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Too Young to Die

After "Lies" and several other productions, South Korean cinema pushes the sexual envelope again with "Too Young to Die," a kind of "Empire of the Senses," wrinklies style.

After “Lies” and several other productions, South Korean cinema pushes the sexual envelope again with “Too Young to Die,” a kind of “Empire of the Senses,” wrinklies style. Based on a real-life couple who fell in love in their 70s and found that sex still keeps them young, pic’s main claim to notoriety is showing two oldsters naked and going at it in reasonably energetic style. Initially eyebrow-raising but never shocking, thanks to their lack of embarrassment and sheer joie de vivre, pic could cut a small swathe through the fest circuit with limited cable sales to follow.

TV documaker Park Jin-pyo first met the two protags when making the series “Love” in 2001, and had the idea of making a scripted feature based on their actual story. Result is 70% written and dialogued (based on interviews with the couple), with the rest made up during the shoot. At only just over an hour long, the DV-shot movie is more scenes from a marriage than a fully-fledged drama, though both the characters prove to be extremely natural performers, without any awkwardness in front of the camera.

Park Chi-gyu is 73 and works in a small confectionery stall in the street; Lee Sun-ye is 72, and a trained Gyonggi-style folk singer-cum-drummer. They meet when Park chats up Lee on a public bench, and without much ado she moves in with him, bringing her drum and a bundle of clothes. After pledging their love for each other, and going through a self-administered ceremony, Park and Lee settle down to married life.

She teaches him how to sing traditional songs (especially the “Song of Youth” that runs through the film like an anthem to their relationship) and he teaches her how to write. They bathe together like kids, make love frequently (with Park delightedly marking the calendar each time), and have only one major row when she stays out late without warning. When she falls sick, however, he cares for her with total devotion.

Pic’s already notorious copulation scene comes 20 minutes in — a single, seven-minute take by a fixed camera, reportedly left behind at night by the filmmakers. Neither visually explicit nor remotely pornographic, the scene is more touching than exploitative, and frankly looks staged rather than (as is claimed by the filmmakers) the real McCoy.

The Latino music on the soundtrack gives the whole thing a joyful bounce that matches the couple’s attitude to life, and especially that of the spry Park as he gleefully eyes his lovemaking record on the calendar before doing knee-bends on the roof of his house. Lee is more of a cipher in the relationship — or perhaps not such a good performer.

Transfer from DV is clean, and looks acceptable on a bigscreen. Original Korean title roughly means “I Don’t Care If I Die!” — which just about sums up the couple’s attitude to life.

Too Young to Die

Critics Week / South Korea

  • Production: A Show-biz SnB presentation of a May Films production, in association with eStars. (International sales: Mirovision, Seoul.) Produced by Kim Hong-baek. Executive producer, Lee Mi-kyung. Directed by Park Jin-pyo. Screenplay, Lee Su-mi.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Jung Yong-woo; editor, Mun In-dae; music, Park Ki-heon; sound, (Dolby Digital); assistant directors, Lee Sang-hyun, Park Cheol-woo. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 18, 2002. Running time: 66 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Park Chi-gyu, Lee Sun-ye.
  • Music By: