How time flies.
It was more than 20 years ago when, in Kuala Lumpur, almost by accident, I saw U-Wei bin Haji Saari’s “Kaki Bakar.” An adaptation of William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” rooted in Malaysian culture, entirely unexpected. The film was screened with success in Un Certain Regard, and then went on to Telluride, New Directors/New Films, Busan and quite a few other festivals.
The film ends very emotively with a long, backwards tracking shot which shows the child moving forward. We, the viewers, rediscover our innocence. Innocence itself.
A while back, Lee Chang Dong mentioned to me that he’d like to adapt a short story by Murakami Haruki, itself based on “Barn Burning.” I reacted with skepticism.
But from the opening shot, a sinuous reverse track, and from the opening sounds, we are plunged into the teeming life of a busy working-class district, at once close and distanced. Every moment will reveal something unexpected.
The beautifully titled “Bend of the River” is for sure more an intimate epic than a simple western. It works in much the same way as Burning. Is there anything more cherishable in a film than the moment when it breaks away from what its author seems to have intended and begins to have a life of its own, with its own impulses?
Lee Chang-dong belongs to the rare breed of humanist directors, although his work is never burdened with “messages.” Also, to my surprise, I find myself dreaming that “Burning” prefigures the reunification of Korea, restoring at long last its ancestral culture. Maybe this was the hidden ambition of directors Shin Sang-ok and Im Kwon-taek yesterday, as it might be of Lee Chang-Dong today.