Seen in Jeonju

Plateau (1969)

10th October 2009

Originally posted January 21, 2008  –plateauLee Seong-gu is a very competent director whose work needs a wider audience.  I think I mentioned that before when I reviewed his film The General’s Mustache. Although the material he had to work with was not always top-notch, he often managed to film it in a way that gave it some appeal.  Plateau from 1969 is a case in point.  The story is nothing new, but the movie is able to hold the viewers interest.  Plateau is the tale of an artist named Oh Hyeon living in the house of his good friend Hyeon-woo just before the Korean War. Also in the house are Hyeon-woo’s wife and his younger cousin, Yeong-ju.  Hyeon-woo is not the same man that Oh had known when they were younger.  He is drinking far too much and is very short when talking to his wife–even going so far as to accuse her, half-jokingly, of having an affair with Oh. This makes his wife quite uncomfortable because, in fact, she would like to be having just such an affair and has been coming on quite strong to the young artist. Unfortunately for her she is married to Oh’s best friend and Oh has been gradually developing an interest in Yeong-ju.

The tension in the house is momentarily forgotten when the Korean War breaks out. Hyeon-woo is called away and does not return. His wife goes out to look for him and while she is gone, the city is bombed. Oh and Yeong-ju take refuge under the covers in the bed tucked away in the basement and there the two commit to their love. Hyeon-woo’s wife comes home and realizes what the two have been up to and decides then and there that she has to outwit her young rival.  Oh goes out to talk some sense into Hyeon-woo who has joined the Northern Army. While he is out, Hyeon-woo’s wife, (if she was given a name, I didn’t hear it), tells Yeong-ju that Oh has been drafted against his will. Yeong-ju flees the house to follow the men who are being led away by soldiers futilely looking for her lover. When Oh returns home, Hyeon-woo’s wife, henceforth HWW because I’m tired of typing, informs him that Yeong-ju has fled the city.

The pair also leave, heading south. At first, Oh has no intention of travelling with HWW and tries to leave her behind…only to have her come running after him.  Once she tells him that he should go off and leave her and when he does she is chasing after him at top speed two minutes later. Eventually though they are able to get on a boat heading the Jeju Island where Oh has a friend who owns a large tangerine grove. The pair start working there and living together as husband and wife after the war is over.

However, as fate would have it, Oh is called away to Seoul to visit a friend in the hospital. The very idea of him leaving sends HWW into fits of worry and she begs him to be back the next day. Perhaps she had a right to be worried as Oh is reunited with Yeong-ju at the hospital.  Yeong-ju had completed her education and is now an obstetrician. 

The movie follows a basic melodrama story from there with Oh trapped between two women–one whom he loves and one whom he is having a baby with.  It is interesting that the film does not villainize HWW.  It would not seem totally out of the realm of possibility–after all, she tricked the lovers to separate them and she is still married even if she can’t meet her husband in North Korea.  Instead, the film treats her, and all of the cast, like a victim.  And it is a role HWW enjoys. Even before the war, she was a victim trapped in a marriage on the verge of failing and making a rival of Yeong-ju when there was really no need. Kim Ji-mi plays HWW and portrays her in such a whiney, clingy way that it is impossible to like her even as we feel pity for her. Mind you, I didn’t feel pity for her self-made problems…I felt pity for her weekness and her inability to cope on her own.

While it is not a movie I would tell everyone to run out and buy (if it were on dvd), it is one that is quite interesting if one likes melodramas. And there is the strangest gizmo that HWW uses in her room at the orchard–it looks like a mini-loom but I had never seen anything like it before–the movie was worth it just to see Kim Ji-mi struggling unsuccessfully to use it and it offers a glimpse of day to day life in Korea after the war.

Comments are closed.