Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yeonghwa ’12: A Fish (Mulgogi)

You never know how much you will miss someone until they run off to become a shaman.  Just ask Professor Lee Jeon-hyuk.  He is determined to drag his wife home from her spiritual retreat, or so he thinks.  Things will get metaphysically messy in Park Hong-min’s A Fish (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Yeonghwa Korean film series at MoMA.

Lee has hired a cringy private detective to track down his wife.  He inspires little confidence, but evidently the gumshoe has found the missing spouse on southwestern Jindo Island.  The academic and the professional sleaze will share an awkward journey that is unlikely to produce a heartwarming reunion.  Meanwhile, two apparently unrelated bickering strangers find themselves deep-sea fishing together, even though they have no previous memories and no idea how they got there.

As a darkly cosmic story involving the sport of worm-drowning, A Fish would be a highly compatible companion film to Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyun’s iPhone-shot short Night Fishing.  In fact, it is almost exactly the same film, building up to remarkably similar revelations.  Yet, the Park Brothers’ big fish tale is told in a much more economical thirty minutes, even with the musical prologue.  However, Park Hong-min’s fish madness is distinguished by what might be the most unnecessary use of 3D to ever baffle bespectacled viewers.  Small in scope, but moody and murky in tone, Park’s approach to A Fish just does not cry out for the sensation of depth perception.

Lee Jang-hoon’s performance as Prof. Lee is about as uptight and tightly wound as is humanly possible, whereas Kim Sun-bin is just about as convincingly annoying as the detective.  While her character closely guards the film’s secrets, Choi So-eun at least suggests great depths of sensitivity as the wife turned shaman.  The entire cast fulfills their functions like good soldiers, but the overall battle plan never really comes together.

Though the primary players and shamanistic elements work well enough in context, A Fish tries too hard to be a mysterious mind-trip, losing sight of the fundamental human element.  Frankly, we feel like we have been down this lost highway before.  Best saved for fans of David Lynch and his imitators, A Fish screens today (9/22) and Wednesday (9/26) as part of Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today, now underway at MoMA.