Film Review: Poongsan


I wrote this before about Poongsan (In my Soompi Weekly Box Office Report), but before I go into the film here is an explanation of the title, “Poongsan.” The Poongsan dog is a breed of hunting dogs from North Korea. They get their name from the mountainous region where they were first bred and are very rare. In old Korean tales there is a story about a Poongsan dog defeating a Siberian tiger. (Of course after watching the film, the main character is given the name because of the cigarettes he smokes, which are a Poongsan brand.)

Walking into the film I knew three things: This was a low budget film, it was about a delivery man who can go back and forth between North and South Korea, and that it was a Kim Ki-Duk movie. (For those of you that don’t know anything about Kim Ki-Duk, you should try and get a copy of “Bad Guy.”)

When I came out of the film I was stunned. Kim Ki-Duk had gotten to me again! Also, Yoon Kye Sang’s acting was very good, which was a pleasant surprise.

The reason I brought up “Bad Guy,” is because the films are similar in many ways. (Of course, Kim Ki-Duk’s didn’t direct this film, he produced and wrote the script but you can definitely feel his influence.) The main character rarely speaks and the film has a beautiful message that is wrapped up in a dark and skewed view of the world.

The cinematography was beautiful and the action scenes fluid, I didn’t really get the vibe that this film was low-budget. Also, there were many scenes that made me cringe because of the gore, and scenes that had me shivering because of the thrill. All-in-all I had a very enjoyable experience when I watched the film.

Another reason I could really respect the movie, was because the topic of the film is set up to make a political comment, but the film never dwells on it. North or South Koreans aren’t portrayed as one-dimensional good or bad guys. It’s interesting because “Poongsan” (Yoon Kye Sang’s character) is not really affiliated with either side. What we can make out of the speechless character is that he is doing his “job” in order to alleviate the pain of Koreans because of the split-up nation.

Of course, that doesn’t really make “Poongsan” a typical hero either, he’s more of an anti-hero. We can’t really tell what his motivations for doing what he does. We do keep wondering about “Poongsan’s” past, there is obviously something military, but the film never tries to explain this away. But, it works fine!

I wish I could write into words the “message” that I got out from the film, but like many of Kim Ki-Duk’s other films there isn’t a clear-cut one. After leaving the movie theatre, you just know that you got moved. The themes are complex. In-Ok (Kim Gyu-Ri’s character) is in a dutiful love with the NK defector, but she feels pity/innocent love towards Poongsan. Also, Poongsan is completely smitten with In-Ok, but we can’t help but wonder why? The North and South Korean agents are only concerned with each other, so the viewer is forced in siding with Poongsan and In-Ok. Their love is beautiful and pure, but perverse in a way also. In reality In-Ok is cheating on her lover, but she is also helplessly trapped. In many ways, it seems that Poongsan is trapped in his own world as well.

Hopefully soon, Poongsan will have translations and our Soompi users will have a chance to watch this film. Whether you are a fan of Yoon Kye-Sang or a diehard fan of Kim Ki-Duk’s films, there is plenty for you to enjoy.