Chihwaseon (2002)

105.

★★★★

Directed by: Kwon-taek Im
Written by: Kwon-taek Im, Yong-ok Kim
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Sung-kee Ahn and Ho-jeong Yu

The art of capturing still life with nothing but brush and ink requires a painful level of patience, sleight of hand, and a keen eye for detail. But even when one can master this, artists are set apart by something other than pure technical skill. For the truly gifted, a searing passion burns through their work, and if the content of their masterpiece reaches a deeper level of meaning than pure scenery, it achieves greatness that will refuse to fade over time.

Such is the ambition behind renown 19th Century Korean artist, Jang Seung-Up (Choi), who centers the story of Kwon-taek Im’s vivid, visually rich film, Chihwaseon. Growing in poverty, but taken under the wing of a wealthy nobleman, Jang masters a level of fame and skill that is unmatched. Despite this, Jang is tortured by his radical creativity that jars with the tame, but widely popular style of painting that is in high demand amongst wealthy buyers. In the face of Chinese and Japanese colonization, political turmoil, and dramatic change in Korea, Jang’s own work begins to transform with the artist’s experiences of love, competition, and sparks of genius.

One of Korea’s greatest artists …

As a film, Chihwaseon captures the life and spirit of artist Jang with a sharp awareness of how history, nature, human relationships, and personal demons can converge and form a cinematic narrative. In the same way that critics praise Jang in the film for making his paintings come to life, director Im brings the persona of Jang to the screen with striking cinematography and visual direction. As for the artist himself, respected screen actor Min-sik Choi delivers a performance that makes Jang a compelling and captivating character. From his greatest triumphs to his most frustrating failures, his acts of kindness to acts of drunkenness, Choi lives and breathes a character who seems inhuman in his genius, but also desperately flawed and vulnerable.

Awarded Best Director at Cannes for his craftsmanship in Chihwaseon, director Im paints an intricate and wonderfully energetic portrait of a man, art, and historic Korea.

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