Sunday, March 11, 2007

Flower Island (2001)

Flower Island (Song Il-gon, 2001)
Korean Title: Ggot seom

Other than Yu-jin (Lim Yu-jin), who we first meet narrating how she got punished by the gods for abandoning her promise of using her gift of song for good, we get introduced to the trio of females in very compromising scenarios. Seventeen year-old Hye-na (Kim Hye-na) undergoes a self-inflicted abortion inside a filthy restroom; while motherly Oak-nam (Seo Ju-hie) bares herself for a paying elderly man who after several sexual thrusts, dies of a cardiac arrest. Oak-nam is temporarily discharged by her husband who learns of her prostituting to buy her daughter a piano. She meets Hye-na inside during a busride to the Southern Seas --- Hye-na is on a trip to find her lost mother while Oak-nam seeks the legendary Flower Island, said to be the place to ease pains and burdens.

We finally witness Yu-jin compromising scenario when an impersonal doctor announces her medical predicament --- her tongue has to be removed to prevent the spreading of a cancerous growth in her throat. An opera singer, she loses the will to live, until she is rescued by Oak-nam and Hye-na who brings her along their trip to Flower Island. The three females undergo what seems like a roadtrip to an Oz-like place of magic and promises; along the way, they meet colorful characters who in their respective manners and ways, allow a tender and subtle release of each female's personal ache. A truck driver who carries his friend's corpse to town, a traveling music band led by jealous singer and his life partner, a mysterious man who lived with Hye-na's mother, and the proprietress of the island --- these personalities and their anecdotes and methods represent the promises of the island.

Lodz-trained Song Il-gon's directorial debut, Flower Island, is fashioned like several pieces of individual memories forcedly pasted together, like the coincidental meet-ups of these three troubled women. The point-of-view is always past-oriented, with the narrative being interrupted by flashbacks; as if there's a likely prevention of moving forward, of an outward acceptance as the world has been swallowed by the lasting scars of a troubled past.

Song's method of using digital film to capture the happenings creates an unfathomable viewing experience. The lack of detail (caused by digital filmmaking) causes a frustrating feeling of being trapped within the meager extents of the medium. Bodies and faces fade and disappear from focus; objects do not have their concrete appeal; experiences and events therefore are appropriated a fleeting feel, like they're happening not in this real world but in a mythical other-universe wherein pains and aches are as temporary as the captured movements and conversations. It's oddly mesmerizing; wherein the visual technique inhabits the poetic form Song drapes his feature with.

The film's ending is both mysterious but unsurprising. It adequately gives the feature an earthy and mortal conclusion without necessarily pulling away from the fairy-tale feel of this grim yet hopeful parable. Song possesses an admirable control on his vision and his themes; something quite surprising as this is his first feature film. The film aches when it needs to ache, and its joyous when there's a reason to celebrate --- yet despite the numerous facets of emotions on display, the film is headed in a single direction; no tricky shortcuts or long-winded stop-overs. Flower Island is one satisfactory road trip where emotions swell in every step, that when the destination is reached and leaves you still cold and curious, there still seems to be no trace of regret and remorse in traversing such path.

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