[Korean Film News] Host & Guest [방문자] (2005)

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Host & Guest 1.jpg

What's wrong with this picture? It was praised by critics as one of the best films at the 10th annual Pusan International Film Festival. It won the New Directors Showcase Award at the Seattle International Film Festival over the summer and was acclaimed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. It was shown at this year's Berlin International Film Festival where the director's latest project, My Friend and His Wife was selected to participate in the Berlinale Co-Production Market, which helps find additional backers for small to medium budget films. The reception at around a dozen film festivals the world over was nearly unanimous, yet Host & Guest, director Shin Dong-il's debut film, waited 1-1/2 years for its theatrical release -- at a single arthouse theatre in Seoul.

Much like the director himself, the film portrays two outsiders of society. One, a cynical film teacher, divorced and looking after his son, the other a Jehovah's Witness. Ho-jun (Kim Jae-rok) is the teacher, an educated man who once dreamt of becoming a director like Jean-Luc Godard, but who now finds himself alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Gye-sang (Gang Ji-hwan) is the evangelist who befriends Ho-jun, beginning their journey toward self-discovery.

Shin Dong-il, a student protester against the military regime in the 1980s, now finds himself up against a new societal ill -- an unbridled materialism where people are judged by the size of their apartment and their paycheck. Many others of his generation went on to serve under the present administration, which has been charged with economic blunders and insensitivity toward minorities.

Says Shin, "The capitalistic logic has deepened polarization of our society, and my hope is that people who are driven onto the edge get united to do something. I think there's a role for educated people to play in that movement, and that starts with looking around our neighbors, rather than just being cynical about the wrong situation."

In the film, Ho-jun comes to understand Gye-sang, a kindly young man whose religion has often been assailed as heretical. Ho-jun gradually develops a trusting attitude and Gye-sang learns to listen to the voice of his heart rather than that of the world. While the issues the director raises are serious, he is not beyond using humor to get his point across. Calling himself an outsider of the Korean movie industry, Shin had to wait a long time to find a distributor for his film, even after the critical success of his second feature My Friend & His Wife.

"Maybe it's because I'm an outsider. And because I thought that we should question about the road that is believed right for a director to take," he said, "[...] I came to think that I'm no different from those who don't get attention in our society, where everything is driven by success and competition. Actually there are only a few of us who achieve success and most of us live in an ordinary way. I don't think that is right, and so naturally came to feel for those who are left behind."

Posters, photos, etc. (cine21.com)

Director: Shin Dong-il [신동일]
Writers: Heo Geon [허건] and Shin Dong-il [신동일]
Cast: Kim Jae-rok [김재록], Kang Ji-hwan [강지환], Lee Dong-gyoo [이동규]
Producers: Im Jae-cheol, Shin Dong-il
Executive producer: Lee Seung-jae
Cinematographer: Park Ju-han
Editor: Mun In-dae
Art director: Jeong Hyo-yeong
Theatrical Release date: 11/15/2006

[Source: Yonhap News]

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Jon BraunNovember 18, 2006 7:43 PM

Welcome to film politics in Seoul -- there's basically only two "art-house" theatres here at the moment anyhow, so a lot of films just fall by the wayside. The theatres are within 5 minutes walking distance of each other. Cinematheque/Film Forum focuses more on retrospectives and traveling festivals, and the somewhat-recently-opened Spongehouse (which was previously a more mainstream-focused theatre, CineCore) has been showing a variety of arthouse fare. Not a lot of choice, even with the screen quota still firmly in place.

feral catNovember 19, 2006 1:43 AM

I don’t know anything about this film in particular other than the info you provided Jon. How ever I think it’s worth noting that “Art house” film tends to get better receptions abroad than it does in its home nation. This seems to apply to art house and high end world cinema from all nations. Even films like The wind that shakes the barley, where better received abroad than here in the UK. I think an audience foreign to the films home nation tends to gain what they feel is incite into the home nation of the film, that the native audience are not so interested in. I myself would likely go and see Korean, French, Mongolian etc. art house film before I would go and see a UK one. To me English art house feels grim, but I think a foreign audience see’ a quaintness and a “Britishness” to it, that as a native I don’t really see. I hope this is making sense, kind of like the way North Americans often appreciate Merchant Ivory films far more than we do here. I really liked Mountain Patrol and I know a lot of the guys at Twitch did, but responses from a lot of Chinese and Tibetan viewers, seemed very different, they saw political motivations that are not necessarily anything I as a viewer foreign to the home market would be bothered by. Films like The Harmonium in my memory and Bonbon el perro would have had very little appeal to me, if they had been set in the English countryside. So I think there is an argument that art house films market is almost always a foreign one, hence no amount of festival wins at foreign festivals can convince a home audience to watch it. Even American high end cinema can be subject to this, with a British audience warming to American films that do not do well in the US itself.

eliza bennetNovember 20, 2006 11:57 AM

I saw this film at HKIFF and loved it. They thought then the film may get a release at about November (I have had the chance to meet the directer in the Q&A).

I highly recommend this film if you are into quiet, quirky slice of life films.

Art films suffer a lot but getting a distribution also depends on other factor, such as your connections and/or your financer's connections.