Korean cinema comes to Chennai now. The just-established Indo-Korean Cine Club will show movies once every three months. To begin with, Pacemaker and A Reason to Live will be screened on Saturday and Sunday at the Tagore Film Centre.
The Korean movies will be part of an attempt in Chennai to present cinema from different regions of the world. While Germany's Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise and the American Centre have been for many years showing films from their respective countries and to packed houses, movies from South-East Asia have been conspicuous by their absence. And some great films are being made in Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and The Philippines.
In a city like Chennai, where there is an overkill of Tamil cinema (with even Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and English movies being treated as poor cousins), Korean films will come as a welcome change to meet the desire for sensitive and sensible fare. By way of one example, Sean Penn's much talked about English work, The Gunman, has opened in only one single theatre in Chennai, and that too on the city's outskirts!
Besides, promising to be a novel addition to the Chennai celluloid landscape, Korean cinema has also been instrumental in pushing and promoting the Busan International Film Festival, which has in the 20 years since its inception become the number one in the whole of Asia, leaving the much older International Film Festival of India (1956) miles and miles behind.
Both Pacemaker and A Reason to Live deal with refreshingly novel themes. Dal-Joong Kim's Pacemaker is the story of an underdog sportsman -- who sprints with a runner not to compete but to egg him on to win. This guy acts precisely like a pacemaker inside one's chest that regulates and helps the heart to beat evenly. However, the pacemaker on the track encourages an actual runner to move faster.
Award winning Korean star Kim Myung Min (Detective K) essays the downtrodden Man Ho, a former marathon runner fallen on bad days -- which drives him to work as a delivery boy for a friend's restaurant. His scooter breaks down often, and Man uses his feet to supply food on time -- his pair of legs never letting him down.Good luck smiles on Man, when he is asked by a well-wishing national coach to act as a pacemaker for a new athlete, Korea's big hope for the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Despite old physical injuries and a humiliation which nags his very spirit, Man agrees to return to the race track, and finds that his old energy pushing him once again to touch the skies.
Pacemaker is well crafted, and midway, we realise that despite the movie's predictability, it is the journey which is more important than the finishing line. What is more, Pacemaker's beat is even and comfortable, and Min scores with his ability to help the viewer connect with Man. We go along with the sportsman's dream, and feel sorry for his plight, and this is the humanistic touch which the director establishes in the course of his narrative.
Of course, Kim has one of Korea's most versatile actors playing the lead. Min's performance is nuanced and he is in great form in Pacemaker.
Lee Jeong-hyang's A Reason to Live presents the moral dilemma of a young woman, Da-hae, who loses her fiance in a road accident. A younger biker hits the man on a rainy night in a deserted street, and instead of helping the man, the teenager runs over the victim again! The woman forgives the biker and helps revoke his death sentence.
Lee's work has this ethereal melancholic romanticism about it, and is punctuated by pensive musical moments. One is tempted to compare A Reason to Live with Lee Changdong's Secret Sunshine. Both films elaborate on women's suffering and their inner conflict in accepting a loved one's unjust murder in a world which seems to have no providence.
A Reason to Live explores forgiveness in a Christian context, though in the end the protagonist is not anywhere near to resolving her inner struggle and turmoil. Song Hye-kyo's role as the suffering woman is not very different from the characters she has been portraying on television, though the actor infuses into her part a great deal of composure and restraint.
Both Pacemaker and A Reason to Live offer a rare insight into the Korean way of thinking and the nation's social customs and mannerisms. And these certainly add to the uniqueness of these works.