Review: Blossom Again (2005)

Directed by:
Cast: , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

From the director of Happy End comes this intricate small drama about dealing with the pleasures and traumas of first love, not to mention coping with dissatisfying long-term relationships, death, and people who seem to possess deeply ingrained hidden agendas.

From the outset, the audience’s expectations are toyed with. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing Kim Jeong-eun play goofy comedy roles in titles such as Marrying the Mafia and Spring Breeze. Here, her voice opens the film with a barrage of complex mathematics vernacular, an immediately jarring experience and not a bad way to send the viewer running from the theatre. The opening image complements the unwelcome dryness of the voice-over. Kim is positioned in front of a blackboard as she teaches a small class of elite students, each of whom huddle over a tiny desk in a glass panelled sectioned-off booth. It’s all quite bizarre, and there’s more to come.

Across the first major arc of the story, exposition is handled in a thoroughly offbeat fashion with director Jeong pulling off one almighty ‘gotcha’. During this period, strange details about the characters slowly emerge and we become aware that the plot is fashioned on an incredibly unlikely series of events. The nub of the issue is love and romance, but only of a very peculiar nature. Jeong is working within fairly rudimentary parameters: he seems to be concerned with the mistakes we make and dangerous games we play when we fall in love. His presentation of these matters is far from conventional, however. Multiple love stories are presented, involving a total of seven characters if my calculations are correct. The main plot follows the love affair between teacher In-young and student Lee-suk. As the film progresses, the main plot thickens. Gradually, the remaining five major characters are introduced and their own perspective on love is intertwined with the main plot to varying degrees, creating an almost unmanageable range of connections in the mind of the spectator. To demonstrate how complex and confusing this is, consider that we are introduced to two In-young’s, two Lee-suk’s, one Lee-soo who is the twin brother of one of the Lee-suk’s, and two Jung-woo’s. It is only in the very last scene of the film that the name of the second Jung-woo, a barely represented but important character, is made apparent to the audience. But this not the ‘gotcha’. Jeong’s play with expectations is made most palpably manifest in the way he ‘tricks’ us into believing in the veracity of a flashback. In fact, the early scenes involving the younger In-young are not a flashback at all, but rather a separate contemporaneous plot. We are being unreliably narrated to, or rather we have been led to derive our own conclusions about the nature of the second plot and mistaken it for a flashback. Following such maneuvers, we begin to question everything we see and hear in the film, i.e. we assume a ‘hesitant’ viewing position, entering a state of uncertainty regarding our observation of the love lives of these strange characters. Consequently, we query the narrative in more ways than we may have done otherwise. Bravo to Jeong for constructing his elliptical and challenging opening material in such a way to pull this off. He should also be congratulated for his decision to entomb his characters within a strangely quiet fictional world, one featuring a very sparse sound track devoid of non-diegetic music. There is no occasion for schmaltz or manipulative aural diversions in Blossom Again.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to empathise with these characters and comprehend why Jeong would want to make a movie featuring them. The teacher is at times a shrewd, calculating minx who torments the men around her and yet she tends to hide behind her bubbly superficial personality. The younger Lee-suk is a bit of a non-event in all departments, resulting in difficulty understanding his powers of attraction. The teacher’s older boyfriend pretends to disregard her forthright attitudes towards a free-spirited love life, as if unable to face the reality of his sometimes pathetic relationship with her. Even the younger In-young (a widely praised Jeong Yoo-mi), calm and naively innocent on the surface, is a nervous wreck. She exhibits an abundance of hyperactive pogo stick zaniness one moment and flows tears like an aqueduct the next. Perhaps the behaviours of these figures are representative of ordinary people leading normal lives, especially people who make mistakes when in love. The feeling that Jeong doesn’t really like any of these characters is difficult to shake, though. There seems to be a degree of pleasure displayed in the pain that they knowingly inflict on each other. In that case, what is Jeong trying to say with this film? That it is simply human nature to act this way? Or is it only human nature within a particular social class (everyone in the picture is wealthy), or within mainstream Korean culture, or within certain age brackets (half the characters are just entering adulthood, the other half are about thirty years old), or what?

Blossom Again is reminiscient of the small cast, adult-themed chamber dramas that populate continental European cinema, and in this respect it should probably be understood in the context of that region’s contemporary art cinema. Like many films coming out of that tradition, I’m not sure if Blossom Again has anything remarkably original or fascinating to offer us. Ultimately, I found it impenetrable, but given the unfathomable maths problem displayed on the blackboard at the beginning of the film, perhaps that is an appropriate response.

6.5 sudden turns of events out of 10.
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