The lives of the protagonists in “Beautiful Days,” which opened the 23rd Busan International Film Festival, are anything but beautiful.
“It was originally called ‘Eomma (Mom),' but I liked the irony of the new title. It represents the hopes of what may come to be … It is the opposite of what the mother goes through in the movie, but it is a story of a hopeful future,” director Yun Jero said on his newest family drama at a press conference Thursday, ahead of the BIFF’s opening ceremony.
The movie features a young Korean-Chinese man, Zhen Chen (Jang Dong-yoon), who goes to South Korea in search of his mother (Lee Na-young), who ran away from home when he was a child. He finds the woman working as a hostess at a bar, which infuriates him.
But from his mother’s notebook, Zhen Chen soon learns of her tragic past, which includes being a North Korean refugee, being sexually extorted by her boss, being sold to Zhen’s father as a bride, and much darker secrets.
The film’s main message is oddly reminiscent of the recently thawing relations between the Koreas, a similarity the director acknowledged.
“Just as the South and the North (Koreas) are now getting started, I wanted to show (the story) in a positive light,” said Yun. ““The ending of the film delivers a positive message to the audience: When a relationship goes awry, the first step you should take is to meet and work things out.”
While the flick depicts two broken families, filled with broken souls, it still makes the audience feel the importance of family. Yun does this through what he does best, which is to point the camera at the people who don’t quite fit in.
Carrying the plot is a wonderful performance by Lee, whose depiction of a multilayered character captures the essence of a person who is forever walking the line.
“I didn’t think of the mother in a traditional image. What she’s been through from early on in her life, the emotions that have piled up until she became what she is, these are all shown in the cold, calm demeanor of the ‘mother’ today,” she said, noting that her character in the flashback scenes expresses more emotion than in the present day.
“I felt (in the script) the woman’s need to compose herself in a survival situation, and I wanted to express that,” Lee said.
Lee Na-young speaks after the world premiere of “Beautiful Days” in Busan on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Lee’s portrayal of a former North Korean refugee, showing the changes she goes through, is one of the most convincing in Korean cinema.
While the protagonist of the story is her son, her presence is what carries the film. It is ironic that her name is never mentioned, nor is that of any other major character except for Zhen Chen.
Director Yun said it was intentional because former defectors, those “living on the edge,” seldom use real names.
This actually helps, in a way, to fully immerse the audience in the story. The movie is very calm, refraining from any form of dramatization. The power and intensity come from the force of the brutal reality that it depicts.
Which is why this film feels so powerful and real: Despite being fictional, the perils that the countless mothers, Zhen Chens and their families go through are cold reality -- undoubtedly drawn from Yun’s past work as a documentary director.
“Beautiful Days” is oddly reminiscent of Yang Ik-jun’s brilliant 2009 film “Breathless,” which also deals with a harsh reality with brutal honesty and manages to fill it with heart.
“It is a film that asks questions about family, separation and reunion,” said Yun.
From left: Jay Jeon, director of BIFF, Yun Jero, director of “Beautiful Days,” and the cast of the film pose for a photo during a press conference at the festival in Busan on Thursday. (Yonhap)
BIFF runs until Oct. 13, featuring 324 films from 79 countries. It will also feature the world premieres of 115 films, including the opening piece and the closing film “Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy” by Yeun Woo-ping.
For more details on the festival, visit www.biff.kr.
From left: Jay Jeon, director of BIFF, Yun Jero, director of “Beautiful Days,” and the cast of the film pose for a photo during a press conference at the festival in Busan on Thursday. / Yonhap
Lee Na-young speaks after the world premiere of “Beautiful Days” in Busan on Thursday. / Yonhap