Korean films, far rarer in U.S. movie theaters than many other Asian imports, don’t get any more traditionally, exotically Korean than Chunhyang. The story itself is one of the country’s often retold heroic-romantic legends, about Mongryong (Cho Seung Woo), the son of a provincial official, who falls in love with Chunhyang (Lee Hyo Jung), the daughter of a former courtesan; while Mongryong finishes his education, his wife remains faithful, retaining her honor despite degradation and horrible torture at the whims of a corrupt governor.
The director sets his retelling in an 18th century of cream-colored light, sumptuous costumes, and refined, stately physicality: The young man’s grace as he dips a calligraphy brush in black ink is mirrored by his lover’s beauty as she stands on a tree swing, her long, brilliant-hued gown billowing as she pumps and soars. There’s erotic power in such scenes – the couple glistens in shots of satiny lovemaking, and director Im Kwon Taek juxtaposes these swoons with the vocal swoops of a traditional Korean pansori singer, whose chanting narration is punctuated by shrieks, yips, and the beat of a drum.
It’s a good bet the average American moviegoer, however familiar with the rhythms of cinematic global culture, has never experienced such a handsomely self-contained world. The opposite of a film angling for crossover appeal, Chunhyang is a gift of unicultural preservation. B+ – LS
Chunhyang STARRING Cho Seung Woo Lee Hyo Jung LOT 47 FILMS NOT YET RATED 120 MINUTES