BiFan 2015 Review: ANGRY PAINTER Presents Artsy Revenge Erotica
Following his trip From Seoul to Varanasi in 2011, arthouse filmmaker Jeon Kyu-hwan takes a bigger leap overseas with his latest project Angry Painter, an indie tale of revenge and despondency that spends much of its running time trapping through the cold climes of Estonian capital Tallinn.
A painter, who works by day as a butcher, lives with a taxi driver who is in a relationship with an Estonian woman who works as a bar girl in an establishment for US military personnel. At night, the pair track down violent criminals, kill them and harvest their organs, until one day when the girl's jealous serviceman boyfriend kills the couple. The painter travels to Estonia and soon returns with a vengeful anger.
His seventh film to hit theatres (an eighth, 2012's Silent Man, remains unreleased), Angry Painter is the work of an experienced filmmaker but also one who seems unsure of what direction he's headed in. His first films, the critically praised 'Town Trilogy' (Animal Town, Mozart Town, Dance Town; 2008-10), were dark social affairs with consistent tones and while he has tried to establish himself with more singular projects ever since, such as the morbid and surreal drama The Weight (2012), his recent output lacks the grounded qualities of his earlier credits.
An introspective film with slow-moving and largely silent characters, Angry Painter can be categorized as an art film but it also features a standard revenge plot, adorned with all the kinds of violence that entails, and then there are the more risqué elements of its Dexter-like serial killer and lengthy instances of X-rated sex. As a whole, the concoction is never boring but it's hard to decipher what, if anything, the director is trying to say. Humans are driven by impulse, and this is something that Jeon has explicitly shown in his previous films but the point is made quickly here and doesn't seem to lead to any other observations.
Playing the titular angry painter is Yu Jun-sang, a major star with a wealth of endorsements who doesn't need to appear in small indie projects yet, he has been a prolific low-budget performer for many years. Clearly passionate about independent cinema, he's had his highs, including six Hong Sangsoo films (such as his memorable interactions with Isabelle Huppert in 2012's In Another Country) and Lee Kwang-kuk's A Matter of Interpretation but he hasn't always chosen wisely (Touch, 2012). Robbed of an opportunity to show off his great wit and charm, Yu's character is stoic and for the most part silent. Frankly, the role could have been played to the same effect by any number of lesser actors and as such feels like a waste of his talents.
Angry Painter is also notable for being the first co-production between South Korea and Estonia, following a treaty that was signed in Tallinn at the Black Nights Film Festival in 2013 and which was born out of a long-standing relationship between Jeon and the festival. Though the production did shoot in Europe, those scenes turn out to be all too brief, leaving the distinct impression that quite a lot of footage was left on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, the brief scenes in Estonia do add a worldly feel to the project, and deepen its visual tapestry when contrasted with warm primal colors of the dank and claustrophobic interiors back in Korea.
Of course, what most will remember about Angry Painter are its unsimulated intercourse scenes between Moon Jong-won and Russian actress Natallia Bulynia, which sees the performers contort themselves in all manner of positions as they go at it for long stretches of screen time.