허삼관 (Chronicle of a Blood Merchant)

A Dhuta Co./Fantagio Production
Distribution: Next Entertainment World
Rating: 12 and Over
Genre: Black Comedy, Period
Running Time: 124 Min
Shooting Time: 2014/Jun/07~Sep/28
Release: 2015/Jan/14

WITH 하정우 (Ha Jung-Woo) as Heo Sam-Gwan; 하지원 (Ha Ji-Won) as Heo Ok-Ran; 남다름 (Nam Da-Reum) as Heo Il-Rak; 노강민 (Noh Gang-Min) as Heo Yi-Rak; 전혜진 (Jeon Hye-Jin) as Lady Song; 장광 (Jang Gwang) as Mr. Choi; 민무제 (Min Mu-Je) as Ha So-Yong; 주진모 (Ju Jin-Mo) as Uncle; 조진웅 (Jo Jin-Woong) as Mr. Ahn; CAMEOS: 이경영 (Lee Gyeong-Young), 김영애 (Kim Young-Ae), 윤은혜 (Yoon Eun-Hye), 황보라 (Hwang Bo-Ra), 성동일 (Seong Dong-Il); 정만식 (Jung Man-Shik), 김성균 (Kim Seong-Gyun), 정의갑 (Jung Eui-Gap);

CREW Director 하정우 (Ha Jung-Woo) Executive Producer 고승희 (Go Seung-Hee) 안동규 (Ahn Dong-Gyu) | Screenplay 김주호 (Kim Ju-Ho) 하정우 (Ha Jung-Woo) | Director of Photography 소정오 (So Jung-Oh) Lighting 김성관 (Kim Seong-Gwan) Editor 김재범 (Kim Jae-Beom) 김상범 (Kim Sang-Beom) Music 김정범 (Kim Jung-Beom) Art Direction 박일현 (Park Il-Hyeon) | Assistant Director 박호찬 (Park Ho-Chan)
Based Upon Yu Hua's 許三觀賣血記 (Chronicle of a Blood Merchant)

BOX OFFICE
KOFIC Nationwide
TOTAL REVENUE: 7,405,659,269 Won
TOTAL ADMISSIONS: 955,206
BUDGET: 10,000,000,000 Won

Photo ⓒ Dhuta, Fantagio, NEW

IN SHORT

Good things come to those who wait.

For producer Ahn Dong-Gyu, that meant a long 16 years since he purchased the remake rights of Yu Hua's classic 许三观卖血记 (Chronicle of a Blood Merchant), a quirky story of a father selling blood to improve his family's fortunes in the midst of the 1970's Cultural Revolution. Seven script revisions and plenty of rejections later, he finally found a home in the hands of relative directing newcomer Ha Jung-Woo – his debut 롤러코스터 (Fasten Your Seatbelt) was little more than a throwaway trifle, so you could argue that this was his real first test behind the camera. He who just happens to be the best actor in Korea, adding an eclectic sensibility to the proceedings that someone who didn't have such a keen understanding of acting would have lacked.

Ha moved the story from the 1970s back to the postwar in Gyeongju, and filled the film with blink-and-you-will-miss-it cameos from his acting brethren – and I do mean that, as in Kim Young-Ae's case she appears for about 20 seconds, and Lee Gyeong-Young becomes the recipient of a mourning portrait about a minute into his performance. But more importantly, the young actor-director moved the focus from a thinly veiled critique of Chinese society during a turbulent time of change to a much more limited scope, the journey of growth Heo Sam-Gwan goes through as a father – so while some critics felt the third act of the film lacked credibility, I see it as the onset of responsibility kicking in when the proverbial shit hits the fan. Obviously a talented actor like him had no problem conveying that kind of sudden epiphany after a solid buildup made of charming chicanery, to the point that the final coda even becomes a little poignant.

But it's the entire atmosphere enveloping the film that's just lovely. Ha didn't really care about recreating the 60s – as some elements of his Gyeongju feel decidedly “exotic” (to the point you'd argue they fit the original Chinese novel a lot more than Korea, for instance the act of donating blood for money itself). But he managed to take something that would have been the perfect launching pad for a period makjang soap opera (a protagonist raising a child he's not the biological father of? I think I've seen that plot in about a half dozen TV Novels and dailies throughout the years) and turn it into something with the humble charm of an Italian neorealist classic, like what Fellini or De Sica would have done. Everything just feels right, from the way the (talented, extremely deep) cast blends into the frame to production design that subtly defines the era but is not intrusive.

I personally would have chosen someone other than Ha Ji-Won (whose acting feels rather anachronistic and not subdued enough to blend in as the others do), but she does a respectable job. And, even more surprisingly, Ha manages to get decent work out of Yoon Eun-Hye, who in a short fat-suit-enhanced cameo leaves a better impression than her last three dramas combined.

It's not the great film Ha has the potential to deliver, and probably not the best representation of Yu Hua's brilliance – because, truth to be told, a lot of the depth and satirical irony of the original is lost in the proceedings. But it's a wonderful appetizer of great things to come for this intimidatingly talented young man – who in the long run, who knows, might become Korea's own Clint Eastwood.

ACTING GRADES

75 하정우 (Ha Jung-Woo)
73 조진웅 (Jo Jin-Woong)
72 민무제 (Min Mu-Je)
70 장광 (Jang Gwang)
69 주진모 (Ju Jin-Mo)
69 남다름 (Nam Da-Reum)
68 전혜진 (Jeon Hye-Jin)
67 하지원 (Ha Ji-Won)
62 노강민 (Noh Gang-Min)

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