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[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Stone"

2014/06/06 | 718 views | Permalink


Min-soo (played by Cho Dong-in) is an angry man without purpose. He's a professional quality Go player, but can't break into the higher levels of competition. His daily life is interrupted by gangsters who take an interest in Min-soo's personality. Most immediately and obviously, he's an expert at Go, and this strategy can also be utilized in real life. The reasoning at this point gets a little hazy. I'm assuming someone who knows more about how the game of Go works could appreciate it more than I did.

What I did appreciate was the symmetry the film draws between being a professional Go player and being a gangster. Both lifestyles are basically pointless. They're working off of technical constructs that are hundreds of years old and probably not actually relevant anymore, and everyone who's really thought about either process already knows this. They're just waiting for the day they finally lapse into total irrelevancy.

That parallel might sound pretty random and out of nowhere, but as far as that goes, just consider this- is your job any better? Sure it might be more recent. What life comes down to, though, is the realization that sooner or later we all turn into useless relics. Min-soo falls into that trap a bit sooner than the rest of us, thanks to the very peculiar nature of his profession. His overall ennui is quite relatable though. And his acclimation to gangster life similarly is about as good a coping mechanism as any.

Yeah, this isn't exactly a cheerful movie. Oddly enough it's never really depressing, mainly because all our characters are so focused on the moment that they (very deliberately) don't see the big picture. Given that the game of Go itself is all about being able to foresee the big picture, this is suitably ironic. Life isn't really a giant Go game- it's a series of much smaller Go games. Much like how people actually play Go.

I imagine that some of you reading this are by now either smirking or giggling, because however I try to dress it up- "The Stone" is a movie about Go and gangsters. I can't speak for the Korean perspective, but to anyone who lives in a country where Go isn't super serious, all of this probably sounds completely ridiculous. How can a simple game be a metaphor for life? Why would gangsters care about Go in the first place?

The film's answers to these questions aren't always that impressive. And at times "The Stone" has a habit of getting to be a bit boring- the gangster subplot is actually the closest thing this movie has to a real narrative, and for the most part we only get shades of it until right at the very end. "The Stone" is a movie of very deliberate craft and care. Its cultural comparison, while silly, is at times apt enough that the metaphors shine through. But I have to be absolutely clear about this- in order to appreciate the film at all, you have to accept the conceit up front or else the whole enterprise is going to just feel really really weird.

Review by William Schwartz

"The Stone" is directed by Cho Se-rae and features Cho Dong-in, Kim Roi-ha and Park Won-sang.

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