Choe In-seok, Chi Sang-hak, Lee Sang-woo
Park Joong-hoon, Ahn Sung-ki, Bae Jong-ok, Chang Hyeok, Na Han-il
Dong-A Exports Co., Ltd.
South Korea, 1988. A year of great social and political upheaval as the country takes further steps towards democracy. The young “Americanized” artist Chilsu (Park Joong-hoon, NOWHERE TO HIDE) works as a billboard painter alongside Mansu (Ahn Sung-ki, THE HOUSEMAID), a pessimistic mentor figure whose father, an unreformed Communist sympathizer, ties him to the old world. As the duo take on a massive beer ad, to be painted by hand at the top of high-rise, they come to realize they have more in common than they thought. Their frustrations with their working-class condition bubble to the surface and soon spill over into an unexpected top-down confrontation that pits them against the establishment of a country at an ideological crossroads.
Park Kwang-su’s landmark debut and indelible classic of South Korean cinema marked a transition towards the future, and a more politically progressive filmmaking style which in turn inspired generations of filmmakers to tackle the pressing issues of their time. Laying the groundwork for the genre flexibility and lasting allegorical power of South Korean cinema that continues to this day in films such as PARASITE, CHILSU AND MANSU is, gleefully, many things at once: part romance, part buddy comedy, part political drama and call-to-action, this late-’80s gem conceals superb observations about the Korea’s nascent democracy, the price of dissent in changing times, as well as the pivotal, controversial role that American culture would play into its post-war political and cultural trajectory. Here is a perfect introduction, and gateway, to a classical period of South Korean cinema absent from North American screens for far too long. – Ariel Esteban Cayer