[HanCinema's Film Review] "Evergreen Tree" + Full Movie
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
Based on a 1935 novel written by Shim Hun, "Evergreen Tree" premiered in 1962 at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and despite the mostly negative reviews it received from American film critics, it was quite a success in S. Korea, netting awards for Best Actor and Actress the first Daejong Film Award, and Supporting Actor at the 9th Asian Film Festival.
The script follows the story of two idealistic students, during the Japanese Occupation period, Chae Yeong-sin and Park Dong-hyeok, who are also members of the local YMCA and really set on the higher purpose of rural development, essentially a goal that aims at educating people outside the urban centers, who dealt with agriculture, neglecting both theirs and their children's education. At the same time, the two obviously have feelings for each other, which are placed in the background, however, due to the cause. Yeong-sin goes to a village to teach while Dong-hyeok, to his hometown, where he is set to build a community center. Both of them however, have to face a number of problems. She, the denial of many farmers to let their children go to school, essentially preferring to help them in the fields. Him, financial issues and the reluctance of the locals to deal with a construction of something they do not realize its purpose. Eventually, both prevail, but then more trouble comes along, this time from the Japanese authorities, right when the two have acknowledged their feelings for each other.
Shin Sang-ok implements an almost propagandistic approach in exemplifying the strength of the locals and the western values as dictated by Christianity, against the Japanese and the people who cooperated with them during the Occupation, who are portrayed in the darkest colors possible. At the same time, the vigor and the newly founded values of the new generation (feminism for example) are also glorified, as opposed to the ones of the previous generation.
As always, however, Shin's main goal is to attract the audience, and the naivety surrounding the accomplishments of the two protagonists, their hard-fought romance, and the inevitable melodrama that always appears during their most triumphant moments, all move towards this goal, with the script failing to sustain its ground under any kind of scrutiny.
On the other hand, and again as usually, Shin detracts great performances from his cast, with Choi Eun-hee as Chae Yeong-shin and Shin Young-kyun as Park Dong-hyeok being excellent in the portrayal of their against-all-odds mentality, and their rather subtle romance. Particularly the speeches the two give throughout the movie are a wonder to look at, while both hold their own even in the most intensely sentimental scenes.
Again as usually, technically the movie is impressive. Bae Seong-hak's cinematography captures both the urban and the rural setting with realism and artistry, while highlighting the poor, run down setting of the country and the beauties of the specific setting, in an antithesis that works quite well visually. Kim Yeong-hie's editing implements the episodic style of the narrative nicely through a relative fast tempo that allows for all of them to unfold in all their glory.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.