t.l. La fortunata Chan-Sil
찬실이는 복도 많지 (Chansil-ineun bokdo manchi)
South Korea, 2020, 96’, Korean
Directed by: Kim Cho-hee
Script: Kim Cho-hee
Photography (color): Ji Sang-bin
Art Direction: Kim Jin-young
Editing: Son Yeon-ji
Music: Jeong Joong-yeop
Producers: Kim Seong-eun, Seo Dong-hyun
Cast: Gang Mal-geum (Chan-sil), Youn Yuh-jung (landlord), Kim Young-min (Leslie Cheung), Yoon Seung-ah (Sophie), Bae Yu-ram (Kim Young)
Date of First Release in Territory: March 5th, 2020
Premiere status: European Premiere
Chan-sil is an independent film producer known for her long-term collaboration with a famous auteur director. But hardly have the film’s opening credits rolled before the director dies of heart failure, and Chan-sil is left without a career. Whereas once, filmmaking consumed her every waking hour, she now finds herself with no work, no money and no personal life. How will she support herself? Can she avoid sinking into despair? Is there anyone she can lean on in a time like this? These are the sorts of questions that drive the plot of Lucky Chan-sil, a film that is realist in its world view, but also unpredictable, innovative and full of wit.
It doesn’t take long for the audience to figure out that director Kim Cho-hee is a long-term cinephile. If the opening credits, shot over traditional linen in the style of Ozu (and also Hong Sang-soo, whose films Kim produced from 2008 to 2015), aren’t a clear enough giveaway, the fact that a reincarnation of Leslie Cheung plays a major role in the film removes all doubt. The world of the story is adorned with references and details that reflect the spirit of Korean cinephilia which reached its peak in the 1990s. Kim also displays an intimate familiarity with the Korean independent film scene: every interaction we see, whether it be between investor, producer, actor or crew member, feels true-to-life, sometimes depressingly so.
Chan-sil herself is a highly memorable character, brought to life by the performance of Gang Mal-geum. It’s not that she isn’t resourceful enough to deal with her situation. But her career accomplishments up to that point were all tied to the status of her now-deceased director. With him gone, she retains the relationships she had within the film industry, but she has lost her status. Not surprisingly, she more and more often finds herself feeling humiliated and alone.
The ghost of Leslie Cheung may be a projection of her loneliness, but he nonetheless proves to be good company (these scenes are some of the funniest in the film). There is also Chan-sil's landlord, played with her usual grace by veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung, who helps give her some perspective on what she’s living through. But ultimately it may be the audience who is Chan-sil’s most sympathetic observer.
At the 2019 Busan International Film Festival, Lucky Chan-sil was one of the Korean premieres that stirred up a particular sense of excitement, for the assuredness of Kim Cho-hee’s direction and the film’s unique charm. It won several prizes at BIFF, including the KBS Independent Film Award and the CGV Arthouse Award, and then went on to take the Audience Award at the Seoul Independent Film Festival in December. But just weeks before its scheduled theatrical release in early March, the Covid-19 pandemic hit Korea hard, with a frighteningly large cluster infection emerging in Daegu. The filmmakers decided to push ahead with the release anyway.
Despite the fact that theater attendance as a whole plummeted and many theaters temporarily shut their doors, Lucky Chan-sil still managed to amass over 25,000 admissions – a good result for an independent release, even in the best of times. We’ll never know much it might have earned if it had been released under normal circumstances, but as things stand, it is remembered as a rare bit of positive news for Korean cinema during the pandemic of 2020.
Kim Cho-hee produced eight films by director Hong Sang-soo between the years 2008 and 2015, under the name Kim Gyeong-hee. She also directed three short films: The Winter Pianist (2011), Our Sooni (2013), and Ladies of the Forest (2016). After spending some time in Montreal, she returned to Korea and found critical success with her debut directorial effort, Lucky Chan-sil.
2020 – Lucky Chan-sil