A tale of loss and loneliness, memories and dreams and the dichotomy between life and art. Various unrelated people relate their personal tragedies to a seemingly dispassionate protagonist until we piece together his own story, and the film feeds back on itself; we end where we entered but now enlightened. A trailer may be viewed on YouTube:
‘Shades of a Heart’ is a rather slow-paced movie, somewhat in the style of fellow Korean director Hong Sang-soo. The supporting characters, detached from each other, give the film a vague European, existential air, while the cinematography and use of colour remind me of Hong Kong’s Wong Kai-wai, who also explores similar themes.
What follows is my interpretation of the film and as such, I shall be writing about the film beginning to end.
Watching the first time, I did find the film a little slow in places probably because we learn so little about the main character, Chang-seok. However, by the end I knew I had to rewatch the movie. My second viewing was now informed by my first. Yes, it was well worth the time.
The film is divided into six unequal chapters, four devoted to the supporting cast, one as a voice-over, and only at the end in chapter six do we learn about Chang-seok. Most chapters take place in one location, giving the film a theatrical quality.
Imagine a black stage. We hear a male voice saying that he sees himself, from behind, walking next to an old woman. His wife ? Mother ?
Cut to Chapter One, Mi Yeong
A café that is located in an underpass or subway. A young lady is sleeping, resting against the glass, then wakes. Our first view of Chang-seok is a close-up of the book he is reading. Immediately, we have themes of dreaming and literature. Suddenly the camera angle changes, and their positions are reversed. Mi Yeong is now camera right, Chang-seok on the left. We also view them from outside the café, giving a disconcerting, distancing effect.
After apologising for sleeping, Mi Yeong (played by K-Pop star IU) asks the man why he sits with her when there are so many empty chairs. He is here to meet her; they have been set up, a blind date which gets off to a bad start when she sees the book. Mi Yeong doesn’t trust fiction, as it is made up. Chang-seok is a writer. He makes up a story for her, about a tramp who revisits a hotel where he used to rent a whole suite. Only the old bellhop remembers him. A throwaway story, but another chance to introduce themes of loss and memory.
Mi Yeong appears bored and about to sleep. Before doing so, she tells about her boyfriend, how they met in this very café on a blind date. She then warns Chang-seok not to smoke, as his father had done.
Short focus lens, representing reality and unreliable memory.
“So now you recognise me ?” he asks.
The camera cuts back to the former reverse angle, only now, Mi Yeong has been replaced by an old woman. She has been reliving her meeting with Chang-seok’s father, who has now passed away. We see her wedding ring. Mi Yeong is not some flighty sassy girl, but a grieving, possibly ill, elderly lady.
Look around the café; solitary people sit, reading books or newspapers. One man even plays a board game alone. Loneliness, literature and loss.
We cut to an street scene and get a little of Chang-seok’s backstory. He has returned to Korea after seven years, and has noticed how people have aged. His mother, we learn, will live in a nursing home. Yet, this voice-over doesn’t seem to be addressed to us, the audience, or to a friend. Is Chang-seok making notes for a new novel ?
Yoo Jin is the next character we meet. Spring, we learn, is late this year, and the colours are still deep burgundy and brown as Chang-seok waits for this young lady who works for his publisher. We learn that she worked for him as editor, so they have a professional history. Yoo Jin feels that his last novel was too personal to be fiction, even though the main character dies, which could be a reference to Chang-seok’s emotional life. Something has been lost, but we, at this stage, still have few clues, only that he feels he has no more stories to tell.
Yoo Jin is dismissive of her CEO’s work, and is referred to as ‘harsh,’ and ‘cold.’ However, when she sees a dying bird, she appears troubled and sympathetic. Meanwhile, we see a middle-aged lady talking to herself, muttering about the wind, and asking to hold hands.
A short time later, as they are smoking (Chang-seok has ignored his mother’s warning), we hear Yoo Jin tell her story, about having an Indonesian boyfriend. She got pregnant and had an abortion.
Chang-seok doesn’t immediately react and when he does, it is with a non sequitur, an anecdote about Buzz Aldrin’s book (more literature) ‘Return to Earth,’ meaning that it is harder to return than to leave. Clearly he is speaking about himself.
Yoo Jin fails to see how this connects with her story.
We cut to night scenes, Chang-seok eats in a restaurant, while some women are using sign language in the background. Communication, the need to connect. We see a bar, a close up of a ship in the window. Chang-seok decides not to have a drink. Instead he goes to a phone box, but it has been vandalised. No communication is possible.
Part Four is where we meet Sung Ha, a middle-aged man and former acquaintance. Chang-seok is working on his laptop in another café, and the two meet by chance. Sung Ha seems very upbeat, a little too much, as if it were forced. As Yoo Jin masked her pain by a cold exterior, Sung Ha is the reverse. We see he carries cyanide with him, which he will take when he wife dies.
Sung Ha’s wife has been in a coma and, desperate for any remedy, he sees a Buddhist monk and follows his instructions. Incredibly, the wife seems to have come out of the coma and has opened her eyes.
Then Sung Ha excuses himself as he has a phone call. In that time, Chang-seok takes the cyanide bottle. Sung Ha returns and says he must go to the hospital. His wife has just died.
Ju Eun is the lead in part five. She is working a quiet bar, has short black hair, wears black and has tattoos. Additionally, one eye seems lighter. She exudes an air of coolness, aloofness and indifference. Tonight is, she informs Chang-seok, her last night, so he can stay as long as he likes.
Chang-seok is writing in a notebook, and tells Ju Eun that he is waiting for someone (rather than admit to being alone), but his story doesn’t convince her at all.
Ju Eun likes that he uses pen and paper in this modern age, saying that she uses a voice memo app to record ideas, then transcribes them later. She writes poetry based on her customer’s stories. If the stories are boring, she invents a reason why they are boring.
Without waiting for the question, Ju Eun opens up, explaining that she was in a serious accident, where she lost her eye, was scared on her chest and has lost most of her memory. She offers free drinks to customers who ‘sell’ her a memory which she can record, a form of a Faustian pact.
Chang-seok’s memory story is, perhaps predictably, disappointing and uninspired, yet it pleases Ju Eun. They drink together. Ju Eun’s favourite glass is shown to be chipped, imperfect. She kids him again about waiting for a friend; she has heard all the stories. Chang-seok doesn’t ask her about her future plans
The final part is where we learn about Chang-seok. At home, on his desk, sit the cyanide. He leaves the apartment and goes to a phone box, calling his wife in England. The background music is unobtrusive but ominous.
During the conversation, the wife, who is also Korean, says she misses him and agrees to get back together.
“Soo-yeon misses her Daddy.” This stops Chang-seok, and he tells his wife that their daughter is dead. The wife dismisses this, saying that their child is sleeping next to her. However, the unemotional voice leads us to believe that she hasn’t accepted the death and still thinks the child is alive.
Chang-seok knows that both his daughter and, at least for now, his wife are gone. This can explain why he appeared so indifferent to Yoo Jin’s confession. At home, he prepares the cyanide.
We cut to the blue light of dawn, a new day, new hope. Chang-seok walks past the bar, the toy boat still prominently displayed in the window. He looks up. In the distance, an old man is helping an old lady to walk up a street. Is this Chang-seok in the future ? Does he find happiness with a new wife, or does he reconnect with his present one ?
The picture turns black and white. Suddenly the woman from the Yoo Jin sequence appears, but now she has a small boy with her. The boy is carrying the toy boat, from the bar, and the mother tells him to hold her hand, to stop him losing her.
We see Chang-seok writing. He has a new idea for a novel. He is writing about the happiness he lacks, literature is creating a life. A made up life is better than no life.
He is with his wife. They still love and care for each other after all these years. A young mother is so happy, her son is her entire life. We hear the lines from the beginning, Chang-seok sees himself from behind, he is both observer and observed.
‘Shades of a Heart’ keeps the audience guessing until the very end when we have to re-evaluate Chang-seok and his life. We know things are not what they seem when Mi Yeong transforms from a young girl to an elderly lady, but we are kept waiting until the end for the emotional release, the tears about the dead daughter, the dying mother and a mentally scarred wife.
Kim Jong-kwan has made a film that demands several viewings to appreciate its beauty, delicacy and pain.
Another belated obituary, this time for the Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk.
One of the few Korean films I have seen at the cinema is his ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring‘ from 2003, which tells the life of a Buddhist monk in a secluded temple.
The film uses long takes to convey the slow passage of time, while the scenic lake and mountains add to the tranquility despite worldly temptations and intrusions into the retreat.
His first international success was his fourth film, ‘The Isle‘ from 2000. Hee-jin is a mute who operates a floating resort where people can live alone. One day a man wanted by the police arrives, and hides out at the isle.
The two become close although, typically in art house movies, the ending is open; we see them floating away but have to decide for ourselves what their future holds.
‘3-Iron‘ was released in 2004, telling about the unconventional relationship between a housebreaker, Tae-suk, and an abused housewife, Sun-hwa.
The film can be taken literally, or interpreted in several ways. A popular theory is that Sun-hwa invents Tae-suk as a way of protecting herself from her violent husband. The fact that the two never exchange even one word during the film could support that view.
The beauty of such works, what distinguishes a work of art is the very fact that the viewer has to be personally involved, almost to be a co-writer. Any theory is valid provided it can be supported by evidence from within the film.
Kim Ki-duk won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Best Director with this film.
Kim ki-duk made over thirty films, but my favourite is 2004’s ‘Samaritan Girl‘ which was one of the first films I watched when I began to seriously explore Korean Cinema.
The subject is teenage prostitution, one girl acts as pimp, the other provides the service until they can save enough money for a trip to Europe. I shall not spoil the plot in case you want to see the film.
At the Berlin Film Festival, the film won the Silver Bear, the second-place award.
Kim Ki-duk’s films are controversial, not just for subject matter, sex and violence, but some films show animal cruelty, which brought him into conflict with various censor boards.
I didn’t know too much about Kim’s personal life until I began to look online after I heard about his passing.
I discovered that he had been accused of physical and sexual violence. From what I have read, Kim was charged and fined for physical violence against an actress, but due to lack of evidence, there were no further charges. More details can easily be accessed online.
One has to state that these are allegations, and I have no way of knowing the truth. Nevertheless, it is very disturbing and distressing. As such, I felt I couldn’t call this a tribute. Instead, I wanted to highlight some Korean films that I have enjoyed, challenging films from a controversial director.
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As a prelude to some blogs about my favourite Korean films, I would like to post a little tribute to one of my favourite actors, Lee Eun-ju (also known as Lee Eun-joo). The actress, who was also a talented pianist, appeared in some of my favourite Korean films of the early 2000s.
Lee Eun-ju was born in Gunsan, south-west Korea, on December 22nd 1980, and studied piano when she was at school. At sixteen, she won a modelling contest. From there, she moved into TV dramas and then movies.
One of her earliest roles was in Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors” (2000). This art film, shot in black & white, tells the story of how two people meet, and is told in flashbacks showing different perspectives and while some events are similar, others are very different.
The film is one of my top Korean movies. Anthony Leong writes that Lee Eun-ju “delivers the standout performance,” and her charisma is “one of the highlights,” of the film.
The following year, Lee Eun-ju appeared in the reincarnation love-story, ‘Bungee Jumping of their Own’ (2001). She plays a shy girl who falls in love, eventually, with a young man with whom she shares an umbrella during a storm. However, after planning to meet one day, she fails to appear and is never seen again. I will not spoil the film (too much) but many years later, the young man, now a teacher, meets a boy student who shares many of his old lover’s mannerisms.
The theme of boy meets girl – falls in love – one of them dies is stepped up a notch in another one of my personal favourite Korean films, ‘Lovers’ Concerto’ (2002). I even watched it (again) last night, to prepare for this blog. Lee Eun-ju shows her acting skills, as she portrays a young lady who is by turns spoilt, unreasonable, tender, loving and so fragile. With her charm and charisma, she really lights up the screen.
Unfortunately, Lee Eun-ju found her last film, The Scarlet Letter’ (2004) a very traumatic experience, along with the subsequent poor reception and backlash. The film, her family assert, caused her to fall into a deep depression, exacerbated by insomnia. On February 22 2004, Lee Eun-ju took her own life. She was only twenty-four.
How heartbreaking that someone with so much to offer should be so unhappy. How heartbreaking to think of all the films she could have made. How amazing that an actress with just thirteen film credits should be in two of my absolute favourites.
Thank you so much … miss you so much
매우 감사합니다 ... 당신이 너무 그리워
Lee Eun-ju 1980 – 2004
Leong, Anthony C.Y. ‘Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong’ (2002) Trafford
Various exercises for you to practise grammar, both past simple and past continuous. Answer follow the photos.
Past Tense exercises
Past simple: most common way of talking about the past.
Regular verbs just add –ed e.g. walk = walked / look = looked / play = played
Past continuous: was / were + verbing e.g. I was playing / We were looking
Irregular verbs not used in past continuous e.g. we were seeing a film OR we saw a film NOT we were sawing a film.
Present perfect– talk about an action that happened in the past
subj + have/has + verb3 (past participle).
Past perfect – talking about two actions, both in the past, one before the other
e.g. I had listened to the CD before I saw the band play live.
Subj + had + verb3
The verb ‘to be’
I am / I was // you are / you were // he, she, it is / was // they, we are / were
Past tense / Shakespeare exercise
Change these lines into the past:
1 In Act One, Romeo ….. (is) in love with _________
2 Benvolio ……… (try – past continuous) to stop the fight.
3 The Prince ………. (demand – past perfect) to see Capulet before seeing Montague.
4 Romeo, Mercutio & Benvolio ……. (are) in the street talking.
5 The two families …… …. (be, present continuous) been fighting for years.
6 Romeo ….. (ask) the Nurse who Juliet is.
7 Mercutio & Benvolio …… (do, not) know Romeo was in love with Juliet.
8 The famous ‘balcony’ scene … (take) place in Act 2.
9 The Friar ……. ……. (go, past perfect) out collecting flowers.
10 At the end of Act 2, Romeo and Juliet …… (are) married.
1) was (Rosaline) 2) was trying 3) had demanded 4) were 5) have been 6) asked 7) did not (didn’t) 8) took 9) had gone 10) were
Past tense exercise
Change the verb form – can be:
past simple (think about regular & irregular verbs)
past continuous (verb + ing)
present perfect (subject + have/has + verb3)
past perfect (subject + had + verb3)
It is …. a hot, Sai Gon night. The wind blow …….. up from the river, but the humidity drive ….. me crazy. Sweat pour ……… down my back.
I were walk …………. by the Old Town, lanterns were light ……. and sway ….. in the breeze. I … visit …….. an old friend before I decide ………. to take this long, steamy walk. I …. live ……….. here over two years, but everyday, I am almost
kill ……. by crazy motorbikes. I need …. .. a coffee and see …… a cafe over the road. As I were cross ……………….. the street, a motorbike race …….. towards me. If I ……. jump ……… aside, he would …present perfect…. hit …. me. But that were …… his idea.
He turn ….. around and pull …… out a gun, aim …… and fire ……… . I ……. ……….(be) present perfectshot at more times than I care to remember, I know …….. the score; duck and run. I run …… .I ………did, (negative) have time to think. I can … think later – if I am still alive. I make …. it into the coffee shop, and were look ……. out the window across the street.
The shooter were dress …… all in black and keep …… his helmet on. He were walk …………. this way. Quickly, I look ……. around. Were there another exit ? Can …. I escape by a back door ? Yes ! I ……. be (past perfect) ……here…before. I remember ………. a fire exit on the first floor. I leap …… for the stairs, just as the shooter were about to open the door.
Answers: was / blew / drove / poured // was walking / lit / swayed / visitid / decided / lived // killed / needed / saw / was crossing / raced / jumped / have hit / was // turned / pulled / aimed / fired / I have been shot at / knew / ran / didn’t / could / was / made / looked // was dressed / kept / was walking / looked / was / Could / had been / remembered / lept
Here are 7 verbs in the PRESENT. Choose the correct verb AND use it in the correct tense.
teach / live / go / see / drink / am / have
Harry (1) …….. drinking tea yesterday, when he (2) ……. an idea. I haven’t (3) …….. my neighbours how to drink tea. I am sure they will be happy. They have not (4) …… to the UK yet. I have (5) …. in many cities in England. Now I am in Viet Nam. I have (6) …. many wonderful sights, but I have never (7) …… a cup of good, English tea.
Answers: 1) was 2) had 3) taught 4) been 5) lived 6) seen 7) drunk
Put the present tense verbs into past continuous
EXAMPLE Linh drinks tea – Linh was drinking tea
1 Tina watches TV
2 Sam shouts, ‘Oh, no!’
3 My father plays football
4 Bella designs a beautiful dress
5 The cat sings karaoke all night long !
6 Paul listens to The Beatles
7 Anna buys an Apple.
Answers: 1) was watching 2) was shouting 3) was playing 4) was designing 5) was singing 6) was listening 7) was buying
75 % of verbs are REGULAR – just add -ed to form past tense
once in a blue moon / not as much as I use to / not as much as I’d like to / from time to time / now and then / occasionally / only in my dreams !
How often do you:
Watch foreign films ?
See your boss smile ?
Play badminton ?
Hang out with friends ?
Go to the movies ?
Get a pay rise ?
and / as well as / and also / along with
These link positives or negatives:
I like tea as well as coffee He plays football and also badminton
Big C is quite cheap and also has a great choice
but / however / having said that / on the other hand
These link positives to negatives / negatives to positives:
Jet Mart is convenient. Having said that, it is (it’s) extremely expensive.
Czech beer is not easy to find in Sai Gon, however it’s fantastic quality.
‘therefore’ is a conclusion word:
King BBQ is outstanding and has a magnificent salad bar. Mr Park is reasonable (so-so) quality, but more expensive. Therefore, we will eat at King BBQ in future.
Theme: coffee in Sai Gon
There are so many choices in Sai Gon. Tran Nguyen has the best quality but is very expensive. On the other hand, Milano is incredibly cheap and very convenient however, many people smoke there. Highlands is really popular. Having said that, it is not cheap. Street coffee is extremely cheap but terrible quality !
Last Friday, I went out for dinner with Claire and Helen. Helen’s got a new job so we went out to celebrate. Claire booked a table for 7.30pm at her favourite Italian restaurant in town. When we arrived, the waiter showed us to our table, gave us some menus and took our drinks order. We were really hungry so we decided to have a starter and a main. We placed our order and chatted for a while. Our garlic bread soon arrived. We were hungry, so it disappeared very quickly! Next, the waiter brought our mains. He said, “Buon Appetito!”, which is Italian for ‘Enjoy your meal!’. Claire and Helen chose pasta and I had pizza. The food was delicious, but I couldn’t manage a dessert! Claire and Helen had some ice cream, but I just had a coffee. I can’t wait to go again!
‘Shadow Sonata’ was my first film shot in London since the early 1990s, and how things have changed. I started with a Bell & Howell 8mm cine camera, splicing film by hand and playing back on a projector; now I was working on a pocket digital camera and cutting on computer.
The title is a reference to the short story collection ‘Shadows of a Sound’ by the Korean writer Hwang Sun-woo, an author mentioned in the Korean film ‘My Sassy Girl,’ and the book plays a key part in the film. The influence of Asia and Asian culture should be discernible throughout.
‘Shadow Sonata’ is a non-linear story of a man living in London, obsessed by an old love affair, while dreaming his way out of his depression. The topography of London helps the viewer place the action in the past, the present, and what could be the future, or pure imagination.
The Man starts by meeting his blonde girlfriend by an old museum in Walthamstow, north-east London. From the sunny exterior we move to the inside of his small London bedsit, decorated with Asian posters, and full of books by Asian writers.
He walks around London, alone, the city appearing grey, cold, emotionless. He keeps seeing a beautiful Asian lady and feels very attracted to her … if only he could meet her.
I shot this film over two days on my Samsung W200, a camera that cost me around 80 UKP. It lasted until 2017 when it just died on me but anyway, mobile phones now have better cameras (I currently use an iPhone 6s).
Furthermore, I was very lucky with the weather; I had bright sun for the flashback sequence and dull wet grey rain for the present.
The was for the old love affair was played on an instrument I encountered in Sweden, a nyckleharpa:
The dream or future sequence uses ‘Oriental’ from Granados’ ‘Spanish Dances’, while the melancholic ending is a late String Quartet by Beethoven. These small scale pieces fascinate me, especially considering they followed the epic 9th Symphony … but that is possibly a theme for another blog or film.
As always, thanks so much to the actors who gave their time for free:
Mr Martin O’Shea, Ms Michelene P. Heine, Mr Stephen Grey, Mr Alex Loveridge, Ms Angie and introducing Ms Emily Yue.