January 29, 2009

Fisherman's Fire: Hot Pants Under a Kimono

Reportedly, only four Korean movies survive from the 1930s and Fisherman's Fire is one of them. But is it the entire movie? Viewed today, Ahn Chul-yeong's film gives the impression of once running longer than 52 minutes. A melodramatic "who'll pay the debt" conflict isn't totally fleshed out in the first half; the protagonist's downward spiral into whoredom is abruptly righted just before the end. As a piece of storytelling, this one feels alternately redundant and disjointed. Screen it in a Chelsea art gallery today and the critics would laud its leaden pacing as avant garde. But unlike Kim Ki-duk's Bad Guy which tackles the same topic over sixty years later, the rake who proves the girl's undoing isn't a pimp. He's an amoral creep out to get laid. The cad picks her up at a train station then basically holds her hostage in his apartment while trying to get her to drink booze and eat candy. Never a good combination, especially as foreplay. By the time she escapes, she's no longer a virgin and the guilt of her fallen status drives her to live as a geisha where one of her first clients is... guess who. This fate she too escapes but by her own admission, she'll never be the same.

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