By Pierce Conran
Following his terrific debut Romance Joe (2011), Lee Kwang-kuk is back in Busan with A Matter of Interpretation, a breathless play on dream logic with smart plotting and a great script that proves he's no fluke, and then some.
Frustrated by her cast members' blasé attitude at their matinee show's zero attendance, an actress walks out in frustration and plonks herself on a park bench, pondering her stalling career and a failed long-term romance that ended in the same place. She meets a homicide detective there who turns out to be a better dream interpreter than investigator but soon her dreams, as well as those of other characters, become difficult to differentiate from reality.
With crisp, well-framed and fluid photography and a bouncy, breezy script, Lee infuses an infectious energy into his script which belies its complexity. Were I pressed to offer a one line elevator pitch for the film, it would have to be 'Hong Sangsoo meets David Lynch'. As a former Hong assistant director, Lee's debut was compared by many to the indie veteran's work and his latest once again shares some similar affectations yet this time around it also recalls the mind-bending oeuvres of the Hollywood's top mind-bending auteur.
Hilarious and surreal, A Matter of Interpretation goes to great lengths to toy with its audience, frequently prompting us to question if what we're seeing on screen is real or not. In one scene, characters engage in a conversation outdoors, the setting is winter but before long we notice the heavy whir of cicadas on the soundtrack, immediately recalling Korea's hot and humid summers.
At first we are introduced to the film's dream world in a matter of fact way, when a character is asked to explain a recent dream so that another may interpret it. Soon, Lee slyly blurs the line between reality and reverie by introducing elements that don't belong in certain settings, though their incongruous presence isn't immediately evident. Beyond the cicadas, a pocket watch appears early on in the narrative and becomes an important prop as the various dreams and dreams within dreams begin to fall into each other. It is also significant that the name of the play that Shin Dong-mi's character performs in is 'Influence in Dreams'. Posters for the piece circle her bed at home, prompting to question of whether all the strange scenes we witness throughout are merely thoughts rolling through her overactive mind.
Unlike the more simplistic, but playful mise-en-scene of his mentor Hong, Lee further demonstrates his command of film language in A Matter of Interpretation, which favours extended shots that effortlessly draw us in through a combination of imperceptible twisting dolly movements and slow zooms, as well as the engaging performances on screen.
Though Lee's direction is assured and his writing sharp, his script is still no small challenge for a performer and finding the right combination of theatrical skill and playful self-awareness was surely no mean feat. Thankfully he struck gold by bringing on Shin Dong-mi, Yu Jun-sang and Kim Gang-hyun. In addition to their strong comic timing, particularly for Yu who gets to show off his ample comic skills, the whole trio succeed in making their characters distinct and realistic. Without their grounding presence, the film's odd and ambitious structure may have fallen flat. Also lending their talent in welcome cameos are Kim Tae-woo and Roo Deo-hyeok.
Lee's overlapping imagery and repetition hint at a number of themes, such as the transience of relationships, the desire for achievement or the many pressures of society but given the at times anarchic air of the proceedings the narrative opens itself up to any number of interpretations (hence the title). A refreshing change from the many social dramas that are presented every year in BIFF's Korean Cinema Today section, A Matter of Interpretation is a hilarious and richly satisfying sophomore outing for Lee which combines ideas, style and irreverence to delightful effect.
This review originally appeared on Twitchfilm.com
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