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Mother and a Guest

Directed by Shin Sang-ok
26 April 2013

Mother and a Guest, is a beautifully understated film by Shin Sang-ok, recognized as one of the masters of Korean cinema. In this remarkably sophisticated film, a widow, in order to support herself and her young daughter, rents a room to a painter from the city and soon finds herself torn between her growing affection for the man and the constraints of rural society. It was a time when well-brought-up women could not talk to men outside of the family, when widows were condemned to a lifetime of solitude, and remained a "possession" of her mother-in-law. Yet within this framework an impossible love story develops between a widow and her artist lodger Mr Han, aided and abetted by the 6-year-old daughter Ok-hui (born a month after her fatherís death), whose innocent efforts at match-making do not always have the intended results. There is palpable tension about whether a relationship is possible, in the end duty calls the guest away to Seoul. As the mother-in-law has indicated that she will give the heroine her freedom, we are left with some hope that the guest may ultimately return from Seoul.

The sound track is all Chopin, and the widow, is no mean piano-player herself- having not played the piano since before her husbandís death, her recollection of Chopinís mazurkas and preludes is nothing short of remarkable.

Adapted from Joo Yo-seobís short story of the same title, Mother and a Guest is a representative example of the Korean literary film. Through Ok-huiís innocent and childlike perspective, the movie portrays the deep, furtive love between a man and a woman with touching lyricism. In adapting Joo Yo-seobís short story for the big screen, director Shin Sang-ok inserted characters and incidents that are absent from the original, yet managed to expand its imagery and sentiment without altering the simple tale. The result is a feature film that feels like a short story. The movie takes particular care in presenting the love between Ok-huiís mother and Mr. Ha obliquely through Ok-huiís gaze, to the extent that there are few if any moments when the two share the same screen or exchange direct conversation. Mother and a Guest does not so much follow a plot as flow on the current of atmospheres and emotions. There are no notable incidents, nor can one trace a clear synopsis. Nonetheless, the film never loses its cinematic suspense or density a fact that testifies to the extraordinary dexterity of director Shin Sang-ok in calibrating emotions.

Born in 1926, Shin Sang-ok is recognized as one of the masters of Korean cinema. After graduating from Tokyo Art School, he debuted as a director with The Evil Night in 1952 and went on to direct more than 70 films in five decades. Highly-acclaimed retrospective of his work were screened at the 6th Pusan International Film Festival and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Shin was awarded the 1st Daejong Film Award for Best Director for Mother and a Guest, the 1st Baeksang Art Award for Best Director for Deaf Samryong-I and the 11th Asia-Pacific Film Festivalís Best Director Award for Red Muffler.

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