No doubt about it: South Korea’s Chunhyang wins the award for Best Depiction of Connubial Love in 2000 and even preceding years. Adoration, sexual play, and sexual lovemaking between husband and wife—Chunhyang and Mongryong—are all over the first hour, as is a Korean singer’s partial narration of the film’s tale in song (and it’s sung before a modern-day audience shown in the movie).
Figures of the 18th century, Chunhyang is a courtesan’s daughter and Mongryong a governor’s son, and they marry anyway. The narrative is not that interesting, although it isn’t boring either. The life of the film is in the visuals, in Im Kwon Taek’s directorial choices. For instance, when the married pair have to part for a long while, Mongryong, ready to leave, gazes in a closeup at his cherished wife. But instead of getting the expected closeup of Chunhyang, the camera simply cuts to a medium shot with the cherished wife still in the background, and she shows Mongryong the skirt, or whatever it’s called, on which he once wrote a pledge of fidelity. A smart move, this.
The exquisite Chunhyang also offers such shots as that of a single pink rose in a pond of sparse lily pads and that of Chunhyang swinging back and forth among forest trees in a scene Watteau would have envied. Moreover, there is a honeymoon sequence with Mongryong removing layers of timid Chunhyang’s clothes in what plays like a calisthenics of nigh amusing sensuality. And the nudity isn’t gratuitous. The first Korean film I saw, Im Kwon Taek’s achievement is one of the few cinematic gems of 2000.
(In Korean with English subtitles.)