The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well

This oddball item split the Dragons & Tigers Award (with the Chinese "Rainclouds Over Wushan") at Vancouver's '96 fest, and is likely to tickle other festgoers, even if its pleasures may prove too rarefied for arthouse auds, or even for conservative Koreans. Pic is best seen as an edgy sample of a literate streak and formal daring in new Seoul cinema. Fest response is assured, but this little "Pig" will otherwise stay home.

This oddball item split the Dragons & Tigers Award (with the Chinese “Rainclouds Over Wushan”) at Vancouver’s ’96 fest, and is likely to tickle other festgoers, even if its pleasures may prove too rarefied for arthouse auds, or even for conservative Koreans. Pic is best seen as an edgy sample of a literate streak and formal daring in new Seoul cinema. Fest response is assured, but this little “Pig” will otherwise stay home.

Actually, there are no porcine creatures in sight, and the only wells in this matte-black comedy are existential ones. The pic was devised by four writers, each given one major character to develop, although most of their dialogue was then improvised. They are a self-loathing failed novelist (Kim Eui-Sung) and his cool-tempered, married girlfriend (Lee Eun-Kyung); her salesman husband (Park Jin-Sung), who screws up big-time on a lonely road trip; and the pretty young woman (Jo Eun-Sook) who takes tickets at the local cinema and is in love with the failed novelist.

First-time helmer Hong Sang-Soo, who studied film in Chicago and L.A., somehow manages to keep this Seoul-ful jam session coherent, but the plot turns are tricky and there’s some messy stuff around every bend. The improv takes this central quartet of urban angsters to strange, sometimes contradictory places, and part of the fun comes from watching auds argue over the meaning of some particularly twisted segs, as when the husband – who may or may not have picked up an STD from a hooker – dreams of attending his own funeral. Trouble is, when everybody else shows up and the story keeps developing, you can’t be sure it is a dream.

Other scenes are more prosaic, and helmer is just as interested in the banal as in the fantastic. Particularly memorable is the evening in which the self-righteous novelist goes out with some former co-workers, drinks too much and proceeds to make a royal ass of himself. Pic’s surprisingly bloody denouement, in which a side player goes berserk for no comprehensible reason, smacks of youthful indulgence and looks like a last-minute add-on.

This doesn’t diminish the quirky, deadpan tone of what’s gone before, however. With its deep hues and abrupt shifts in tone (helped by sharp editing and moody music), “Pig” will be a treat for hard-core cinephiles even if it makes everyone else say, “Well …”

The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well

(DAIJIGA UMULE PAJINNAL)

Production: (SOUTH KOREAN) A Dong-A Export Co. production (Seoul) production, in association with Young-Sung Prods. Produced by Lee Woo-Seok, Lee Ho-Sung. Directed by Hong Sang-Soo. Screenplay, Hong, Chung Dae-Sung, Yeo Hae-Young, Alah Kim, Seo Shin-Hae.

Crew: Camera, Jo Dong-Kwan; editor, Park Kok-Li; music, Oak Kil-Sung. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 18, 1996. Running time: 115 MIN.

With: With: Kim Eui-Sung, Park Jin-Sung, Jo Eun-Sook, Lee Eun-Kyung.

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