[HanCinema's Film Review] "Lee Changdong: The Art of Irony"
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
That Lee Chang-dong is a master of cinema is an undisputed fact, as much as that all his movies are excellent, both the 6 features he directed and wrote, and the two he only penned, just before his debut with "Green Fish". As such, a documentary about his life and work, would be rather interesting from the get-go, but the fact that director Alain Mazars decided to portray them in reverse order, inspired by "Peppermint Candy", makes it even more interesting.
In that fashion, the movie begins with "Burning" and moves backwards, reaching, in the end, his childhood, thus presenting a rather thorough portrait of both the man and the artist. Also quite interesting is the way Mazars places Lee each time in the exact locations he shot his movies in, including the train line in "Peppermint Candy" and the neighborhood he grew up in, in another very smart approach here.
The documentary unfolds much like a masterclass, with Lee talking on camera and analyzing the symbolism, the meanings, and the overall way he shot his movies. At the same time, Oh Jung-mi, his co-writer, also sheds some more light through her perspective, with the same applying with the protagonists of his films, who explain the casting and their overall collaboration with him, while he explains the reasons behind their selection. Song Kang-ho, Moon So-ri, Yoo Ah-in and Sol Kyung-gu are just some of the actors "parading" throughout the movie, adding a very appealing aspect to the movie along with some welcome star quality that also shows their appreciation towards him.
Their combined words (of the actors and the director) highlight his approach towards them rather thoroughly, with the fact that he left them to think for themselves on how to present what he wanted them to show, and that they shaped the characters together emerging as a rather interesting aspect of his way of work. The poems he wrote for "Poetry", the use of trains throughout his filmography, the image boards he came up with, the way he worked as a writer in "The Starry Island" conclude the part about his work.
The way he came to be a filmmaker is also rather intriguing to watch as much as his opinion on the cinema of the country and particularly the independent theaters.
The editing here, in the reverse order mentioned before, emerges as one of the best traits of the movie, also in the way Mazars combines the different types of footage included, in a way that allows the documentary to unfold smoothly, without becoming tiring, even at 100 minutes. The same applies with the changes of location, and the appearances of the actors.
At the same time, and despite the thoroughness, the fact that almost nothing negative is ever mentioned about him, as for example that he is exceptionally hard on his actors, something that Moon So-ri has been particularly vocal in the past, results in the documentary appearing somewhat biased.
On the other hand, the information available here and the "masterclass" included deem "Lee Changdong: The Art of Irony" a film all fans of Lee Chang-dong and of cinema in general will enjoy.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
"Lee Changdong: The Art of Irony" is directed by Alain Mazars, and features Lee Chang-dong, Oh Jung-mi, Moon Sung-keun, Jeon Do-yeon, Sol Kyung-gu, Song Kang-ho. No release date in Korea yet.
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.