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Year: 1992
South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Lee Hyun-seung (이현승)
Screenplay:  Lee Hyun-seung (이현승)
Cast: Ahn Seong-gi, Kang Soo-yeon, Choi Yu-ra
Runtime: 115 min
Trailer: no trailer available

Seen at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK) during the Lee Hyun-seung (이현승) month of KCCUK’s Korean Film Night programme “2012: Year of the 12 Directors”.

Geudaeanui Beulru isn’t the kind of film that is instantly likeable. You will most probably find yourself feeling lost in its first 15-20 minutes, which are a fast-paced flash of bright images, often oddly monochrome – not, as one might initially presume, because the film’s physical quality has decayed over time. As little is explained and no narrative thread is yet obvious (even if the same faces repeat on the screen), what is happening – and where it is all going – is not clear at all. Only when Yurim (Kang Soo-yeon) moves in with Hoseok (Ahn Seong-gi), does a storyline begin to emerge.

Both protagonists work as decorators of department store window displays, with the older Hoseok hiring Yurim to live in his studio, a seemingly underground and essentially closed-off space, 24/7. It is a strange contract that comes with strange conditions, but then Hoseok is a one-of-a-kind fellow. He does not hesitate to turn down lucrative job offers if they do not fit with his interests, pursues an idiosyncratic and before-its-time view of women in his designs and regularly heads out to have sex with a female caller only known as “Mrs. X” at a specific time in a specific hotel. Yurim is also not the first female assistant he has had, but she is one of the spunkiest ones for sure. The two protagonists’ outlook on life is rather contrary, Hoseok asserting that love is “distraction only”, while Yurim believes that men “only want one thing: sex”. Their opposing positions soon lead to heated debates, Hoseok never failing to find something to criticise, while Yurim is never short for words and passionately argues back. Fights these may be, but the heroes are perfectly matched – professionally and beyond.

Various film posters for Geudaeanui Beulru.

Yurim is initially taken aback by the open-plan layout of the studio, which leaves her bed in plain view (Hoseok’s sleeping quarters, meanwhile, are more private, located on a higher level and shielded by glass windows and blinds). However, she inhabits the space in a way that makes it hers, demonstratively sleeping on the bed, leaving her work desk messy rather than meticulously organised (as Hoseok’s is) and so forth. When her boss goes out for a while and returns early to find Yurim dancing naked, she simply gets dressed, ignoring that he was watching her. Whilst the voyeurism-facilitating quarters and the contractual permanently-on-site requirement might suggest otherwise, Hoseok is not in fact looking for sexual favours. Yurim’s free mannerisms however do not leave him completely untouched and a dynamic develops between them that brings each one closer to the other’s beliefs: for Hoseok feelings of love are – if ever so subtly – stirred, while Yurim comes to see that “men only want sex” is too much of a simplification. Don’t expect a conventional ending however – Geudaeanui Beulru is a too progressive story for that. Its designation as Korea’s “first feminist film” does not come from nothing and its presentation of socially stipulated male/female roles is as relevant as ever, given the persisting conservatism of contemporary Korean media (particularly K-dramas) and the society they reflect.

Purposeful Use of Colour in Geudaeanui Beulru.

This leaves one more aspect to be commented on: the director’s aestheticism. Now known for his distinctive use of colour and sensual imagery, Lee’s stylistic traits are apparent and already defining in his debut feature. The film title, 그대안의 블루, literally rendered in its English form of The Blue in You, is a first indication of the role that colour is to play. Scenes then come in symbolic hues, yellow, for example, signifying fantasy and blue love. As we watch events unfold on the screen, we view them through a superimposed lens of meanings, a blue-tinted conversation between Hoseok and Yurim playing out differently than a red one.

Unable to attend the KCCUK’s screenings of 네온속으로 노을지다 (Sunset into Neon Lights, 1994) and시월애 (Siwolae/Il Mare, 2000) earlier this month, Geudaeanui Beulru is the only of Lee Hyun-seong’s films that I have watched. Although it may not be flawless, it is the sort of work that – whether you like it or not – leaves little doubt that a master is at work: a filmmaker that has unique ideas and is not afraid to present them in his way, in a manner that disregards conventions. From his earliest days a director, Lee refuses to pander to audiences that merely seek light or easy entertainment, Geudaeanui Beulru making a strong statement both in form and function that leaves an indelible mark even twenty years on from its original release. With explanations sometimes lacking, a not entirely linear narrative and layers of meanings added on through colour symbolism, some may perceive the film as difficult, for myself, however, it is a sophisticated and noteworthy debut feature that makes me look forward to Lee’s other creations.

Cover of soundtrack.

Overall Verdict: Geudaeanui Beulru is not a film for a mainstream audience seeking easy entertainment. Somewhat confusing at first, South Korea’s often so-called ‘first feminist film’ is both a visual and intellectual feast for cineastes that becomes more and more enjoyable the longer you watch – though a second viewing is essential to understand it fully.

Rating: 8/10

Bonus bits:

  • With a career that has spanned more than half a century, Ahn Seong-gi is one of Korea’s most prolific and well known actors. Just take a look at all his films here.
  • Kang Soo-yeon has also played in many films.
  • Synopsis of Geundaeanui Beulru at Udine’s Far East Film Festival, where the film screened in 2000.
  • I was not able to find a DVD for Geundaenui Beulru anywhere – whether on yesasia.com, cdjapan.co.jp or amazon. I imagine only some old VHS cassettes remain – perhaps in second-hand stores in South Korea – as even the version screened at the KCCUK was not in mint condition. Fingers crossed that this important film will get added to the Korean Film Archive YouTube channel.
  • Special thanks to the lovely refresh_daemon, who provided me with a literal translation (“The Blue Inside You”) and precise explanation of the title: 그대 = You, 안 = inside/within, 의 = of, 블루 = blue (phonetically).
  • Fashion and hairstyle wise this film just screams late 80’s/early 90’s. While such factors date the film, its message remains, as I have noted already, incredibly relevant – whether in South Korea or elsewhere.

Image Gallery:

Just about no images/screenshots are available for Geundaeanui Beulru. Those that are, are small in size and of low resolution.