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“Hindsight” attracted a great deal of hype in Korea, marking the return of “Il Mare” director Lee Hyun Seung after an absence of over a decade. The film also whipped up interest thanks to its casting of one of the country’s most popular and acclaimed stars, Song Kang Ho (“The Host”, “Thirst”) as the male lead, opposite up and coming young actress Shin Se Kyung (“Acoustic”), with an accomplished supporting cast that includes another promising starlet in Esom (“Second Half”), veteran performer Yoon Yeo Jung (who recently impressed with a deadpan turn in “The Housemaid”), Chun Jung Myung (“ Hansel & Gretel”), Lee Jong Hyuk (“Parallel Life”), Kim Min Joon (“No Mercy for the Rude”) and Oh Dal Soo (“Detective K”). With its potentially odd central paring being woven into a tale of gangsters, revenge and uneasy romance, expectations were set high, though the offbeat film surprisingly met with mixed reactions from critics and local audiences.
Song Kang Ho plays Doo Hun, a top Seoul gangster who has retired to Busan, attending cooking classes with the plan of one day opening his restaurant. He’s partnered in the kitchen by a cute though bad tempered young woman called Se Bin (Shin Se Kyung), and the two gradually warm to each other and begin spending time together outside class. What he doesn’t know is that she has actually been sent by one of old his rivals to keep track of his movements, she having fallen on hard times thanks to her friend Eun Jung (Esom) running up an insurmountable debt. Things get more complicated when Doo Hun finds outs that his old boss back in Seoul has met with a suspicious accident and sets out to investigate, while Se Bin’s situation worsens and she is given the order to kill him.
It’s perhaps not too hard to see why “Hindsight” didn’t go down with some, mainly since its narrative is unfocused and does tend to meander, with a laid back pace that’s never afraid to take its time. However, in this respect, the film really isn’t too different to “Il Mare”, showing the same kind of thoughtful plot and character development, though this time with an air of menace and lurking violence beneath its calm surface. Aside from the fact that the film quite annoyingly opens briefly with its end scene, this approach works well, lending the proceedings a meditative feel, its shifts in tone never too jarring. Though it is fairly slow moving and prone to stretches where not a great deal happens, Lee does inject some well handled action scenes, including an impressively brutal knife fight, and several car chases and shootouts. This helps to keep things engaging, and the film is arguably all the better for having a looser, more lyrical feel than many other Korean blockbusters.
The film also benefits from its compelling and unconventional couple, with Doo Hun and Se Bin’s friendly gangster and angst-ridden assassin making for an interesting and winning dynamic. Song Kang Ho is on fine form, humorous and raggedly charming, and the decision to cast a far younger, dangerously cute actress in Shin Se Kyung pays off well, with her showing genuine screen presence and an ability to handle emotionally complex material. Lee keeps their relationship to an extent ambiguous and oddly passive, and while this may frustrate viewers looking for out and out romance, it fits the overall mood and script. Similarly, though their obvious age gap may initially seem off-putting, it reflects the film’s themes of the conflict between modern and old fashioned values and the cruel ruthlessness of modern society, also seen in its differing visual depictions of Seoul and Busan, and in its use of cookery as a warmly traditional practice that brings people together (a motif seen with increasing frequency in recent Korean cinema).
The film is visually very strong, with some gorgeous cinematography from Kim Byeong Seo (“Castaway on the Moon”), who adds an atmospheric blue tint and makes excellent use of the clashes between the various locations and scenery. Although aesthetically pleasing and poetic, it has to be said that the film does go a little too far at times, with some laughably gratuitous scenes of characters staring out at sunsets and the like, Lee occasionally being in danger of drifting into artistic pretentiousness.
However, tin the grand scheme of things this isn’t too much of a criticism, at least for viewers with a taste for these kind of moody atmospherics, and “Hindsight” really deserved a better reception than it received. Philosophical and beautiful, though tough when it needs to be and driven by a fascinatingly unorthodox pairing, it’s a film which will hopefully find a wider audience on DVD and will see Lee Hyun Seung not waiting quite so long before his next outing.
Hyun-seung Lee (director) / Hyun-seung Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Kang-ho Song … Doo-hyeon
Shin Se-Kyung … Se-bin
Jeong-myeong Cheon … Ae-kku
Min-jun Kim … K
Jong-hyeok Lee … Baek Kyeong-min
Esom Esom … Eun-jeong