Late autumn, strangers’ season

Why Late Autumn (만추 say « manchoo ») released since a couple of days in Korea, is the actual Korean film worth to be seen nowadays, especially by foreigners ?

A first reason could be that it’s not only a Korean film, but a Korean-american-chinese coproduction. It tells the encounter of a Chinese woman, Anna, and a Korean guy in Seattle. The dialogues are mostly in English, and for the second half, in Korean, and Chinese. So even if you don’t speak a word of Korean and will see it without subtitles, you’ll get half at least of it. It seems indeed, unfortunately, that the release is still without one subtitled print (it may come the second week though).

But which language you’re speaking is precisely not what matters here. Late autumn tells how much the speaking has very little importance in relationships and little meaning of our reality. Or let’s say that, luckily for all English natives and sorry for the rest of the world, what matters is to speak some kind of English, and for the rest, to make yourself understood (that’s a French guy speaking here).

The two main characters speak in english because they don’t share another language (this appears not to speak chinese) than the one of the country they live in, that’s all. And the greatness of this film is that these two foreigners will stay as they are : strangers. Strangers to each other, to the viewer, two strangers speaking sometimes a strange language, in a strange country. Seattle looks indeed like a mix of fantasy game park, European city, or as if popped out an old American classic.

Late Autumn gives some ways to look at a stranger. It reminds us that the meeting with a stranger may not last more than the real time of a movie : two hours. And you just expressed what you had the chance to express. You tried to detail why you are here, but maybe you didn’t make yourself clear. You did aim to tell the core of your life, but that’s the kind of speech that has to come through your mother tongue.

One sequence of Late Autumn resumes all this kind of experience in a remarkably concise and heartbreaking way. Anna suddenly gets very talkative, in Chinese,  explaining why she’s in town just for one day and not more : usually she’s in jail, but today in legal permission (don’t worry for spoiler, that’s told in the five first minutes), she has to attend the burial of her mother. And why is she in jail? She’s said to have killed her husband. But it’s blurred in her memory. Who said it by the way? We won’t be sure of that neither.

And the Korean guy, did he get what she just told him? Maybe not. He saw a women falling into tears and a long mumbling. He said it’s “good” or “bad” when she asked questions, but he was wrong half of the time. He has to deal with it. Each of them don’t know the stakes the other is carrying. With that, they’re drown into something they didn’t experience before : that’s called love. You may not know somebody but still be able to fall in love with him/her. Whatever he/she says, wherever he/she goes and come from. Late Autumn has also, hopefully, its moments of true joy. That’s exactly how life is. You have to learned how much you don’t know.

Late Autumn is a truly realistic story, even wrapped in a very stylized, fictional melodrama to fit with its origin: a remake of a classic tale in Korean cinema (see here).

This is our modern life, but it’s as if nobody told it before, and still we’ve seen so many movies. What stands out in Kim Tae-yong’s Late Autumn is that you’ll never expect the beginning and ending of every sequence shaping the film in quasi equal chapters. The last shot of the movie is a strong choice of filmmaking that cannot be forgotten. It’s just a matter of frame. What Kim Tae-yong 김태용 chose to show and hide. Just by this choice, he is telling ten times more.

Memento Mori 여고괴담 두번째 이야기

Let’s tell more about director Kim Tae-yong, by the way.

It’s a name who is not yet on the map of movie buffs and festivals. You may have seen the wonderful teenage horror film Memento Mori, still one of the worldwide best of its genre, but forgot the names of the director, actually too of them, Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong. His second feature, alone this time, 가족의 탄생, went unfortunately little unnoticed. It’s true that seeing his three films, plus one excellent short in the omnibus 10-18, his signature may not be so distinctive as some of his fellow korean directors. His sensitivity seems in between Asian restraint and European sentimentality. He is always trying beautiful balanced shots, but moreover he sticks to his characters and love actors, especially actors faces, and pull the best out of them. The best achievement in directing actors is when you make the viewer forget you’re watching a star.

Tang Wei

Tang Wei (Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution) was already big news. Now she’s already among best asian actresses.

Not because she’s within of the most beautiful woman on earth. Because her strength is tremendous. The sex scenes of Lust Caution cost her two years of a typical Chinese hypocritical censorship. So now she’s also a stranger in her country. She’s back with a low profile, the slight smiles of the shy and sad little Anna dressed in her poor plain raincoat. She learned english for months. Such dedication, subtlety and humility is the mark of the greatest. Chinese authorities may have understood they could not loos such an ambassador. Her next role seems to be… not less than the wife of Mao Tse-toung.

Let’s advocate Hyeon Bin 현빈 doesn’t sometimes match her standards, as if struggling with the stakes of some sequences. But he definitely fits to the role and this choice will honor his career. His character in Late Autumn could be Secret Garden’s “I make lot of cash” guy who’d have lost all his family and ended totally broke.

Of course some media focus on Late Autumn for Hyeon Bin or Tang Wei, and moviegoers may rush for this reason. That’s fair. Guess they’ll come back with a more open mind.

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