To the Starry Island

A leader among the younger generation of Western-trained, politicized film directors in South Korea, Park Kwang-su has focused on national identity in his work. Politics, however, is the underlying theme of this 1994 feature, which looks at the crisscrossed lives of villagers from the remote island of Kwisong. The film opens with an eerie, surreal scene of a funeral boat trying to dock amidst the protests of angry islanders, who refuse to let the body be buried there. Then, through the memories of one of the mourners, a poet named Kim Chul, the scene shifts to the eve of the Korean war. In a series of artfully written and edited vignettes–some comical, others poignant–life on lush Kwisong is revealed to be harsh, insular, and puritanical yet brimming with neighborly kindness and a superstitious respect for nature. One narrative strand–involving an unfaithful husband banished by village elders–eventually leads to the intrusion of outside politics on the community. When a military troop abruptly shows up, the politically naive islanders are asked at gunpoint to declare their allegiance either to the communists or to the Nationalists. Park deftly turns the suspenseful sequence into an anguished meditation on vengeful behavior and on the capriciousness of ideological stances. Yet he seems to see a way out–a possible peaceful reunification of South and North Korea–in the film’s poetic final scene. Yoo Young-gil’s wide-screen cinematography is striking in its evocation of magical realism. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, August 9, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday and Sunday, August 10 and 11, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, August 12 through 15, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114.

–Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo from “To the Starry Island”.