Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Tuesday, April 25, time 9.00


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Gye-choon (Youn Yuh-jung, The Actresses) is a native of Jeju Island who has long made her living by diving for shellfish. (Such women, called “hae-nyeo” in Korean, are a celebrated part of Jeju’s traditional culture.) For a long time her life revolved around two things only: her work in the sea, and the raising of her adorable young granddaughter Hye-ji. But on one tragic day, Hye-ji disappears. Gye-choon looks for her desperately, but there is no trace. She contacts the police, and posts wanted posters around her island community, but all of this is to no avail. As time passes, her desperation only grows, but there is nothing she can do.
Twelve years later, on a day like any other, Hye-jin reappears. Gye-choon is stunned, but overjoyed, to see the fully grown young woman she raised as a child. She brings her home, and begins to take care of her again. After the initial shock wears off, people begin to ask Hye-jin the obvious questions – Where have you been? What happened? – but she is reluctant to talk about it.

Canola is a thoughtful, touching, and at times surprising film about two people trying to reconnect and restart their lives together. Hye-jin obviously has some deep emotional issues to work through, and for her part, Gye-choon feels more than satisfied just to have her by her side again. But starting over is not easy. Hye-jin is at an age when she has to finish high school, and start thinking about her future. She has an interest and a talent in painting, but no real drive to pursue it. Some scenes with her art teacher (played by the one and only Yang Ik-june of Breathless fame) give us some glimpses into her inner emotions, but they are only glimpses.
The mystery of Hye-jin is the prime driver of this film’s plot, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to say too much about it in this review. But one can praise the performance of Kim Ko-eun, whose spectacular debut in the 2012 film Eun-Gyo provided an instant launch to her career. Kim has an instinctual feel for how much to show and how much to hold back in any given scene, and this helps to keep the film centered, even as it goes through some unexpected developments. And acting legend Youn Yuh-jung, a frequent collaborator with directors like Hong Sangsoo, E J-yong and Im Sang-soo, brings a depth and a slightly unknowable quality to Gye-choon as well. In the end, Canola’s biggest spectacle is the opportunity to see Kim and Youn share the screen together. They give life to the famous quote by Flannery O’Connor: “A story always involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality.”

This film also clearly benefits from its setting. The gorgeous Jeju Island, with its own unique dialect, landscape and culture, forms the backdrop for a number of Korean films, but sometimes we just get the feeling of being visitors on a tourist bus. Here, we spend enough time in this small Jeju village to feel a kind of intimacy with it. It’s impossible to think of this film without the setting jumping to the front of your mind.
Canola may not have been the film most people were expecting from the director who calls himself Chang. His previous work – the teen horror movie Death Bell (2008) and the Point Blank remake The Target (2014) – were not generally praised for their restraint or emotional complexity. But with Canola he rose to the task and delivered a film that, even if it didn’t break out at the box office, earned the respect of audiences and critics alike.

Darcy Paquet
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  • Canola 00
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