THE MOON IS… THE SUN’S DREAM (1992)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Run time: 1h 43m
Park Chan-wook’s debut feature film is a soft jazz scored romantic drama with flickers of his flare but none of the thrills
There is a scene in The Moon is... the Sun’s Dream where two central characters frolic and horse around in a deserted fairground while cheesy jazz plays throughout.
To say it is far-removed from the stylish, blood-splattered Vengeance Trilogy of the same director is an understatement. However, every director starts somewhere and this was clearly a filmmaker in an experimental stage of his career.
Mu-hoon (Lee Seung-chul) is a gangster in Busan who is caught having an affair with the boss' mistress Eun-ju (Na Hyun-hee). The pair run away, but are soon captured, with Mu-hoon again escaping but Eun-ju is given a scar on her face and sold into prostitution.
Ha-young (Song Seung-hwan), a successful photographer and the half-brother of Mu-hoon later takes in Eun-ju and a year later she rekindles the relationship with Mu-hoon. The mob never gives up though. Mu-hoon is captured again and forced to accept a job killing a man.
Do not expect Park to be green lighting a Blu-ray special edition of this film any time soon. Park told Kim Young-jin for his book on the director: “I had a kind of childish attitude that I would put out a new kind of movie, the likes of which have never been seen in previous Korean films, and I had the idea of trying to twist the structures and conventions of genre film, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result... it bombed.”
Fortunately, Park did not give up on his aim to twist the structures and conventions of films, going on to creates some of the most unique films ever made later in his career.
Easily the worst aspect of the film is the score. A never ending onslaught of soft jazz and elevator pop. Somewhere between a terrible jazz club at 3am and a daytime TV soap. Less noir, more nausea.
The film’s opening 20 minutes are deeply disjointed, but once the film settles down there is some evidence of the future superstar director on display. There is the black comedy, the ready violence, the surprise twists.
The actual storyline is interesting and engaging, there is just not enough support from the performances or the overall polish of the film to deliver anything impactful.
The final act is the most Park-like in contented — despite the continued soft jazz score — as matters escalate out of hand and issues are solved with guns and knives.
The film was a commercial flop and it would be five years before Park returned with another film. Thankfully the 2000s would see a purple patch of Park brilliance that produced some of South Korea’s best ever films.
This is a very raw debut outing from one of Korea’s greatest ever directors. The best was yet to come.