[Over the next week, we will be bringing you coverage of the New York Korean Film Festival, which will be taking place at the BAM theater in Brooklyn, NY, from the 24th through the 26th. Read more about it here, and keep abreast of the latest reviews here.]
There are two types of filmmakers I look up to: the ones I love and the ones I hate. The filmmakers I love make amazing movies that inspire me to keep on keeping on. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum are the filmmakers who make movies so amazing that I feel like I shouldn’t even bother. When I see their films, I want to throw up my hands, because I could never do anything better.
Generally speaking, though, there are more films than filmmakers that would fall into that category. Take Hindsight, for example.
Hindsight (Pureun Sogeum)
Director: Lee Hyun-Seung
Country: South Korea
Hindsight’s opening moments create a narrative that is inherently flawed. A gun is fired, a bullet hits someone, and that person falls into the water, apparently dead. Flashback. To be honest, I was surprised that there was no “one week earlier” title card. What it means is that the film has preemptively shown one of its biggest hands. We as the audience already know the setting of the final confrontation (and it’s a beautiful one, not easily forgettable), so when the character who is shot is put in a dangerous situation in another location, we know that the scene will end without any mortal consequences.
What sets Hindsight apart from pretty much every other film I have ever seen use this trope is how well it earned that final confrontation. When the moment comes, and the shot is fired, it is a truly intense moment. There is also something about the way everything is presented that makes those other situations still feel threatening. I think it’s because, mortal or not, there are always consequences. Yes, the protagonist and his assailant must make it to the scene of the final shooting, but no one else does. The people closest to him may die, or he may be severely injured. What’s much more significant, and much more impressive, is that, even when nothing of consequence happens, it never feels like the moment is being restrained to allow the story to continue. Every shot that isn’t fired has as much emotional weight behind it as every shot that is.
The excellent performances do a lot to make Hindsight so effective. The two stars of the film, Song Kang-Ho (who is one of my favorite Korean actors) and Shin Se-Kyung (who I had never seen before), do a fantastic job at creating a realistic relationship, one that easily had the potential to turn really creepy and/or weird. But it never did. It was sweet, and it was very honest. Their dialogue made me laugh, and it made me laugh a lot. The moments between them are some of the best of the film.
It’s kind of incredible how much narrative Hindsight has in it. Even though it’s a two hour movie, it has enough plotlines and character threads that it could easily have run another hour without growing stale. But it was never confusing, and I never felt overwhelmed. Some of the plotlines had to be set aside for the sake of time, but it made no difference in the end. There may have been plenty of questions left unanswered, and what happens in the time after the credits roll may not be so pleasant, but I still found myself completely satisfied with how it turned out. Not everything that is started needs to be finished, and I think Lee Hyun-Seung did a great job at choosing what was important and what was more peripheral.
What truly makes Hindsight stand out, though, is its presentation. It is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. Everything about it, from its truly amazing use of color its uniformly excellent shot choices. I am a particular fan of the quick cuts that often follow something action-oriented, like a bullet tearing through the water. These little additions do a lot to add to the intensity of some key moments. It’s really the color, though, that makes it so special. I don’t know who did the color work on this film, but s/he is an absolute genius. It’s gorgeous in the same way Drive is gorgeous, but even moreso. Throughout the film, I found myself constantly wowed by just how good everything looked.
That quality extends to the sound and soundtrack as well. The sound design is great, and the score is simply brilliant. It’s very classical, with a lot of strings and piano, and it’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long, long time. I want to own it, and it needs to be released in America (so I can own it).
I tend to hold Korean films to a different standard than I do for any other kind of film. I try to put them into an entirely separate category, where they can’t color my impressions of everything else. The list of my Top 5 films of 2011 does not feature anything out of Korea, although it very easily could have been comprised almost entirely from there. Hindsight is one of those reasons why (another would be Bedevilled). When I tell people what my favorite movies are, I want to tell them about movies that they can go out and see. So when a movie like Hindsight comes along, one that does not have a US release on the horizon, I feel kind of awkward about it. I can tell people how amazing it is, but if they can’t experience it for themselves, what’s the point?
There is no question that you should see Hindsight. None at all. It is an absolutely amazing experience. If you are in Brooklyn this weekend, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. If you’re not, hopefully it will be at other Asian/Korean festivals in the months to come. Or better yet, hopefully it (and its amazing soundtrack) will get a proper US release either on demand or on DVD/Blu-ray (the latter of which I would go out and buy immediately). Otherwise, you’re just going to have to take my word for it. So sorry about that.
Seriously though, Lee Hyun-Seung, I hate you. I hate you so much.