Simon Ward Recommends

News category: General

I’ve chosen two films, made almost 30 years and 8000 miles apart, united by a profound sense of place.

Lovers in Woomuk-Baemi (Jang Sun-woo, 1989, 110mins) aka A Short Love Affair. Image courtesy of The Korean Film Archive

Adapted from a novel by Park Young-Han, this is a brilliantly incisive exploration of sex, money and power. It introduces us to Woomuk-Baemi, an industrial Seoul suburb, where we meet Bae Il-do, adrift in a long-term relationship, and Min Gong-rae, a married woman who works at the same factory. The pair begin an affair together, but It doesn’t take too long before the mutual solace they find in each other turns sour. It’s a fascinating film very much about the balance of power between men and women. As the doomed affair unfurls, Bae Il-do’s fundamental weakness is exposed. A deep sense of inadequacy begins to boil over deep within him. Director Jang Sun-woo, who for a time was very much at the forefront of Korean indie filmmaking, never loses sight of the everyday humour and humanity of his characters in a film very much about our need for peace, love and understanding between the sexes.

Available to stream free here

Columbus (Kogonada, 2017, 104mins).

At first glance Kogonada’s sublime American indie hit couldn’t be further from Jang Sun-woo’s Lovers in Woomuk-Baemi (1990). Jin, a wealthy middle-class Korean, travels to Columbus, Ohio, when his father, a visiting Korean architecture professor, is suddenly admitted to hospital. As Jin waits in limbo for his father to recover, he is befriended by Casey, a young librarian, who shows him the modernist architecture of this strange American town. There is something of a subtler, less crass Lost in Translation (2003) in the almost-love-affair between the two. But it is the way place and space are used so brilliantly by Korean filmmaker Kogonada to prise open and reflect on the inner lives of its characters that connects this film to Jang Sun-woo’s altogether rougher film. Together the two films remind us just how central our every-day environment is, with all its complex economic and social resonance, to how we live our lives.

Available to stream in the UK on BFI Player here.

Simon Ward is a former film programmer at Institute of Contemporary Arts, co-founder of the Independent Cinema Office and owner of Palace Cinema since 2016.