Saturday, February 25, 2012

NYKFF ’12: Hindsight

Se-bin is like a Korean Lisbeth Salander, except she is younger and crack marksman rather than a hacker. Otherwise, she is just like her alright. She certainly interests a retired mobster, but not in a sleazy way. Yet, their non-romance constantly flirts with tragedy in Lee Hyun-seung’s emotionally complex Hindsight (trailer here), one of the highlights of tenth annual New York Korean Film Festival now underway at BAM.

Du-heon was an old school gangster who never really made the transition from cutting implements to guns. Perhaps that is why he wants to be a chef. Always the favorite of the soon to be deceased boss of bosses, rival factions have Du-heon under surveillance. Their spy is Se-bin, Du-heon’s impatient partner in his culinary class. Her punky look and vastly superior skills intrigues the former racketeer.

Once a top-ranked competitive shooter, Se-bin’s career was cut short by an accident. Reluctantly, she agreed to keep tabs on Du-heon after she and her ambiguous girlfriend Eun-jung became indebted to the Busan mob. When Eun-jung makes their situation worse, Se-bin is forced to take a more active role in the brewing gangland power struggle. However, her hard to define feelings for Du-heon complicate matters tremendously.

Lee Hyun-seung is best known internationally for Il Mare, which Hollywood remade as the watered-down Lake House. While he concentrates on Du-heon and Se-bin’s not exactly paternal but scrupulously chaste relationship, he has a pretty good handle on the gangster genre elements, which gives him the space to let the two leads breathe and evolve.

One of Korea’s biggest stars and easily the most recognizable to American art house audiences, Song Kang-ho delivers a knockout performance as Du-heon. Instead of the schlubby loser in The Host or the reckless oddball in The Good, the Bad, the Weird, he gets to play the Clint Eastwood role in Hindsight. Cool but not smooth, he brings a hardnosed gravitas to Du-heon American audiences really have not seen from him before, while sharing some unusually sensitive chemistry with Shin Se-kyung’s Se-bin, who is cute and vulnerable to a truly scary degree (especially for a would be assassin).

Perhaps a tad long at a smidge over two hours, Hindsight also probably has one or two hired killers too many. However, it is a genuinely fresh and mature spin on the gangster morality play. Lee and Song’s reputations should assure it will be programmed by many Asian and general interest film festivals around the country, but if the rights are available, an American distributor really ought to take a good hard look at it. Unexpectedly endearing, Hindsight helped launch the 2012 NYKFF in fine style last night. Screenings continue tonight and tomorrow (2/25 & 2/26) at the BAM Rose Cinema, two blocks from the Atlantic Avenue subway hub.