A graceful journey through time and space
Choi Hyeon is a Korean man living in China, where he teaches at a Beijing university. When he flies home for a friend’s funeral, he feels an urge to go on a pilgrimage into his past and visit the nearby historical city of Gyeongju. He once visited the city with his late friend and had been struck by the vision of an obscene folk painting on the wall of a tea house.
Hyeon’s Chinese is so good that an employee of the local tourist office goes out of her way to talk, albeit awkwardly, to this handsome visitor from China in his own language. She is fooled by his seamless double culture, a trait that the character shares with his creator, Korean-Chinese filmmaker ZHANG Lu. Choi Hyeon’s natural charm is clearly enhanced by the mystery inherent in this cultural mix. And his marriage to a Chinese woman can be seen as the starting point of the film’s two main trajectories – a reflection on the identities and relations of East Asian neighbor countries, and the elusive search for the “perfect match” in love.
The study is well-meaning. A character jokes about Chinese women being overpowering in the household, but we hear Hyeon’s wife sing a tender love song to him over the phone. The Japanese are also briefly included, with an amusing duo of ladies who change their pose from silliness to gravity so as to offer a sincere pledge of peace in the name of their country.
Political hints abound throughout this gentle stroll down memory- and fantasy-lane. Hyeon’s mood is flirtatious, but the memories brought back by Gyeongju’s soft breeze are both sweet and sour. The attractive new owner of the tea house is one of several characters who has a painful secret revealed by Hyeon’s presence. His tendency to reopen wounds is not inconsequential, but it may be enabled, or an enabler, of maturity.
In Gyeongju, a world of dreams surfaces when you open your eyes, and the door to reality opens when you close your eyes. As long as you are alive, the eyes continue to blink.