Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Shins

Shin Sang-Ok/Simon Sheen, R.I.P.

From my review of a 2004 Korean filmfest:

Simon S. Sheen, of 3 Ninjas fame, is no kin to Charlie, but rather one of the few filmmakers to see just how ronery North Korea's Kim Jong Il can get. In 1978, the cinemaniac Dear Leader kidnapped the South Korean director (né Shin Sang-ok) and his actress wife, employing them in the North for eight years. The Walter Reade's S.K. retro offers a pair of early Shins. Living up to its Baudelairean tag, Flowers in Hell (1958) is a tale of two brothers and the hussy who tears them apart, amid the spleen of Seoul, in particular the U.S. military compound and the desperate parasites surrounding it. Country mouse Tongsik comes to the city to search for his older brother, a thug planning a railway heist. Yankee brew causes Tongsik to succumb to his big sib's lover; this fall from innocence is recorded in the next morning's outré getup of Hawaiian shirt and argyles.

Shin manages a decent chase scene before busing his survivors to the happy-ending countryside. But all's not well there, judging from The Houseguest and My Mother, his 1961 chamber piece about a young, painfully proper widow and the too-gentlemanly boarder who loves her. Shin gets maximum impact from the restrained performances, and a little girl's singsong narration keeps things just this side of wrist-slitting despair. In a beautifully compressed sequence, the widow's enraptured piano playing, shot at a sinking-ship angle, reaches her secret admirer, who has just lovingly sketched her daughter.


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