“They say people remember only what they want to.”

After his documentary “Moving” (2011), his new feature “Old Love”, which was screened at many festivals such as Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019, marks a return to feature filmmaking for South-Korean director Park Ki-yong. In a recent interview, Park mentions how the shooting of the film coincided with the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, an event which defined his home country in many ways. He explains how he saw the chance to capture something of vital importance for Korean history and ultimately decided to include the demonstrations in one sequence of his film.

Perhaps this event and Park’s decision can be seen as typical for an artist who defines his way of working as dependent on story and place. In the case of “Old Love” he had been interested in the nature of time as experienced by people and the dilemma as a result of past and present clashing with one another. “I personally have both sides in me: I want to go back while I know I can’t and I also want to move forward. That’s especially true if there is pain the present and the only way to deal with it in the short term is to hark back to the past … “ To Park this dilemma is a “cage” to many people and the characters in his film experience it as they meet again after a long time of not seeing each other.

Old Love screened at Osaka Asian Film Festival

It is a cold winter’s day outside Incheon airport as Yoon-hee (Yoo Jung-ah) and Jung-soo (Kim Tae-hoon) meet each other as they go for a smoke. After their relationship ended many years ago, both have gone different ways in their lives with Yoon-hee immigrating to Canada to work there and Jung-soo pursuing his dreams in the field of theater. Surprised to see the other person and taken aback to a time when they were young, they agree to meet again to have dinner to talk about the past as well as where their lives have taken them for the past years.

However, meeting their former lover again leads to more than feelings of nostalgia for each of them. As both have to face tragedies and important decisions in the present, they think again of how they were. Feelings of regret, but also reignited affection make them question how life would have been and if there is a way to correct the course it has taken.

In one of the early scenes, during their first date after so many years, Yoon-he and Jung-soo are walking through a park as they suddenly recognize a place where they used to meet back when they were still together. The ancient pagoda, as Yoon-he remarks, has been surrounded by glass which was not the case before. Jung-soo, whose facial expression and gestures suggest his mind is in the past, seems also irritated by this intrusion of the present. Even though his explanation – the glass helps to preserve the pagoda – comes quickly, the logic of it fails to cover the disappointment due to the obvious, inevitable change which has taken place. While both share a moment observing the now changed space of their shared past, a religious ceremony takes place at the pagoda, as the stream of time and life continues around them.

Evidently, time has become what Kiyong has defined as a “cage” for his two protagonists. Several images highlight their exclusion from the surrounding world, perhaps most significantly in the scenes showing Yoon-he in the midst of a demonstration for the impeachment of President Park. The present has become a constant reminder of their failures, shortcomings and guilt, a bringer of pain, especially now since the other person comes as a memory of a younger, idealistic and more hopeful version of themselves. An attempt to re-capture this lost time, or re-connect with this former self, inevitably leads to some sort of escapism. Fittingly, Jung-soo quotes the obligatory lines from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (“To be or not to be”) and suddenly stops, perhaps realizing this is an action belonging to his past, but also the irony of the text in the context of his situation.

Given the concept of time for the characters, most of the spaces they occupy is temporary and transitional. In long takes, stations, airports, hospitals, parks, restaurants or parking decks constitute the surrounding of these two “time-less” characters. Even their belongings are of a temporary nature as Yoon-he has a rented cell phone and lives in a hotel room after an argument with her brother. Consequently, loss of time equals loss of home, which may serve as an explanation for the characters’ uncertainties and shyness mirrored in Tsutomu Ogawa’s documentary-like cinematography and Hiroyuki Nagashima’s beautiful music.

In the end, “Old Love” is not so much a story about love, but about the influences of time, distance and space which define our lives. Featuring great cinematography and music, along with two wonderfully vulnerable central performances, “Old Love” is a truly masterful work which will surely captivate his audience.

Sources:

1) An interview with Park Kiyong
https://www.filmdoo.com/blog/2018/10/27/an-interview-with-park-kiyong/ , last accessed on: 04/06/2019

2) Another interview with the director http://www.hangulcelluloid.com/parkkiyonginterview.html, last accessed on: 04/06/2019

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Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.