IN PLAIN SIGHT

A fea­ture of the on­go­ing Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, a South Korean film on an ag­ing cou­ple draws at­ten­tion to a niche genre. Wang Kai­hao re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

South Korea’sMy Love, Don’t Cross That River opened the documentary sec­tion of the on­go­ing Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val on Sun­day.

Re­leased in 2014, the film, which has been shown at more than 40 such fes­ti­vals around the world, made its China de­but at the sixth edi­tion of the week­long Bei­jing film fes­ti­val that be­gan last week­end.

Jin Mo-young, the film’s 46-year-old di­rec­tor, comes across as some­one who pays lit­tle at­ten­tion to his ap­pear­ance, and his documentary that shines a light on South Korea’s ag­ing so­ci­ety, speaks for it­self.

He got the idea of shoot­ing the film from aKore­anTVpro­gram that fea­tured Jo Byeong­man, then 98, and his wife, Kang Kye-yeol, 89.

Un­til Jo’s death in 2013, the cou­ple had been mar­ried for 76 years, and Jin de­cided to fol­low them around for some 15 months in Ho­engseong county, Gang­won prov­ince, to ex­plore the “se­cret” of their love by doc­u­ment­ing their daily ac­tiv­i­ties.

“I never ex­pected it to be such a big hit,” Jin tells China Daily.

“In South Korea if a documentary at­tracts 10,000 view­ers to the cin­ema, it has al­ready done well.”

So far, his film re­mains the top-gross­ing documentary in SouthKorea, with more than 5 mil­lion do­mes­tic view­ers in a genre still con­sid­ered niche in many parts of the world.

Jin says he min­i­mized his in­ter­ven­tion in the film, al­low­ing scenes to nar­rate the cou­ple’s story, be­cause nei­ther the hus­band nor the wife looked cam­era-shy.

For in­stance, they openly shared their lone­li­ness that comes with chil­dren liv­ing away.

The film also has mo­ments when the el­derly cou­ple be­have like young lovers, an el­e­ment that Jin says has drawn young Kore­ans to the the­ater.

“Nearly half of the au­di­ence is young — peo­ple in their 20s and 30s. I didn’t ex­pect that. Many of them also rec­om­mended the film to their par­ents.”

Au­di­ence re­ac­tion to the film var­ied. Some peo­ple saw it as a love story, oth­ers as a par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship saga.

In the film, the cou­ple’s chil­dren are seen ar­gu­ing over is­sues like health­care for their par­ents.

The fam­ily agreed to make their thoughts pub­lic as it is “part of life”, says Jin.

“If I only re­vealed the pretty side of things, peo­ple would call it a fairy tale. But th­ese things (un­pleas­ant mo­ments) keep the film real and res­onate with au­di­ences.”

With cul­tural and so­cial sim­i­lar­i­ties in China and South Korea, in­clud­ing fam­ily struc­tures, he an­tic­i­pated the documentary would be re­ceived well by Chi­nese view­ers.

The long ap­plause af­ter the film’s screen­ing in Bei­jing seemed to point in that di­rec­tion.

But Jin says he didn’t want his film to look sim­i­lar to Boy­hood, the 2014 com­ing-of-age Amer­i­can movie made with the same cast over 12 years.

“It’s re­al­ity, not a show. Peo­ple like doc­u­men­taries be­cause every­thing is just what it is,” he says.

“The old cou­ple don’t ‘act’ and so they bring some­thing more nat­u­ral.”

China has so many top­ics that could be made into heavy­duty doc­u­men­taries, and Chi­nese filmmakers have the tech­nol­ogy, fa­cil­i­ties and the pas­sion to go big on them, but many doc­u­men­taries here are made in the for­mat of “records” rather than as sto­ry­telling projects, he says.

Ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try fo­rum at this year’s Bei­jing film fes­ti­val, more than 70 per­cent of Chi­nese doc­u­men­taries are on his­tor­i­cal themes, leav­ing less space for cur­rent so­ci­ety.

Jin’s next documentary is ex­pected to be on a deep-sea diver, for which his ap­proach would be more per­sonal than nar­ra­tive-based.

Still, he doesn’t know if that would match with My Love, Don’t Cross That River.

“Doc­u­men­taries en­joy very lit­tle pop­u­lar­ity in cin­e­mas no mat­ter in which country you show them, but they need a lot of re­sources and time to make.”

In China, sim­i­lar.

For ex­am­ple, Mr. Deng Goes to Wash­ing­ton, a documentary about Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing’s his­tor­i­cal visit to the United States in 1979, made 17 mil­lion yuan ($2.6 mil­lion) in box-of­fice rev­enues in 2015. But even so it fell short of mak­ing a profit.

While the Chi­nese mar­ket for com­mer­cial cin­ema is flour­ish­ing as the world No 2 af­ter the US, Jin says China should cre­ate more space to screen doc­u­men­taries.

“Documentary mak­ers just need to be per­sis­tent, and we can sur­vive.” the sit­u­a­tion

Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@ chi­nadaily.com.cn is

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

South Korean di­rec­tor Jin Mo-young presents his documentary MyLove,Don’tCrossThatRiver at the Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

MyLove,Don’tCrossThatRiver doc­u­ments the daily lives of an el­derly Korean cou­ple who were mar­ried for 76 years. Jin Mo-young, South Korean di­rec­tor

See the movie’s trailer by scan­ning the code.

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