Jeon Soo-IlThe Films of Jeon Soo-Il

Dates and Venue 7-11 Jan 2010 | Pacific Cinematheque, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

Jeon Soo-Il was born in Sokcho, Kangwon Province, in 1959. After graduating from the Department of Theatre & Film of Kyungsung University in Pusan, he studied Film Direction at E.S.R.A from 1988 to 1992. He completed his masters and doctorate degrees in Film Science at the University of Paris in Paris, France. He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Theatre & Film of Kyungsung University and the president of Dongnyuk Film. He is currently in production for his eighth film.


Time Between Dog and Wolf Time Between Dog and Wolf (2005) is Jeon’s semi-autobiographical drama which is a somewhat nostalgic story of a filmmaker who returns to his hometown in Sokcho (where Jeon was born) near the North Korean border after a 25-year absence in search of a family member missing since the Korean War. Along the way, he meets a young woman looking for her own long-lost younger sister. Jeon lived in Paris where he did post-graduate work in film, and apparently picked up the title from a French phrase — entre chien et loup — denoting a darkness so deep one can’t make out whether the creature in front of one’s face is a dog or a wolf. The film reflects this darkness as he is having funding poblems with a film he's producing. He's also in search of the home where he once lived, but no one in that district knows where the home is.

Jeon's films, I could tell, are obviousy infuenced by the slow pace, long silences and the cold wintry atmosphere in Ingmar Bergman's work. In many of the new filmmakers style, we also see endings that leave it up to the audiences to decide what's going to happen next. This nouveau perspective could backfire, from a commercial point of view, but for the intelligentsia, it's what makes a film click artistically, so to speak.

What I like about his films is the cinematography. I believe Kim Sung-Tai who later did the cinematography for With a Girl of Black Soil (2007) also worked with him in this film as well as his last film Himalaya: The Place Where The Wind Dwells (2008) where I was impressed by the awe-inspiring mountain scenery of the Himalayas captured on camera. (Colour, 35mm, in Korean with English subtitles. 110 mins. Friday, January 8, 2010 - 7:00pm.and Monday, January 11, 2010 - 9:00pm)


.With a Girl of Black Soil

With a Girl of Black Soil (2007) reflects once again Jeon's infuence with French literature and filmmaking. We could easily draw comparisons to both Emile Zola and François Truffaut for the bleak portrait of a childhood lived in difficult economic circumstances. In this film, Jeon explores the topic, most probably true, of abandoned mining towns being converted into casino towns in South Korea. Unemployed miners are being evicted from this mining town that is closing down. The film is set in a small village in Kangwon Province, where a 9-year-old girl (excellent acting from 8-year old Yu Yun-Mi) lives with her coal-miner father and a mentally challenged brother.When her father who is diagnosed with lung disease loses his job and takes to drinking, the burden of caring for the family falls entirely to her, and amidst a rapidly worsening situation, she makes her own decision on the fate of her brother and father.

I wonder whether Jeon picked up this story from his own experience again as he seems to always return to his home province, Kangwon, a mining province, to shoot his films. Again, in this film, there are long, sometimes too long, shots which could have been reduced by at least five seconds. But it was cinematographically well done, and merited the accolades Jeon received from critics for this award-winning film. ( Colour, 35mm, in Korean with English subtitles. 89 mins. Thursday, January 7, 2010 - 7:00pm.and Friday, January 8, 2010 - 9:05pm.)


Himalaya: The Place Where The Wind DwellsHimalaya: The Place Where The Wind Dwells (2008) as mentioned ealier is quite a scenic film, with breath-taking shots of the scenery. The film is about Choi, a Korean executive who, after the death of an illegal Nepalese worker in his brother's company, travels to a remote Himalayan village to deliver the man’s ashes to his family. Choi is hardly prepared for the trip, not only because he arrives inappropriately garbed in his business suit and street shoes, but he can’t speak the language, and suffers from altitude sickness. The nephew of the dead man is the only one who speaks Engish, and this boy is his only way of communicating with the family.

The topic of children seems to be of great interest to this filmmaker, and in one scene, we see him playing soccer with the boy. Naturally, he again succumbs to breathing problems. One scene that I found quite metaphorical was a white horse that he follows into the forest. Is this apocalyptic? A death wish? In the next scene, we see him all covered up in bandages, suffering from frostbite, and the boy's mother doing her rituals praying to the gods to heal him as he is close to death. Death and the rituals of death seem to attract this filmmaker, and in another scene of the film, the boy expresses the film's title by telling Choi that the wind dwells in the mountains where karma is removed and there, the winds meet one's soul. (Colour, 35mm, in English, Korean and Nepali with English subtitles. 95 mins.Saturday, January 9, 2010 - 7:00pm.and Sunday, January 10, 2010 - 8:50pm.).

© 2010 Ed Farolan