This gorgeous, tender, and warmly funny update of a famous Buddhist tract manages the seemingly miraculous: to translate religious literature to the modern screen, and in terms catholic enough to make true believers of selected arthouse auds.
Helmer Jang Sun-Woo moves Ko Eun’s novel — already a retelling of the fifth century Avatamsaka Sutra — into the present by following one youngster on his Siddhartha-like journey. After Sonje (Oh Tae Kyung) loses his father, he wanders the craggy peaks and trash-strewn inlets of the Korean peninsula in search of the mother he never knew.
He meets a rascally monk, a saintly blind prostitute, a tough-talking doctor, a boy astronomer and a kind lighthouse-keeper. Sonje remains the same age as others grow old. The script doesn’t push any particular dogma to explain this phenomenon, and is, in fact, awash with contradictory impulses (hence the surprising amount of humor); few films have presented human life as a kind of erotic Oedipal death dance.
But even those puzzled by this episodic storyline will go gaga over Yu Young-Gil’s supernatural lensing, and all acting is entertainingly high gear. The only minus is that Lee Chong-Ku’s stately string music eventually gives way to soapy, all-too-secular synthesizers.
Korean lingo will make pic a tough sell to distribs even if high quality begs a try. Tape will prove a rare boon to theology students, but it will take a marketing crusade to give general auds religion.