Below is the text of my introduction to a screening of Luck Chan-sil at the London Korean Film Festival 2020
Welcome to this screening of Lucky Chan-sil, which is one of the films that I have programmed for the Cinema Now Strand of the London Korean Film Festival.
Lucky Chan-sil is the feature debut of writer-director Kim Cho-hee, but before we get to who she is, we need to talk a bit about Kim Kyoung Hee.
Kim Kyoung Hee studied cinema in France for just short of six years, with a major in film directing. In 2008, when she heard that indie writer/director Hong Sang-soo was sending a team to France to shoot local scenes for his eighth feature, Night and Day, Kim Kyoung Hee leapt at the opportunity to work on a Hong Sang-soo film, and volunteered her services to join the directing team in Paris.
Kim Kyoung Hee hit it off with Hong Sang-soo, and found herself working as line producer on Hong Sang-soo’s Like You Know it All (2009) and on the tripartite Pan-Asian anthology film Visitors (2009), to which Hong Sang-soo contributed an episode (Lost In The Mountains) alongside fellow writer/directors Lav Diaz and Naomi Kawase. By now Kim Kyoung Hee was also working as general manager of Jeonwonsa Film Co. of which Hong was CEO – and she served as the full-blown producer on Hong Sang-soo’s next eight features – Haha and Oki’s Movie in 2010; The Day He Arrives in 2011; In Another Country in 2012; Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and Our Sunhi in 2013; Hill of Freedom in 2014; and Right Now, Wrong Then in 2015. In other words, Hong Sang-soo and Kim Kyoung Hee enjoyed a very close and prolific filmmaking collaboration for seven years together. If you have seen any of these Hong Sang-soo films, several of which have screened at previous instalments of the London Korean Film Festival, then you have also seen the fruits of Kim Kyoung Hee’s invisible labours as a producer. During these years, Kim Kyoung Hee also wrote and directed two short films – The Winter Pianist in 2011 and Ladies of the Forest in 2016. But she had not yet got to helm a feature of her own.
So let’s get back to Lucky Chan-sil, and its writer/director Kim Cho-hee, who you may by now have guessed is in fact the same person as producer Kim Kyoung Hee, only working under a different name. And while Lucky Chan-sil is obviously a work of fiction, it is also clear that, for her debut feature, Kim is drawing heavily on her own experiences and ‘writing what she knows’. In other words, Lucky Chan-sil is Kim’s semi-autobiographical film à clef. After all, her protagonist Lee Chan-sil (Kang Mal-geum) is just like Kim: a short-haired, forty-something producer who has been cast adrift when her long-term collaboration with an indie film director comes to an abrupt end. And while the real Hong Sang-soo is alive and well – indeed, his latest feature, The Woman Who Ran, is playing online at this year’s London Korean Film Festival from the 9th of November – he is a notoriously heavy drinker of soju, which brings a special significance to the sudden death of the indie director in the opening scene of Lucky Chan–sil, who keels over from a heart attack during a long soju session.
As Chan-sil is forced to downsize, has strange encounters with the ghosts of indie films past, struggles to work out what to do with herself, and contemplates a future without the cinema that has defined her whole life, she is also repeatedly confronted with the indignity of seeing her own work as a producer misunderstood, diminished or dismissed.
In other words, Lucky Chan-sil allows its writer/director to work through issues and to exorcise a lot of ghosts from her past career as a producer of indies, before finding the will to move on to a new cinematic project. It is a deeply reflexive film all at once about the creative process, about Korea’s makeshift indie scene and, in a way, about its own making. Yet if all this sounds rather heavy, do not worry – for Lucky Chan-sil is also a breezily funny and rather joyous story about cinephilia itself and the pursuit of dreams. I hope you enjoy it.
My programme note:
Between 2008 and 2015, Kim Cho-hee served as producer to director and notorious soju-drinker Hong Sang-soo – so when her own feature debut as writer/director begins with a male indie director suffering a fatal heart attack during a heavy soju-drinking session, Kim is clearly dramatising her own struggles to break free of Hong’s shadow. For Lucky Chan-sil follows a forty-something producer as she attempts to rebuild her own life after her director’s death. Chan-sil (Kang Mal-geum) downsizes her digs, takes a job cleaning for vapid starlet Sophie (Yoon Seung-ah), and develops an interest in Sophie’s French teacher – and amateur filmmaker – Kim Young (Bae Yoo-ram), all the while wondering if she will ever make another film.
This is a breezy, often absurdist 8½ (1963) for Korea’s contemporary independent filmmaking scene, also boasting pastiches of Ozu, and a ghost who bears a passing resemblance to Leslie Cheung…
© Anton Bitel