Childhood is all about innocence. It is sometimes selfish but that selfishness is due to ignorance. Once there is a realisation that some emotions are vices and one should keep away from them, the process of growing up begins.
Kokdu: A Story Of Guardian Angels” is a film about such growing up events and grief. It speaks a lot about selfishness, death, grief. And it does this by combining the main story with the Korean funeral tradition Kokdu.
The Kokdu figurines are small statues placed on and around the funeral biers. These biers were used to transport people to the burial sites in the mountains. These figures could be many including a guide, a guard, a caregiver and an entertainer. It was believed that the Kokdus helped the dead on their journey to the other side, in turn offering solace to the mourners.
The story of the film is about Soo-min and Dong-min who sell the floral shoes of their grand mother to buy a puppy. Same day, the grandmother gets sick and while going to hospital, asks for her floral shoes. Watching their mother looking for the shoes all over the house, the siblings feel guilty for selling the grandmother’s shoes. They go back to look for it and somehow get into the other world where Kokdus are real.
The Kokdus mistakenly take the kids to be the ones they need to carry to the other side and play along with them in search of their grandmother’s shoes. In the process, the kids realise their mistake, they understand death, grief and mainly sacrifice and care for the loved ones.
The film seems to be a cinematic version of the new version of the traditional gugak musical “Kokdu” performed on stage with a mix of video, drama and gugak. It uses the live-action cinematic shoot for the story happening in the real world and theatre performance for the story happening in the underworld. Though interesting, it might undercut the experience for a pure cinema audience as the major part happens on the theatre stage. Once we get used to it, we get immersed in the story of Soo-min and Dong-min.
Kim Tae-yong executes this brave attempt to combine various traditional arts of Korea from the wooden figures of Kokdu, gugak music and Korean traditional performing arts to tell the traditional folklore story surrounding Kokdu. He handles every aspect with empathy, sensitivity and also with a touch of magic and grandeur keeping the innocence intact.
It is shot brilliantly by the cinematographer Park Hong-yeol. Being essentially a musical for the most part, music by Bang Jun-Suk plays a major role in the story telling.
Kim Su-an’s performance as Soo-min is awesome. Everyone else performed well too. Though the Kokd’s needed to perform like they do on stage, it feels little loud and amateurish when seen as cinema, although I guess it is done intentionally to keep the feel of the theatre intact.
This is a rare film where kids are shown to deal with a dark emotion like death and it does it with lite, humorous moments and still drives the message across successfully.
Overall, this is a good one time watch which enlightens us about death and dealing with grief in an entertaining and amusing way. However, the mixed format can be a deterrent for many.