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.
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
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.