Review: ‘Man Watching Video’

A man looking for peace after his divorce finds real life keeps invading his space in "Man Watching Video," an intriguing character study centered on the denizens of a small vidstore. Set during a single winter, pic is an interesting first feature by Kim Hak-soon. Film well deserves further fest dates.

A man looking for peace after his divorce finds real life keeps invading his space in “Man Watching Video” (aka “Rewind”), an intriguing character study centered on the denizens of a small vidstore. Set during a single winter, and with a quiet, unarty appeal and gentle irony, pic is an interesting first feature by Kim Hak-soon, a former fine arts student who studied film Stateside before returning to South Korea to teach media communications at Seoul’s Sogang U. Film well deserves further fest dates, though its qualities are perhaps too low-key to attract wide attention beyond Korean movie buffs.

Billed only as “the video man,” main character (Jang Hyeon-seong, from “Butterfly”) is a former lawyer who’s dropped out following his divorce and now runs one-man neighborhood vidstore. He’s so at peace with himself that he happily cycles around chasing down overdue rentals and giving customers a further week’s grace.

One day, in the shop’s dropbox, he finds a letter from an anonymous woman who confesses her fascination for him. He throws it away, but more keep arriving (their content heard in female voiceover). When one asks him to stick a piece of blue paper in the vidstore window if he’s read any of the letters, he does.

Meanwhile, other small events keep impinging on his self-imposed isolation. His ex-wife asks his opinion on whether she should remarry; a young woman who claims she’s being stalked takes refuge in the shop; a tramp keeps coming by asking for 300 won (25 ¢) to buy a drink; and an embarrassed customer, Park Hye-jeong (Pang Eun-jin), asks if her mother accidentally returned the wrong tape. Another regular, a raunchy bar owner who calls herself “Miss Shin” (Sah Hyeon-jin) invites him for a meal to pay off her tab.

Jang’s reined-in perf manages to make the “video man” a friendly enough character to attract the attention of these various women, while retaining a priest-like distance from close relationships.

Aside from a brief misstep halfway through — a fantasy sequence that’s out of kilter with the overall tone — this is a pic of considerable charm, part of which derives from it always being teasingly out of reach of easy categorization. Auds looking for simple resolutions and clearly defined relationships are likely to be frustrated, as the film is basically about a man who’s content not to have any goals in life and is misunderstood by those that have.

Pang, best known as the obsessive foodie in Park Chul-soo’s black comedy “301 302” (1995), is a mature match for the restrained Jang, and Sah adds some character color as the lonely bar owner.

Tech credits are well-honed at all levels, with Paeng Eui-deok’s lensing taking on a wintry bloom in the later stages, as the film skirts meller territory.

Man Watching Video

Production

A BK Cinema production, in association with Do Son Dream Pictures. (International sales: BK Cinema, Seoul.) Produced by Kim Hak-soon. Executive producer, Lee Suk-gi. Directed by Kim Hak-soon. Screenplay, Kim, Lim Yeong-tae, based on Lim's book.

Crew

Camera (color), Paeng Eui-deok; editor, Lee Eun-su; music, Jeong Hun-yeong; art directors, Kim Woo-taek, Kim Na-yeong, Nan Hyeon-ah; sound (Dolby Digital), Son Seok-hyeon. Reviewed on videocassette, Montreal, Aug. 30, 2003. (In Montreal World Film Festival -- Cinema of Asia.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Jang Hyeon-seong, Pang Eun-jin, Oh Yun-hong, Sah Hyeon-jin.
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