Vet South Korean helmer Aum Jong Sun has a good chance to move beyond the global fest circuit with “Two Flags,” an affecting wartime drama that could click with arthouse ticket buyers.
Pic has the earthy humor, narrative simplicity and tragic inevitability of a peasant folk tale. Acting is strong across the board, with particularly impressive work coming from Yun Chong Hee, one of South Korea’s top B.O. draws.
Yun plays a middle-aged farm widow whose thatched cottage is unfortunately situated on the front line of the Korean War. She carefully follows the movements of the opposing armies, and always flies the flag of whichever side has troops in the area.
An elderly farmer (Chang Dong Hwi) appears on her doorstep and blusters his way into her bed. But he’s exiled to the unheated guest house when another stranger — a younger, stronger war survivor (Kim Hyong Ill) — shows up. The widow figures she’s better off as the bed mate of the younger man, who’s hearty enough to cut down trees for firewood. He’s also better, apparently, at other household chores.
Then another refugee, a young woman (Shin Young Jin), arrives. She takes up with the old farmer, immediately arousing the jealousy of the widow and her young lover. One thing leads to another, and the four characters wind up fighting in the barnyard — a small-scale version of the civil war that’s raging around them.
“Two Flags” is immensely satisfying both as darkly ironic metaphor and emotionally involving tragedy. It easily achieves a universal resonance by being scrupulously specific about its period, setting and characters.
Lee Sung Sup’s sharp cinematography and Lee Myong Su’s evocative art direction greatly enhance the dead-of-winter ambiance. Other tech credits are first-rate.