Seen in Jeonju

Another Time Another Place (2008)

22nd November 2009

another time another placeoriginally posted March 29, 2009–Another Time Another Place is an independent film directed by Kim Yeong-hye. It has not received a general release in theaters  but, sponsered by KOFIC , it was  recently put on DVD and shown in a few art theaters. The story is excellent but requires quite a bit of thought afterwards to get the full implications and meanings of what is happening. If you are just hoping to sit down, turn off your mind, and just watch a movie, then this is not for you. If you like being handed bits and pieces of a puzzle and enjoy patching them together to get a whole picture, then you will love this film like I did.  The story is divided into three chapters looking at different times in the life of one man named Sang-woo. In the first chapter, Sang-woo is about eight years old. He learns that his father has left his group of friends on Chiri Mountain and should have been home by now. When his dad still hasn’t arrived by daybreak, Sang-woo decides to set out on his own to search for him which will ultimately enable himself and his brother Byeong-woo to go on a family picnic.

Along the way, he encounters and easily avoids the vague threat of a stranger who offers him a ride. The driver did not insist the boy get in the car and his offer could have been out of the goodness of his heart, but it seems odd and slightly unsettling which sets the tone for the rest of the journey. His next meets an unusual old man who shows him a method of harmlessly (?) stringing locusts onto a blade of grass which the delighted boy plans to give as a gift to his father. But then a sudden sun-shower forces him to take refuge under the awning of a strange wooden door in the middle of a field.  He falls asleep while waiting for the rain to stop but is rudely awakened when two of the guardians painted on the door come to life and force him through the door to the other side. They warn him that anyone who enters can never return. They lead him to a boat and begin to row acroos the river calling to mind images of the River Styx. Furthering this image is a funeral procession on the shore. The boy calls out to small group, “Father! I caught some locusts!” But he receives no answer. Sang-woo himself thinks that it is odd that he would call out for his father at that time.  Peering over the side of the boat, he can see his house in the water below.

Suddenly, Sang-woo wakes up. Believing he had been dreaming, he continues on the road to search for his father. He soon becomes thirsty and asks a girl about his age for some water. She takes him into her run down house and he soon tells her his story. She offers to help find his father and dons full shaman robes to commune with the mountain spirits. Offering his precious locusts to the mountain gods, the boy learns that if he continues on the road, he will meet his father again. Since he can not take back his gift to the spirits, the girl presents him with a bright red feather to give to his dad when he finds him. The boy accepts her present but when he turns to thank her, he finds her gone.

There are two more chapters, one where Sang-woo has recently graduated from college and breaks up with his girlfriend only to dream of a mysterious woman in the river and observe a ’spirit wedding’ in a sudden sun-shower and another a few years after that where he drives to Chiri Mountain to pick up a shaman ’spirit dancer’ to perform in a folk festival he is organizing. Each of these chapters feature strange dreamlike scenarios that may just be visions or be actually happening. I would lean towards the vision theory myself except after each supernatural encounter, Sang-woo brings back something red–the feather, a blood stain, and a red talisman. The ’supernatural’ aspects of the encounters are left intentionally vague–the girl shaman may have simply gone inside (Sang-woo) does not go back to look, the woman he meets on the bank of the river may have been a drunken dream as he had been drinking heavily after breaking up with his girlfriend, nor does he search the final house well after the older shaman gives him the talisman and warns him against getting lost before also disappearing.

The implication is that the two shamans, child and adult, are the same woman as well as being the woman he meets by the water in the second chapter. The spirit wedding he witnesses drives home that he is still somehow in the world of spirits as the guardians warned him even though he is living in the physical world and he and the shaman are closely connected. This led me to question if the shaman was a spirit the entire time. Certainly she seemed to disappear quickly in each encounter and spirit wedding were a custom of marrying the living with the dead (as seen in Epitaph and Woman With Half a Soul). She is seen performing in one of Sang-woo’s festivals ‘two months later’ at the end of the film, but this does not guarantee that she is not a spirit. In fact, her movements are so fluid and graceful that they seemed eerily unnatural. I was wondering if the actress (Jo Ha-na) was on wheels or if she was really that good at dancing the traditional ’spirit dance’.

It was interesting how all the chapters eventually connect but I must fault the film on one point. I was confused at first by the final chapter when it appears as if Sang-woo is going to drown himself in a lake. He swims through his house the lake but is called back from death when he hears himself call out ‘Father!’ and seizes the red feather. The whole sequence did not make sense to me until the end credits when I saw that, although it was the same actor, it was not Sang-woo. Rather it is Sang-woo’s father who had left his group on the mountain to kill himself but is saved by a vision of his son (during the latter’s dream in the first chapter). Only then did the whole puzzle fall into place. However, if I had not watched the credits, I never would have figured it out. Using another actor would have made the situation clear.

However, overall, Another Time Another Place is a wonderful film experience. It is on DVD from Taewon Entertainment, but i have not seen it for sale anywhere. I received my copy as a gift from director Kim. However, I suspect that if one is interested in finding it, the DVD could be purchased through KOFIC.

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