Another impressive film was The Land of Scarecrows by Korean director Roh Gyeong-tae that deals with subjects of gender, sexuality, individual and national identity, and the growing irreversible consequence of pollution on human life with haunting affect. The film, adjudged best by the Ana Karina-headed main jury of the festival, takes rather an unusual approach to unfold the trauma, dilemma and isolation of its three protagonists as they go through deep existential crisis. The film traces the life of an installation artist Jang Ji-Younga, a seemingly pollution afflicted transgender, her foster son Loi Tan and a young Filipino girl Rain, who wants to settle in Korea enticed by its good life. Taking a cue from installation method of art and juxtaposing independent, yet distantly related, shots to narrate the story, the filmmaker tries to vividly portray the isolation and inner crisis of its characters.
December, 12 th 2008
Movie Review – Roh Gyeong-tae’s “Land of Scarecrows”
By Christopher Bourne
For a jaded filmgoer and film festivalgoer like me, surprises can often be few and far between. Whether it is the latest Hollywood super-spectacle or the most obscure, experimental art film, most films nowadays are variations on the familiar and endlessly overdone.
So it is quite a pleasure to come across such a film as Roh Gyeong-tae’s “Land of Scarecrows,” a true masterpiece whose elliptical, initially challenging style is nevertheless eminently accessible. Roh’s second feature, which shared the New Currents Award (for best first or second film) at this year’s Pusan International Film Festival, is one of the great discoveries one always hopes to find at a film festival, especially one with as vast a selection as Pusan’s.
Opening with a cryptic image of two mudang (Korean female shamans) performing an elaborate ritual dance, “Land of Scarecrows” alternates between two locales: Honghae, a rural area of South Korea, and the Philippines. The film follows a number of characters, the three most significant being Jang Ji-young (Kim Sun-young), an amateur installation artist who also happens to be a transgender woman living as a man; Rain (Bich Phuong Thi), a young Filipina who dreams of living in Korea; and Loi Tan (Jung Duwon), an ethnic Korean young man who was brought from the Philippines as a foster child. A beautiful and lyrical alchemy, not dissimilar to the artworks Ji-young creates, brings these characters together and unites their destinies into a tapestry that is mesmerizing to watch.
“Land of Scarecrows” melds humor, melancholy, and an ethereal sense of spirituality in a way that elevates it far above the sort of pretentious, self-consciously arty films that are far too prevalent at film festivals. The phenomenon of Korean men seeking arranged marriages with Southeastern Asian women is presented in a very humorous way, with repeated scenes of nervous potential brides being sized up by their suitors. Ji-young meets and marries Rain at one of these marriage agencies, of course with Rain initially being unaware that her new husband is a biological woman. Their relationship, however, isn’t played for laughs and in fact leads to some of the most poignant moments of the film. The film is also full of beautifully-rendered scenes that could stand alone as short films, such as Ji-young and Rain’s initial meeting, and a later scene in a karaoke bar where Ji-young belts out a plaintive, romantic song.
Roh Gyeong-tae, a former stockbroker who previously made a number of experimental short films and the feature “The Last Dining Table,” emerges as a major talent with “Land of Scarecrows,” which has a richly textured look and an unusual approach to storytelling that yields great rewards. This makes it all the more gratifying that the New Currents jury, headed by French New Wave icon Anna Karina, recognized this extraordinary work.
"Land of Scarecrows"
by Richard Kuipers
Story Categories: Film, Film review, Korea, reviews,
"Land of Scarecrows"
A Neon Productions., Teddy Bear Films production. (International sales: Studio 2.0, Seoul.) Produced by Antonin Dedet, Roh Gyeong-tae, Kim Jae-chung. Directed, written by Roh Gyeong-tae.
With: Kim Sun-young, Phuong Thi Bich, Jung Du-won, Shin An-jin.
South Korean experimentalist Roh Gyeong-tae delivers a decidedly mixed bag with his sophomore outing "Land of Scarecrows." Following his widely praised debut, "The Last Dining Table," this similarly themed study of three misfits living on the very outer fringes of society contains striking imagery and interesting ideas but fails to connect on primary emotional levels or drive home any meaningful messages. Fests looking for outre art fare will step up, but this avant-garde exercise faces a virtually impossible task in domestic and offshore commercial arenas. Nonetheless, pic shared the top film prize in the Pusan fest's New Currents competish.
Using significantly more plot and dialogue than in the almost wordless "Last Dining Table," Roh opens on a riverside wasteland earmarked for development. In the first of many pointed comments about environmental degradation, scarecrows pathetically keep watch over a patch of heavily polluted land.
Living somewhere near this depressing place is Ji-young (Kim Sun-young), an artist-of-sorts who wants to become a man. Strapping her breasts and donning a suit, she visits the Philippines and returns with Rain (Phuong Thi Bich), a naive girl who discovers too late she has married a woman.
Meanwhile, sad young Loi-Tan (Jung Du-won) is sacked from his dishwashing job at a grimy restaurant. Believing he is a Filipino adopted by Koreans, Loi-Tan's search for family eventually leads to Li-young via Rain.
Though pic is filled with arresting visuals, the story never quite gets into gear. Auds intrigued by the bleak and slightly surreal landscape will have a much harder time relating to the initially interesting characters who eventually drift away in a sea of abstract mumblings about their unhappy situations.
Top-notch photography and production design create a memorable vision of decay and disharmony caused by unchecked industrialization. Piano-based score by Jaesin Lee is a major plus and rest of technical credits are right on the money. As with "The Last Dining Table," the end credit roll here carries a beautiful poem by Chung Yun-suk.
More than one option (Co) Tube Entertainment
(Co) Studio 2.0 (South Korea)
Camera (color), Choi Jung-soon; editor, Choi Hyun-suk; music, Jaesin Lee; production designer, Eum Jin-sun; costume designer, Choo Jung-hee; sound (Dolby Digital), Lee eun-jee; associate producers, Noh Bo-sung, Lee Jun-kyu, Lim Rok-young; assistant director, Lim Jin-seung. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (New Currents -- competing), Oct. 6, 2008. Running time: 90 MIN.
'Scarecrows,' 'Naked' top Pusan
Films win top prizes at Korean festival
The 13th Pusan Film Festival wrapped Friday with top prizes from its New Currents competition section shared between South Korea’s “Land of Scarecrows” and Japan’s “Naked of Defenses.”
Helmer Roh Gyung-tae’s “Scarecrows” is a collection of stories of isolated people, including one about a transgender woman who wants to become a man. Ichii Masahide’s “Naked of Defenses” delves into memories of a worker at a plastic factory.
Audience total also hit record levels with 198,818 admissions and a seat occupancy rate of 72.3%.
Total number of guest and business attendees totaled 11,110, including 3,038 domestic guests, 638 foreign guests, 1,200 cinephiles whom the festival invited, 4,640 Asian Film Market guests and 1,594 members of the press.
Pusan International Film Festival - 2008 winners list
New Currents Award - joint winners ($30,000)
"Land of Scarecrows" Roh Gyeong-tae (South Korea)
"Naked of Defenses" Ichii Masahide (Japan)
New Currents Award special mentions
"Members of the Funeral" Baek Seung-bin (South Korea)
"Er Dong" Yang Jin (China)
Sonje Award ($10,000)
"Andong" by Rommel Tolentino Milo (Philippines)
"Girl" by Hong Sunghoon (South Korea)
PIFF Mecenat Award
"Mental" Soda Kazuhiro (Japan)
"Old Partner" Lee Chung-ryoul (South Korea)
"Jalainur" Ye Zhao (China)
"Members of the Funeral" Baek Seung-bin (South Korea)
"Treeless Mountain" Kim So-young (South Korea/U.S.)
KNN Movie Award (Audience Award, $ 20,000)
"100" by Chris Martinez (Philippines)