Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: The Old Garden (2007)

The Old Garden (Review)
Im Sang-soo/Ji Jin-hee, Yeom Jeong-ah/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...romance elements are fresh and authentic, the politics are subtly thought-provoking."

Anti-government student activist Hyun-woo (Ji Jin-hee) seeks refuge in a rural shack with former activist Yun-Hee (Yeom Jeong-ah). As the political protests erupt, Hyun-woo and Yun-hee develop an intimate relationship.

The Old Garden starts in the present as Hyun-woo is released from prison after a 17 year sentence. He returns to the rural town in which he spent his time with Yun-hee. And there, Hyun-woo begins to reminisce; he remembers his relationship with Yun-hee and the sacrifices he's made. The political themes and events serve as more of a backdrop, except for a few cases, while the romance takes a stronger focus during most of the story. The film jumps from past to present, inconsistently so, until it reaches a bittersweet ending.

The storytelling was my biggest issue with The Old Garden. Jumping from past to present and vice versa is an effective way to keep the audience engaged, but it must be meticulously crafted. In this case, the storytelling starts off a little rough and convoluted, and becomes becomes a bit smoother during the latter half. The film's first act is filled with jumps, while the rest of the film mostly focuses on the past. Despite the many cuts, the first act has a balanced focus on both leads, while the rest of the film has a stronger focus on Yun-hee instead of Hyun-soo. And, that's fine and all, but it makes the film feel unbalanced -- almost like you're watching two different films; they interlink, but not seamlessly.

Fortunately, despite the rough start and the balance issues during the second half, the story is overall very interesting. The political backdrop makes the film more distinct, and the chemistry between Hyun-soo and Yun-hee is genuine -- you can really feel the love, partly due to the writing and performances. The romance elements are fresh and authentic, the politics are subtly thought-provoking. It's a very well crafted romance with an interesting backdrop. Furthermore, the film comes full-circle and offers a resounding resolution. I wish we could witness more of the present, although I suppose there isn't much to witness. Otherwise, the story is great.

Ji Jin-hee is great, his emotions are very genuine. Yeom Jeong-ah is equally impressive with a powerful performance. Together, Jeong-ah and Jin-hee develop a believable and very effective relationship. The film is shot very well; the cinematography is great. The music is also great, pairing well with genre. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video stream are great -- a spelling error here and there, but nothing detrimental. Writer and director Im Sang-soo delivers an entertaining romance film, and a subtly thought-provoking commentary.

Overall, The Old Garden has a great story, but it is hindered by the overly-ambitious storytelling. Don't get me wrong, it's a great film, but it could've been fine-tuned to be more efficient. Definitely worth watching for fans of the genre. Also, it's a much better film from Im Sang-soo than The Housemaid and The Taste of Money.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

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