Spring has finally sprung in London, so The Shower seemed like a perfect choice for a KCC film night. After strolling from Charing Cross to the KCC building (with no coat for the first time this year) and admiring the picturesque red sky, I was greeted by the screening organisers, friendly KCC staff, and many other filmgoers. Some had come as part of the London Korean language Meetup, some in groups / couples, and some individual; and all were speculating about the film we were about to watch. I did not know much about it, except that it was one of the 109 films directed by Go Young Nam; that it was a prime example of Korean literary film; and, from a friend’s personal review, it was “really sad”. As I had never seen a 1970s Korean film before, I was just as excited as the other audience-members were.
As usual, soft drinks and snacks (this time in the form of Korean doughnuts) were provided in the convivial KCC lobby, a perfect pick-me-up for the majority of us who had come straight from work. The KCC’s interior had developed a new ambience due to art from new Monologues exhibition dotted around. It was great to catch a glimpse of this, and I look forward to checking it out in its full glory soon.
After this pre-film communal get-together, we piled into the KCC’s smart lecture hall for the screening. Unsurprisingly, the place was packed out, and we squeezed onto the pew-like seating. The lights went down, and with an amusing opening dream sequence, the film began.
I was instantly charmed by our protagonist Seoki, a cheeky, naughty kid that we can all relate to. Seoki’s high standard of acting allowed this perfect characterisation to be reached, and I haven’t been that impressed by a child actor since Azharuddin Ismail in Slumdog Millionaire (2008). I was less taken in by the female child character Yeoni, who was suitably cute and giggly, but actor Cho Yun-suk’s acting wasn’t quite on a par with Lee Young-su’s. Additionally, the way the character was eroticised seemed to provoke more laughs than shock from the audience. I must admit, her taunting chants of ‘Paaaaa-bo’ were undeniably funny.
I was also struck by the beauty of the scenery and attention to detail which transported us into a natural countryside landscape, far removed from our own world. Quirky shots like a close-up of a frog, or focus on birds flying in the sky constantly reminded us of the beauty of nature, and highlighted the children’s love for their surroundings. Yeoni’s personal connection with the countryside (allowing fish to swim by her feet, setting a chicada free from a spider’s web) is particularly touching in the knowledge that she is a spoilt girl from Seoul.
The film is clearly one of two halves. The first of these is delightful and funny. I found myself sniggering throughout, as though I was a naughty schoolchild in the playground alongside Seoki. I enjoyed watching the children flirt in their own special way, calling each other names and throwing stones. The way this develops into first love is moving, yet with the comedy being retained. For example, Seoki keeps the stone thrown at him by Yeoni in his top pocket, and then scolds his mother for tossing it away. The simplicity of childhood is so refreshing, especially when shown in direct contrast to the struggles, money worries and tough working lives of the adults in the film. The paradise that childhood brings with it is epitomised in the events of “the shower” (a rain storm) itself.
I definitely did not enjoy the second half of the film as much as the first, for many reasons. Most obviously, it was sobering to see the children’s simple lives suddenly become complicated and worry-full. The film changes tone so drastically that there is an ominous feel; I somehow found myself waiting for it all to go wrong, and it was very difficult to watch. As well as this, though, the film-making style became rather haphazard. I can see how this works thematically: a structured, enchanting first half contrasting with a chaotic second half. I assume and understand it was Go Young Nam’s intention for the audience to feel uncomfortable during the latter half of the film. For me, though, this somehow didn’t work in practice, and the first half was far more successful in engaging me than the second.
This was still an absolutely beautiful and moving film throughout, and a pleasant surprise in terms of what 1970s Korean cinema has to offer. It was colourful, striking and playful, yet a stark view of the reality that childhood can never last forever. Anyone who is interested in Korean literature in particular should be sure to give The Shower at least one watch. I look forward to the next film night at the KCC, as well as seeking out the other 108 of Go Young Nam’s films.