South Korean experimentalist Roh Gyeong-tae delivers a decidedly mixed bag with his sophomore outing “Land of Scarecrows.” Following his widely praised debut, “The Last Dining Table,” this similarly themed study of three misfits living on the very outer fringes of society contains striking imagery and interesting ideas but fails to connect on primary emotional levels or drive home any meaningful messages. Fests looking for outre art fare will step up, but this avant-garde exercise faces a virtually impossible task in domestic and offshore commercial arenas. Nonetheless, pic shared the top film prize in the Pusan fest’s New Currents competish.
Using significantly more plot and dialogue than in the almost wordless “Last Dining Table,” Roh opens on a riverside wasteland earmarked for development. In the first of many pointed comments about environmental degradation, scarecrows pathetically keep watch over a patch of heavily polluted land.
Living somewhere near this depressing place is Ji-young (Kim Sun-young), an artist-of-sorts who wants to become a man. Strapping her breasts and donning a suit, she visits the Philippines and returns with Rain (Phuong Thi Bich), a naive girl who discovers too late she has married a woman.
Meanwhile, sad young Loi-Tan (Jung Du-won) is sacked from his dishwashing job at a grimy restaurant. Believing he is a Filipino adopted by Koreans, Loi-Tan’s search for family eventually leads to Li-young via Rain.
Though pic is filled with arresting visuals, the story never quite gets into gear. Auds intrigued by the bleak and slightly surreal landscape will have a much harder time relating to the initially interesting characters who eventually drift away in a sea of abstract mumblings about their unhappy situations.
Top-notch photography and production design create a memorable vision of decay and disharmony caused by unchecked industrialization. Piano-based score by Jaesin Lee is a major plus and rest of technical credits are right on the money. As with “The Last Dining Table,” the end credit roll here carries a beautiful poem by Chung Yun-suk.