Choi Min-sik Escapes Oncreen to Himalaya
By Lee Hyo-won
Actor Choi Min-sik has returned to local screens to take the audience on a faraway journey to ``Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells,'' which opens in theaters June 11.
The actor is virtually synonymous with contemporary Korean cinema, with the so-called ``first'' domestic blockbuster ``Shiri (Swiri)'' (1998) to Im Kwon-taek's award-winning ``Chihwaseon'' (2002) and Park Chan-wook's international breakthrough ``Oldboy'' (2003). He was also accused of upping guarantees for high-profile actors, though Kang Woo-suk later rescinded the statement and apologized.
The 47-year-old may have been absent from the silver screen for four years, but his presence remained strong ― in 2007, he showed off his theatrical streak in the play ``Pillow Man'' while last year the 14th Lyon Asian Film Festival held a retrospective on Choi.
``Expression (acting) itself is important, but the process of absorbing things before taking part in a project is vital. It's been a long time and I want to continue meeting the audience. No matter how many times I think about it, my job is to meet the audience through the screen,'' he said in a press conference for ``Himalaya,'' Friday, in Seoul.
For his comeback piece, Choi opted for an art film by Jeon Soo-il, the internationally acclaimed director of ``With a Girl of Black Soil.'' ``Himalaya'' premiered last fall at the 12th Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival and is slated to compete at the Karlovivary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic in July.
This is certainly not a film for everyone, just as the Nepalese village of Sharkot, with its stark life and landscape, is not a travel destination for everyone. The travelogue film captures the breathtaking beauty of cascading mountains and the melody of winds, and will appeal to art houses and the festival circuit. But as much as the story ``progresses'' in a state of inaction and truncated drama, with its most dynamic moments culminating in a futile chase after a wild horse, it will demand an excruciating level of patience in most moviegoers.
Choi said he had always wanted to visit the Himalayas and the project was a happy coincidence. ``I shot it as if I were traveling,'' he said about his first time setting foot in the region like his character.
Businessman Choi (Choi) is going through a sort of crisis ― middle aged, possibly unemployed and suffering from loneliness as a ``gireogi'' dad ― literally wild goose, patriarchs that stay behind to provide for their wife and children living abroad.
One day, Dorje, an illegal immigrant working in his brother's factory, gets killed in an accident, and Choi sets off to deliver the man's ashes to his family in Nepal. The task at hand, however, seems to be just an excuse for escapism. But clad in formal mourning wear, with a black necktie and dress shoes, he is ill prepared for the long trek up the Himalayas and the accompanying altitude sickness.
Dorje's beautiful wife (Koreans may agree with Choi that ``she looks like Jeon Do-yeon''), young son and decrepit parents naturally ask when Dorje is coming home, and our protagonist cannot find the courage to tell them that he's brought what remains of the young man back in his suitcase. He lies that Dorje is fine, and that he is just stopping by during vacation. Our awkward visitor nevertheless accepts their hospitality and slowly melts into the local scenery, conversing with old men over a drink and harboring a rather innocent fascination for Dorje's wife.
``Himalya'' makes an admirable attempt to draw in heavy doses of reality and realism, and something universal yet thoroughly Asian ― the smallness of man in Mother Nature.
Director Jeon told reporters he wanted to keep things natural and tried to shoot in chronological order. ``When I was discussing things with the cinematographer (Kim Sung-tai), we decided to shoot something natural, in pace with the journey, and to capture man within the grandness of nature,'' he said.
While Choi was not as sick in real life upon arriving in Sharkot, his lung-puncturing trek up the mountains wearing dress shoes wasn't easy, he said. ``I've learned many things. Life ― even though this sounds rather grandiose ― and the world teach you many things and enable you to experience many things,'' said the actor, even though he ``didn't go to the Himalayas to seek enlightenment.''
Meanwhile, both Jeon and Choi expressed regret with holding the press conference on the same day as the funeral of the former President Roh Moo-hyun, and paid respect to the late head of state with a silent prayer.
In theaters June 11. 95 minutes. Not yet rated.