Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tae-yong Kim & Kyu-dong Min's Memento Mori (1999)

Opening imagery, accompanied by a nostalgic tune, of some candle-burning and intricate scrapbooking, accompanied also by a voice-over narration of a young woman, telling a cryptic poem of young women and their relationship to the truth and injuries suffered because of truth, ends with two young women, bound at their ankles by a red sash, both underwater, one having to free herself to come up for air, while the other closes her eyes and descends to the bottom. Very powerful. The two young women are Hyo-shin (Yeh-jin Park) and Shi-eun (Young-jin Lee) in Tae-yong Kim & Kyu-dong Min's Memento Mori (1999) whose tale is told through the eyes of Min-ah (Min-sun Kim) after she spies the two's diary, sitting above a row of spouts, unknown as to how it ever got there. The trio are schoolgirls, in an all-girls' school, as Hyo-shin, smart and artistic and disliked by others for her attributes, Shi-eun, an athlete and loner, who's a runner and competes alone, and Min-ah, who's very typical and sweet with accompanying similar friends. Perhaps because of her normalcy, Min-ah develops, seemingly over the course of the day, a growing obsession with the pair of Hyo-shin and Shi-eun as she reads the diary. Through a series of flashbacks, as Min-ah takes every opportunity to read the diary throughout the school day, the viewer is shown the origins of the two's relationship and its growth, as the two become closer. Min-ah eventually feels some regret for even opening the book, and during the school day, one of the trio dies, so Min-ah, with her willing curiosity leading her into the tryst, reluctantly must confront the duo's dark secrets and end the mystery.
Memento Mori is interesting in several ways: an intriguing mystery, rich characterizations, wonderful and heartfelt and convincing performances, and perhaps the most interesting, the narrative and visual style. Visually, Memento Mori seems initially to adhere to modern cinema's current style: natural lighting, handheld camera, arbitrary compositions, and realistic costumes, make-up, and locations. However, the film incorporates a sentimental classical style: tracking shots, orchestrated compositions and set pieces, and a beautiful (in less adept hands, possibly trite or campy) accompanying music score. The blend of the two styles becomes an extremely effective hybrid, enhancing the intensity of the viewing. The use of the modern style brings a real intimacy to the locations and the characters, while the sentimental and classical style gives Memento Mori a very ethereal feel, keeping the viewer only slightly (and appropriately) outside. The narrative technique, rarely used and rarely used effectively, is akin to the third-person subjective (its literary analogue would be, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby). The credibility of Min-ah's subjective rendering is really not in doubt, and even if it was, Memento Mori is far more interesting to view through her eyes, if not just for her reactions and emotions and her own character arc. As for the performances, all three actresses are really something else (even the collateral characters feel so very real and well-drawn and are equally well-performed): Yeh-jin Park's Hyo-shin is wonderfully seductive and mysterious; Young-jin Lee's Shi-eun is effectively distant, endearing, and emotional; and Min-sun Kim's Min-ah is totally likable, obsessive and curious, and quite often, very funny. There is nothing fly-by-night about this screenplay, its characters, or the production in Memento Mori. Well-crafted and focused, the film appears totally organic and spontaneous. I must have owned this disc for almost a decade and had not visited the film for quite a while. Unknowingly drawn to it, I hope other folks will be also. See it.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review Hans. I actually was going to watch this film last night, but the show never got started. Maybe my friend pillowcase and I will watch it later. And yes, Pillowcase is large and in charge.