tell you exactly what her intent is. Paju feels like a movie eager for interpretation and explication. Which isn't surprising when you learn that Park is one of Korea's few female directors. You just know that she had to work hard to get this — her second feature — made and she hardly seems likely to have gone to all that trouble if she didn't have something interesting to say. That it's not that easy to decode doesn't diminish the probability of wanting to watch it again. And maybe even, again. Isn't that what you do for a poem?

No comments:

Post a Comment