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'Art Museum by the Zoo'

2006/03/21 | Permalink | Source

Though a 'small' film, it's one that deserves attention

Darcy Paquet (internews)

Yet another film by a first-time director/screenwriter, "Art Museum By The Zoo" is the only film in this list directed by a woman (Lee Jeong-hyang). It debuted a week before Christmas and was extremely well received by audiences and critics alike. It stars a very popular actress in Shim Eun-ha ("Christmas in August") together with first-time actor Lee Sung-jae. Of all the films I saw in 1998, I think this one may be my favorite.

The story is reportedly based on events from the director's own life. On leave from the military, a man named Chul Soo arrives at his fiancee's apartment and finds her not at home. He cleans the apartment and prepares dinner for her, only to discover that she has moved out, and another woman is now renting the apartment. When a few days later his fiancee tells him she is marrying another man, he has nowhere to go, and ends up staying at the apartment.

Much of the story centers on the good-natured sparring between the man and his new acquaintance, a young woman who makes wedding videos. Before long he discovers that she is writing a screenplay to enter into a competition. Eventually they begin to write it together -- a love story between a woman who works at an art museum and a man who works at the nearby zoo.

As their work progresses it enters into the film as a counter-narrative to the original plot. Veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki plays the zookeeper while Song Sun Mi (who also plays the role of the fiancee) is the worker at the art museum. These brief interspersed scenes include some very funny moments, and their naive innocence provides a perfect foil for the rest of the movie.

The director has said she prefers to make "small" film, but this is not a work to be taken lightly. There's something about this film that reminds me of Chekhov's early comic stories, and it's a work that deserves attention.

Darcy Paquet writes for Variety magazine and is also a programme consultant for the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy. A native of Massachusetts, he has been living in Korea since 1997.

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