The Power of Kangwon Province Review

Like most directors working outside the mainstream of cinema in Korea, Hong Sang-soo will doubtless have to contend with the connotations of artiness or pretentiousness that arthouse cinema is often labelled with. However, while it is about as far away from My Sassy Girl as it is possible to get, there is little that is pretentious about The Power of Kangwon Province’s simple, direct and realistic depiction of relationships.

Three young girls, Jisook, Misun and Eunkyoung take a trip to the mountainous Kangwon Province of South Korea. They meet a young policeman who shows them around and after a meal where they all get drunk together, Jisook ends up spending the night with the policeman. He is married, but Jisook returns another day to see him and they end up falling-over drunk again. Jisook has just broken up with another married man, and she is lonely and unhappy with her current situation.

The second half the film then follows the situation of Sangwon, the married man that Jisook has just broken up with. In a typically symmetrical fashion, after a repeat scene where it becomes apparent that both of them are on the same train, Sangwon also visits the Kangwon Province with a friend and the paths of the two characters cross without them ever meeting there, both of them encountering a couple involved in a murder investigation.

The director favours single-take shots from one angle and there is little camera movement. There are no long-shots and then close-ups – each scene is of a whole and the mood created remains throughout the take without the director having to call cut and set up a new shot. The actors are mostly unknowns, so there is no sense of having seen them in another film. All this lends the film the sense of authenticity and reality that the director is striving for.

The film is transferred at 1.33:1 fullscreen, but it was clearly never intended to be shown in this aspect ratio. At the start of the film a sound boom occasionally intrudes into the top of the frame and is very distracting, taking us out of the reality of the situation that the director is attempting to capture. Although it happened in several scenes I’m not sure how bad this problem is later, because I zoomed the picture to 16:9 as I felt this was ruining the film and the intended realism. The picture looks much better in the zoomed ratio, and I would recommend it over the full-screen transfer. It is not an ideal solution because of the subtitles, so you may need to do a bit of tweaking to get it right. The film is made up of the single-take scenes that is a trademark of Hong Sang-soo and there is a slight jump on transition to each scene that is also evident in the DVD release of On The Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate as well. The quality of the print is good. There are a few marks on the print, some larger than the normal white spots, but nothing too distracting. It is a low budget film and not brightly lit, so interiors can seem dull, but outdoor scenes are bright and colourful.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is quite echoey with the central channel being positioned curiously somewhere above and slightly behind your head. I personally settled for the Dolby Digital 2.0 track which was clear and effective. English subtitles are provided and are reasonably good, clear and easy to follow without any grammatical problems.

Cast & Crew
Cast and Crew details are in Korean text only.

Director’s trailers
Trailers are provided for The Power of Kangwon Province, here also at 1.33:1 and for Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, which is black and white and letterboxed. Neither trailer has English subtitles.

The Power of Kangwon Province offers a straightforward and unromanticised look at people and their relationships with other people. It might not offer any thoughtful messages or original ideas, but it nevertheless a beautifully observed slice of life that anyone should be able to relate to. Rather than put everything on the screen, Hong Sang-soo leaves much open for the viewer to relate to personally. There are potentially as many different interpretations of this film as there are people who view it.

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