This gloomy but strangely attractive debut feature is the work of South Korean writer-director Song Il Gon, who trained at Poland’s National Film School. The Polish influence can, perhaps, be found in “Flower Island’s” mixture of in-your-face realism and haunting poetry, making this overlong item of more than passing interest. Fests should roll out the welcome mat, though pic isn’t likely to win audience appreciation votes.
Looking as if it were shot on digital video, pic has a burnished, attractive look when it isn’t rubbing the viewer’s face in the worst excesses of contemporary life. This is especially so in the off-putting opening sequence, in which a 16-year-old girl (Hye-na Kim) aborts her baby in a public toilet. Without any preliminaries, two other women are introduced — a singer (Yoo-jin Im) diagnosed with terminal throat cancer and a prostitute (Joo-hee Seo) who quits the game when an elderly client dies in her bed.
The teenager and the prostie separately take a bus for the coast, heading for legendary Flower Island, where the teen hopes to find the mother she never knew and the prostitute her sister. But the bus driver, for totally obscure reasons, abandons the two women in a snowbound mountain area, and they’re forced to walk to the next town.
On the way they come across the car in which the singer has attempted suicide; they break in and save her life and she joins them on their odyssey.
Pic turns into a sort of road movie, as the three women bond and gain strength from one another on the long trek south. They meet members of a gay band, who give them a ride in their bus, and eventually wind up on the coast, where nothing is resolved quite the way they imagined it would be.
Song Il Gon will try the patience of many viewers with this slow-moving trip, but there are moments of beauty and humanity to lighten the emotional load. A mournful music score adds to the bleak mood of the film, which is notably well acted by the three women.
(Pic has since been re-edited and cut by 12 minutes. New version premiered this month at the Pusan festival, where it won the New Currents, Fipresci and Audience awards.)