10th October 2009
Originally posted March 11, 2008—This movie seems to have been randomly assigned many different English names over the years–A Fine Windy Day, A Windy But Pleasant Day… I decided to use the name listed at the Korean Film Archives, A Good Windy Day. But by any name, this film by director Lee Jang-ho is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is socially relevant, filled with interesting symbols and imagery and is compeletly entertaining. It is a character driven story and all the performances by all the primary actors are astoundingly good. The lead character is played by Ahn Sung-ki who is currently in theaters at the moment with his new film, My New Partner. Those who are familiar with Mr. Ahn only through his more recent works, you are missing out. In his earlier career, Ahn Sung-ki was a versatile actor who could convincinly portray a wide range of characters with ease–from a shy, book-smart philospher in Knee To Knee to an obsessed young man trapped in a fantasy nightmare in Flower on the Equator to likable, simple Deok-bae in today’s film.
Deok-bae, Choon-shik and Gil-nam are all struggling to make a living in a poor area of Seoul. The three have come to the city from various parts of Korea in the hope of earning a lot of money and taking part in the Miracle on the Han. However, their lives they are living are less than miraculous. Deak-bae works delivering Chinese food and is looked down upon by his wealthy clients. Choon-shik works in a barber shop and Gil-nam in a motel.
Their accents mark them and those around them as outsiders in the city. The true Seoulites are without exception, either spoiled brats (for the younger generation) or malicious corruptors of the innocent. Take for example Myeong-hee. We meet her when she is speeding away from one of her boyfriends and his fancy foreign car. She plows into a group of school children and doesn’t even stop. Her friend following from behind stops for a minute as the kids pick themselves up– but only for a minute and he drives around the ones that were too injured to get up quickly. Myeong-hee is forced to stop when she hits Deok-bae, knocking him over and throwing the food he was delivering all over the road. She and her boyfriend do not acknowledge Deok-bae at first as they proceed to get into a heated discussion in the middle of the street. Myeong-hee is truely contemptible in the way she treats those she perceives as her social inferiors. She baits Deok-bae, inviting him to her house and laughing mercilessly at this shy, humble actions. She takes him out for a drive and starts to seduce the innocent young man only to draw back and laugh when he finally starts to succomb to temptation.
While Deok-bae is dealing with the awful Myeong-hee, Choon-shik tries to deal with his feelings for a co-worker, ‘Miss Yoon’. Yoon is also quite poor and is doing her best to support her father and many siblings through her work. Unfortunatley, wealthy Mr. Kim often comes to the shop and she is expected to massage his arms and legs as he lounges in the chair and tries to grope her. Choon-shik runs interference when he can and their blossoming love is sweet to watch. Unfortunately, Yoon needs money and it is uncertain just how long she can hold out before she gives in to the proposition the Kim dangles before her.
At the start of the film, there is a wonderful short animation that sums up the movie to the point of where we are introduced to the characters. Three figures are blown from different corners to the center of the screen where they fight against the powerful winds. By leaning together as a tripod, the three are able to stand tall. However, even better, this same animated clip is played backwards as the closing credits roll. Instead of the characters being blown together–the winds now appear to rip them apart from each other–which is certainly reflected in the film.
The three characters are always struggling against society and the class differences they encounter and, in a way, against their own country. At one point, Deok-bae joins a boxing gym in the hopes of bettering his life. But in his first sparring match against one of his trainers, he is beaten nearly senseless. We watch helplessly as he takes blow after blow from a large man in a training suit with the word KOREA emblazzened across his back. However, even though he is knocked down–Deok-bae never gives up.
The class struggles are obvious from early in the film and director Lee draws parellels with the life these men lead to the way people treat dogs. Early in the film, this is made clear with the men actually interacting with dogs of various sizes–Deok-bae with a large dog who refuses to give up what’s his and the talkative Gil-nam meeting a small, yappy terrior. Later, when the three friends have an arguement, the sound of dogs barking at each other is played simaltaneously. When Deok-bae goes to Myeong-hee’s house, she invites him to sit as she settles into a large sofa. Deok-bae sits on a footstool and when Myeong-hee asks him what he is doing, the shy young man quickly apologizes and sits on the floor like a dog–sending the evil Myeong-hee into fits of laughter. Also, later in the film, Choon-shik is thrown into a rage and literally froths at the mouth much as one might imagine a mad dog would do.
It is not all doom and gloom for these three, however and there are some small victories in unusual places. Myeong-hee takes Deok-bae to a disco patronized by foreign residents of Seoul. She pulls Deok-bae onto the floor and starts dancing with abandon to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (yes–i am embarassed that I knew the song…). Deok-bae has never been to such a place and has never seen people dance so wildly–except at the farm festivals in his home where musicians in traditional costumes would spin long ribbons on their hats in wide arcs while throwing their bodies into the air. He draws on his roots and succeeds stunning Myeong-hee and earning the respect of everyone in the night club. A surprising but short-lived victory.
As I already mentioned, Ahn Sung-gi is brilliant as the shy, slightly stuttering Deok-bae. Lee Yeong-ho as Chun-shik was also amazing with sad stares and, at times, smouldering anger. For most of the film, I did not care for Gil-nam, but actor Kim Seong-chan managed to change my mind in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. Im Ye-jin, as Choon-shik’s sister is also good, as is Yoo Ji-in as Myeong-hee but the actress who stood out for me was Kim Yeong-ae in a very minor role. She has no lines and only appears in two scenes, but her character and the performance she gives is extremely memorable.
A Good Windy Day was released on DVD as part of the Korean Movies Masterpiece Collection–but unfortunately, that series is not subtitled. Hopefully a distributor will pick it up and make this wonderful film available internationally.