Skip to main content

Korean Film Festival- The Dinner- Review

The opening shot of Kim Dong-hyun’s third feature, The Dinner, set in Seoul,  announces the film’s subtle emotional undertones and character studies quietly, setting the scene for almost 2 hours of human struggle in the face of fateful circumstances.
On the face of it, the narrative seems extreme. Daughter Gyeong-jin (Lee Eun-joo) abandoned by her lover, has just given birth to their baby son Jay-hyeon. Her brothers, older In-cheol (Jung Eui-gap) and younger In-ho (Jeon Kwang-jin) debate whether to put the child up for adoption or not. Cut to years later and we are with the elderly grandparents, who look after Jay-hyeon whilst Gyeong-jin goes out to work. Older In-cheol is made redundant, but, having a sick wife Hye-jeong (Park Se-jin) to support, soon finds himself evening work as a ‘chauffeur’ for city workers too drunk to drive themselves home. It also happens to be younger In-ho’s job too and it is he, accidentally making himself responsible for the death of a client, who eventually brings final tragedy upon the family- coming as it does after Gyeong-jin dies from a heart condition.
Some critics have found fault with the rather hyperbolic and fateful narrative but, given the time cuts, I find it realistic. I found myself enjoying watching a film daring to focus on its characters over a number of years and, as realistically as possible, chart their ups and downs. And whilst it’s true that perhaps the wide scope of Kim Dong-hyun’s lens has an adverse effect on the depth of character, I think it is made up for by the narrative ambition of the film, which is almost Bildungsroman in structure.
In fact I found myself thinking of Chekhov and making comparisons with Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet, Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman and even Vojtech Jasny’s All My Good Country Men, although this is a much longer film and is the focus of Czechoslovakia during a time of political upheaval and spanning at least ten years. And surely the closing shot is a passing nod to Abbas Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees, as, as in that film, we can only guess at the outcome of the last scene, which, by proceeding events, we know can only be resolved in a particular way. However, like Kiarostami, Kim Dong-hyun’s genius is to play with the passing of time through the use of a static camera, so that we become hypnotized by its paradoxical stillness and therefore maintain the hope that we, the director and the actors can change the course of events that must surely take place. And although there is nothing Pirandellian about The Dinner, or any suggestion that art mirrors life, the occasional long static shot, the time allowed for the camera to record the passing of the seasons, is itself a reflection of how time passes for our characters- and how their dreams and prospects change in a cyclical movement. It had me thinking of Tokyo Sonata by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
It might be said that there are some narrative inconsistencies. For example, young In-ho has a break down and ends up in a mental hospital. Cut to a year later or more, and he is suddenly well and in the interim, his girlfriend has mysteriously disappeared from our screens with no narrative explanation- we are left to assume she has dumped him. The previously uncaring father reclaims Jay-hyeon after his mother’s death, only to be inexplicably returned by him to In-cheol in the third act. These can either be taken as character inconsistencies and narrative flaws, or as an attempt to portray the little anomalies and incomprehensibilities that frequent our every day lives. I prefer to think of it as the latter.
Because this film seems to be more a chronicler of every day life, albeit with a slightly melodramatic narrative, Kim Dong-hyun seems more a documenter than a fiction film director. There are times when the camera seems to have that meditative quality that can be found in the documentary work of Gideon Koppel (Sleep Furiously) and there is an attempt to depict the everyday through mundane conversation and activities- the elderly father’s daily trek into the mountains for example, or his wife’s visits to the temple. At times this makes for an uneasy style- the editing in the opening shots is quick, as if the director does not want us to linger on ‘setting the scene’ cityscapes. But at other times the camera is allowed to run and we forget about the hand of the filmmaker. What this does is provide an uneasy relationship between fiction and an attempt at a kind of documentary truth behind that fiction.
To this end, memorable performances are given by Jung Eui-gap especially.

The film recently premiered in the UK at the Korean Film Festival and was the Busan International Film Festival closing film. There are no plans for a UK release, but the Korean Film Festival will tour more cities in Britain soon after its London run.


Popular posts from this blog

Collabo- Hip hop with a difference

There’s a buzz in the air at Stratford Circus Arts Centre. No wonder, this is the 10th anniversary of Collabo, Tony Adigun’s annual dance celebration founded in 2006 to promote new collaborations and hip-hop hybrids from dance groups. Friday’s program of short portfolios opens with 10 (UnTitled Dance Company) choreographed by Lukas McFarlane lasting fifteen minutes (no mean feat in the hip-hop world) and featuring 10 tracks and illustrating some super synchronised steps and gyros executed with military precision. The occasional, surprising rigidness of the choreography is broken by experimentation with spoken word. Liberation (What Is Written Dance Company) has the same exactness, but their more simple choreography is easier on the eye after the mass sprawl of 10. Kweku Aacht and Guest Dancers produce an interpretation of a track performed live onstage- the sometimes rowdy crowd shouting out and encouraging the performers on hold their breath as the troupe fluctuate between free style a…

Once in a Lifetime- theatre review: slightly revised to reflect the ambiguous ending

Once in a Lifetime is a show about the tenuous and complicated relationship between creativity and destruction. Re-adapted here by Chris Hart, son of one half of the original writing duo Moss Hart and George S Kaufman, the show may well be set in 1930s Hollywood just as the talkies are about to change cinema forever, but it might also be poking fun at an art form that is a little closer to home. Director Richard Jones always takes risks with little produced, marginalised or very well known works in a bid to uncover something new that might be a comment on our own times. Here, a story about hapless Vaudeville trio act George (John Marquez), Jerry (Kevin Bishop) and May (Claudie Blakley), who set out to conquer Hollywood with their mythic elocution school, is the perfect fit for the director to explore themes that seem to obsess him: national myth, parody, the tyranny of power, willed self-destruction, bureaucracy, global fantasy, etc. So far, the show has not gone down so well with the c…

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…