Leaden helming turns cultural significance into aud indifference in “The Passion of a Man Called Choe Che-u.” Producer-director-writer Stanley Park spins a portrait of a 19th-century religious figure known for his “Eastern learning,” a theological stance that smacked of “poisonous” Western thought to the Joseon era’s Confucian leaders. Choe has subsequently inspired many generations of Koreans to rebel against oppression, but this pedagogic pic, which breaks Billy Wilder’s famous filmmaking commandment “Thou shalt not bore,” seems unlikely to generate similar passion either domestically or abroad.
After title cards explain the historical context, film critic-turned-helmer Park pays homage to “The Passion of Joan of Arc” by confining his film to a handful of shots, some executed with a Carl Theodor Dreyer-inspired tilt. Most, like an early scene in which a bound and bloodied Choe (Park Sung-jun) is reprimanded by a pacing inquisitor (Song Kung-yea), are just long and dull. Park likewise shows no facility for working with thesps. Given Korea’s increasingly conservative political climate, this poorly realized film may be considered brave by fest programmers, given the helmer’s call for political expression.