Kim Choo-hee’s film revels in true indie spirit. This is why when Chan-sil (Gang Mal-geum) completely disregards a Christopher Nolan fan who calls Ozu’s film as movie pieces where nothing much happens, you smile inwardly. The fact that she was herself a producer and short film director before she made this film gives it a charming meta relevance in the independent cinema circuit. A deadpan tone and leisurely pace also ensure that it’s existential angst are never down poured on the viewers who are always looking for happy resolution and perfectly bowed-in endings. With ‘Lucky Chan-sil’ (Chansil-ineun bogdo manhji) Kim Choo-hee probably witnesses a self-catharsis of sorts and makes an agreeably beautiful ode to the love of cinema and trying to make your own place in it.

The film opens midway through a film crew drinking their hearts out. The jolly game of sake drinking is deflated when the director of the film the crew has been working with, faces a fatal heart attack and dies. Chan-sil who has produced all of the director’s movies is suddenly clueless about her existence. Moreover, the fact that she is unable to really process the grief that she is feeling makes her even more confused. The death works less as a tragedy and more as a self-reflective space for Chan-sil who suddenly starts questioning her existence.

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Having lost almost everything that she thought belonged to her, Chans-il downsizes on her expenses. She moves far away from the city to a small studio apartment/room in an old woman’s house. She also cuts off on her workload of being a producer by staying low and depressed for a while. However, she soon recognizes that this pattern is not going to make things easier for her and thus starts working as a cleaning lady for her friend and actress Sophie (Yoon Seung-ah).

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Basically, Chan-sil wants to distract herself from the mundanity of having to revamp her life and rethinking her future as a 40-year-old single woman who has done nothing substantial with her personal life. She starts thinking about how her life would be if she wasn’t so involved in the movie-making business and had someone to love. This fascination of hers makes her feel lonesome and results in a sort of attraction towards Sophie’s French teacher Kim Young (Bae Yu-ram).

Kim young looks up to Chan-sil because she is an experienced woman who knows a thing or two about the movie business. He is a short filmmaker who also teaches French to keep his life afloat and the two of them form a nice little friendship that borderlines flirtation. However, Chan-sil, who has been thinking that love is the only get away from this existential angst she is feeling is actively looking for things that she would have rather chosen to do. This results in a few heartbreaks that lead her to more distinct and detailed introspection.

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Kim Choo-hee’s (previously known as Kim Kyounghee) ‘Lucky Chan-sil‘ comes from a very personal space. I wouldn’t be wrong to imagine that the producer that she kills off in the first act of her film represents Hong Sang-soo (The Woman Who Ran, On the Beach at Night Alone, Hotel on the River) – the Korean master filmmaker whose films were produced by Kim Choo-hee until she might had to part ways with him. Putting it mildly, pretty much like Hong Sang-soo who channelizes his own life with numerous repetitions in his films, Choo-hee follows pursuit. While she is only occasionally successful – as her emotional decadence is plastered over a thick charming exterior that is posed in her narrative, there are clear signs that she has an original voice.

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Moreover, contrary to her inspiration, she readily uses magic-realism to investigate more pertinent questions about the place of women in cinema’s uprise in the independent circuit and how difficult it becomes when you try to take a strong step towards fiscal freedom – reinventing on the cinematic canvas. The self-referential narrative that signals towards a lot of things that she might have learned while being under Hong’s cap and crew can be seen through numerous instances. Her small crew and a friend who almost resembles Kim Min‑hee and is recurringly upset with her muse are only a few of the cinema-related references.

Talking about her use of magic-realism, Kim Choo-hee’s protagonist is deemed lucky because she is followed by a half-naked ghost who claims to be the handsome Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung. The friendly ghost helps her with essential nudges to take care of her future and make moves that will define her life thereafter. There are no big revelations or larger-than-life philosophies that Kim Choo-hee’s film brings up, but the reason why it manages to still feel fresh is that it loves the world of films so dearly.

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In spite of an inert narrative that doesn’t always manage to question and witness its overall reasons to exist, ‘Lucky Chan-sil‘ is still a charming ode to the way cinema shapes lives even though there are oodles of struggle before getting there. It is in between that make sure that Kim Choo-hee’s film remains an enjoyable fair that doesn’t resort to melodrama. Also, look out for the landlady played by Youn Yuh-jung whose philosophy of life comes from her age but changes as instantly as the seasons in the film. Posing only one simple thought – the more you think about the journey; the more you don’t look at what you are learning with each step you are taking right now.


Lucky Chan-Sil is now streaming on MUBI

This review was first published under the 2020 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL


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