BUNJEE JUMPING OF THEIR OWN.
A KTB Network/Won Film presentation of a Noon Entertainment production. (International sales: Cineclick Asia, Seoul.) Executive producer, Choi Nak-kwon.
Directed by Kim Dae-seung. Screenplay, Ko Eun-nim. Camera (color), Lee Who-gon; editor, Park Yoo-kyong; music, Park Hojoon; art director, Jang Choon-sub; sound (Dolby Digital), Lee Tae-gyu, Kim Sukwon; assistant director, Kang Young-min. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 9, 2001. Running time: 99 MIN.
With: Lee Byung-hun, Lee Eun-ju, Yae Hyun-soo, Hong Su-hyun, Kim Kab-su, Lee Bum-soo.
Love in its purest form -- transcending even the gender of the partners w is the central idea behind "Bunjee Jumping of Their Own," a bold stab at a tricky subject that requires a considerable leap of faith by viewers, too. Those prepared to go the distance will be rewarded by an often imaginative piece of cinema, confidently helmed by first-time director Kim Dae-seung, a former a.d. to veteran Im Kwontaek. Some Western viewers, however, may well find it too fanciful for their tastes. Pic has been bouncing around the top of the local charts since its Feb. 3 release, and deserves a spin at Western fests simply on the strength of its mise en scene.
On a broader level, "Bunjee" is a further addition to an Asian genre -- love stories that surmount time and physical barriers -- that's become increasingly popular. In South Korea alone, it joins movies like "Il Mare," "Ditto," "Secret Tears," "Ghost in Love," "Memento Moil" and even "The Contact" in proposing a mystical element in human relationships. "Bunjee" goes one giant step further: a love between a man and a woman reborn as a love between a man and a man.
Aerial shots through a wild, cavernous landscape (only explained at pic's end) establish a dream-like, abstract quality that's pursued in modern-day Seoul as college student In-woo (Lee Byung-hun) falls for Tae-hee (Lee Eun-ju), a woman at a bus stop, and spends days trying to find her again. In the first of many ellipses in the movie, they're next seen trekking in the mountains together; the scene's emotional exhilaration is summed up by a stunningly vertiginous piece of camerawork as Tae-hee stands on the edge of a sheer precipice.
After a conventional romance, which climaxes with In-woo nervously losing his virginity in a small hotel, Tae-hee vows she'll never leave him.
Pic flashes forward 17 years to March 2000 and the slightly ocherous tones of the preceding reels give way to sharp, bright colors. In-woo is now a new teacher at a high school; among his students is a cocky teen, Hyun-bin (Yae Hyun-soo).
In-woo becomes fascinated by Hyun-bin: The kid stirs memories of his romance with Tae-hee, and Hyunbin's putative g.f. even looks like a younger version of her.
Then gossip starts to spread that the two men are gay, despite their vigorous denials. As the pair embarks on a strange spiritual bonding, the background to Tae-hee's disappearance from In-woo's life is revealed.
Scripter Ko Eun-nim, who previously worked in TV, admits she went for the most extreme version of a love story, resisting pressure to go for the more commercially acceptable option of making the two women rather than men. Though there's nary a hint of physical bonding between the guys, pic's third act is still borderline fanciful -- and weakened by the unavoidable absence of actress Lee Eun-ju, who makes another strong impression after her debut in "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors."
Kim's precision direction can't overcome a basic weakness in Ko's script: It never makes a convincing case for reincarnating In-woo's first love in a young man. Aside from miring the pic in a gay/not-gay debate, it's an idea that may have seemed cheeky on paper but needs more emotional underpinning when on a bigscreen.
Aside from Lee Eun-ju, perfs are OK rather than strong. Real star is helmer Kim, who evinces a talent that's in many ways superior to the material. Technical credits are all first rate.