Seen in Jeonju

The Moon…is the Sun’s Dream (1992)

9th January 2010

moon is the suns dreamOriginally posted August 10, 2007–When most people think of Park Chan-wook, they are most likely remembering his vengeance trilogy comprised of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. They may also recall the much-discussed JSA which made him a director to watch or his recent film I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok–a film that seemed to polarize audiences into groups of either ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’.   But Park had a couple of films before making JSA in 2000. One of them was Threesome in 1997 and his debut film was today’s topic, The Moon…Is the Sun’s Dream.

I did not know what to expect when I started the film. I had read that it failed upon its release in the theaters but had somehow developed a small cult following of fans despite not drawing large crowds to the theaters.  While I was not expecting a great film, I was looking forward to catching glimpses of what would make Park great in his future films. However, that turned out not to be the case.

The story is about Moo-hoon, a gangster in Busan.  At the beginning of the movie, Moo-hoon has betrayed the gang he works with by running off with their funds and the boss’ girlfriend, Eun-joo.  The gang traces the pair to a seedy motel and Moo-hoon gets beaten. As the gangsters are about to slit his wrists, Eun-joo bravely blocks the descending blade…with her face. (Eun-joo proves on more than one occassion not to be the brightest cookie in the box).  Although the gangsters are unable to recover the stolen money, they recapture Eun-joo who is then sold into prostitution.

Jumping ahead a few years, we meet Moo-hoon again when he visits his half-brother Ha-yeong.  Ha-yeong is a photographer currently working for a fashion magazine and avoiding the drunken advances of the fading, alcoholic model Soo-mi.  While there, Moo-hoon spots a photo of Eun-joo among a series of photos Ha-yeong took featuring prostitutes.  Moo-hoon rescues Eun-joo and the pair live together with Ha-yeong.

Eun-joo becomes interested in modeling and even has an operation to get her scar removed though she is unaware of just how Moo-hoon came up with the money for such an expensive operation.  She becomes a success as a model and is even offered a role in a movie.  Her future seems secure.

Moo-hoon is not quite so lucky. He has been contacted by his former gang to do one more job for them. If he refuses, they will kill Eun-joo. Moo-hoon makes a plan that will turn the table on the gangsters but, in order to ensure Eun-joo’s safety, he breaks up with her first.  He then embarks on what may be a suicide mission against his former friends in the gang.

I had two major complaints about this film. The first is that it was unbelievably boring. At about the forty-minute mark I seriously considered turning it off.  I am glad that I didn’t because it does become more interesting in the second half of its running time but it is not, under any circumstances, a great movie.  The second thing I found annoying was the amateurish use of lighting and color.  Now, as it was his debut film, one can expect a little bit of amateurism. But Park seemed to be under the impression that adding various colored filters to a scene would make them more interesting or artistic.  It does not. If colors are used for a reason it is fine, but just using filtered lenses because they came with the camera is not. Likewise with colors–I kept wondering if they set manager had ordered too much purple paint as we see an unusual number of purple walls.

I also did not like most of the action sequences in this film. Almost all of them are cut before their conclusion and we have to assume what happened or be told by a character at a later date how the scene played out. For example, the opening scene (filmed with a yellowish filter) in the motel. We see Moo-hoon beat senseless by the thugs. We see Eun-joo scarred by the knife. We do not see what happened after that. Why do the gangsters take Eun-joo but leave Moo-hoon to escape? Did he suddenly find the strength to battle his way out?

There were, however, some interesting points as well.  Quite a bit of tension is built up in the elevator scene.  We know that Moo-hoon is armed with a plan and a large billy club when he enters an elevator disguised as a courthouse guard. He is to free a gangster that is being escorted by two officers. As the elevator descends, he taps his club against the palm of his open hand. The sound, combined with the numbers of the floors as the elevator drops, manages to build up a good deal of tension and suspense.

Another good scene is Moo-hoon’s fight with gangsters in the back seat of a car. He is outnumbered three-to-one and the enclosed setting and awkward camera angles manage to create a claustrophobic feeling.

The most interesting scene appears at the end of the movie and is entirely outside the action of the film and involves photographer Ha-yeong.  At his introduction, Ha-yeong had informed the audience  in a voice-over  ‘I am the camera.’  The entire narrative is told through him (which doesn’t always work as he is not there for many of the sequences and could not have known what was going on) and I came to think of Ha-yeong as the Park Chan-wook identification character.  In the final scene, Ha-yeong is watching the film Eun-joo made which ends with her crying on a pier. We have a view of this as if we were sitting near the back of the theater, the screen of the movie taking up our screens (whether theater or tv) with the rows of seats in front of us. The theater is empty except for Ha-yeong and the camera which seems to be the viewer. Ha-yeong moves forward towards the screen and leans against it filled with regret and sadness for the crying actress.  Then the lights come on and a voice (the viewer) says in Korean “What the hell…?” Cue red filter as Ha-yeong turns around and stares directly into the camera–at the viewer–with an accusing look mingled with remorse.  It is a surreal moment that feels as if the director is speaking directly to you without saying a word.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie was not like this at all and my reaction to the film was the same as the disembodied voice…What the hell…?  Thankfully, in the years that followed, Park Chan-wook managed to develop his style and technique to become one of the most respected directors in the Korean film industry today.

2 Responses to “The Moon…is the Sun’s Dream (1992)”

  1. rodrigo Says:

    hi, im a big fan of park chan wook, and i was looking for this movie a long time. but i cant find eny way to get a copy of that, i know, the movie dont be edited in dvd, and only exist vhs copys, but, i cant find enyone of them also.
    if someone could tell me a way to get it, i will thanks

  2. Tom Says:

    You are right, the movie has never been released on DVD and VHS are very hard to find now. Since I no longer have a VHS player, I donated all of my video tapes to the university I work at, so I do not own this movie anymore. It is in the KOFA library and can be viewed there if you are in Korea. Otherwise, I would advise you to check this link once in a while:
    That is KOFA’s Video-on-Demand website. I just did a search and they do not have that movie availible yet, but keep checking back there–they may include it on their list eventually