Review: ‘Sa-Kwa’

Mun So-ri, who showed she is a cut above the chocolate-box quality of most young Korean actresses in "Oasis" and "A Good Lawyer's Wife," proves the main reason to watch "Sa-kwa." Light drama about an emotionally bruised woman caught on the rebound gains immeasurably from her subtle playing, which gives more emotional depth to the picture than is actually in first-time writer-director Kang Yi-kwan's script. Likely to show up in the fall fest calendar, pic has potential for specialist tube sales, especially if tightened by a reel or so.

Mun So-ri, who showed she is a cut above the chocolate-box quality of most young Korean actresses in “Oasis” and “A Good Lawyer’s Wife,” proves the main reason to watch “Sa-kwa.” Light drama about an emotionally bruised woman caught on the rebound gains immeasurably from her subtle playing, which gives more emotional depth to the picture than is actually in first-time writer-director Kang Yi-kwan’s script. Likely to show up in the fall fest calendar, pic has potential for specialist tube sales, especially if tightened by a reel or so.

Summarily dumped by Min-seok (Lee Seon-gyun), her b.f. of seven years, during a trip to Jeju island, translator Hyeon-jeong (Mun) can’t understand what’s hit her. When she pins him down again back in Seoul, Min-seok says he simply doesn’t love her.

Still in shock, she agrees to a date with Sang-hun (Kim Tae-woo), who works in the same building and has previously declared his interest in her. Eventually, almost without thinking about it, she agrees to marry him, and her parents loan them some coin for a house.

It’s only after Sang-hun temporarily moves to another town for work reasons, and Hyeon-jeong, now pregnant, visits him and his colleagues there, that strains start to show in the marriage. And back in Seoul, she just can’t stop bumping into her old flame, Min-seok.

With almost zero plot in a conventional sense, pic is all about moods and feelings — something like a less stylized, more natural version of the recent films of Hong Sang-soo. Thankfully, Kang never lets the drama get too heavy, and injects moments of subtle humor (such as Hyeon-jeong’s slightly crazy family) that help to explain the central character’s mindset.

Mun plays Hyeon-jeong with an appealing touch of spaciness, as a woman who needs to be needed and remains puzzled by the world’s refusal to conform to her own view of things. Given her constant indecision between the two men in the third act, it’s a role that could easily have become tiresomely self-centered in a lesser actress’ hands. But even though the script never makes it crystal clear exactly what Hyeon-jeong’s problem is, Mun just about pulls the character off through sheer screen presence.

The men fare more blandly, though Kim (the visiting friend in Hong’s “Woman Is the Future of Man”) has a naive charm that works best in the earlier stages.

Tech package is fine in a straightforward, unaffected way, and music is used sparingly but with emotional heft. Title, which does the film’s marketability no favors, is a Korean homonym that can mean both “apple” and “apology,” and refers to a scene that didn’t make it into the final cut.

Sa-Kwa

South Korea

Production

A Chungeorahm Film production. (International sales: Tube Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Park Gwan-su. Executive producer, Choi Yong-bae. Directed, written by Kang Yi-kwan.

Crew

Camera (color), Son Su-beom; editor, Park Yu-gyeong; music director, Shim Hyeon-jeong; production designer, Song Hye-jin; art director, Ryu Hyeon-jeong; costume designer, Kang Yun-shim; sound (Dolby Digital), Ryu Hyeon; assistant director, Lee Jae-pyeong; casting, Choi Cheol-woong. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 15, 2005. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Mun So-ri, Kim Tae-woo, Lee Seon-gyun.

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