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Painted Fire (2002)

Chihwaseon (original title)
In a time of political and social unrest in nineteenth-century Korea, an uncouth, self-taught painter explores his natural talent amidst the repressive world around him.


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6 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Credited cast:
Kim Byung-Moon (as Sung-kee Ahn)
Ho-jeong Yu ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:


The struggles of an artist. Jang Seung-up (1843-1897), also called Owon, focusing on the years 1882 to 1897, when Korea was in political upheaval, caught between China and Japan, the conservative dynasty dying, and peasant revolt at hand. Jang, born poor, has genius; a merchant, Kim, becomes his patron, finding him a teacher. Jang must convince others that a commoner can have talent, then move beyond his ability to copy old masters and find his own style. He's bedeviled by a temper and alcohol, arguments with patrons as he seeks commissions, and relationships with kisaeng, particularly Mae-hyang, that start and stop. It's the life of a restless spirit producing great art. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

korea | spirit | peasant | kisaeng | japan | See All (183) »


The Life of Painter Jang Seung-up


Biography | Drama


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

10 May 2002 (South Korea)  »

Also Known As:

Painted Fire  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$9,302 (USA) (14 February 2003)


$59,413 (USA) (20 June 2003)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Chosen by "Telerama" (France) as one of the 10 best pictures of 2002 (#10) See more »

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User Reviews

A unique, gorgeous work of art
18 May 2003 | by (Los Angeles) – See all my reviews

The fire gives all...

This is one of film's most masterful meditations on artistry. Set in 19th century Korea it tells the story of the famous painter Ohwon, but rather than stick to saucy anecdote, melodrama, or psychological egg hunting, it portrays a series of episodes throughout his life, all of which are beautiful works of art in themselves. It gives no interpretation of these episodes, but leaves them for the viewer to ponder along with the paintings of Ohwon himself. In this way, the viewer enters into the same sort of contemplation as Ohwon, and minus his talent can "feel" their way into the inspiration of his paintings.

Part of why this is so effective is the utterly masterful evocation of 19th century Korea and the musical/artistic world that Ohwon moved in. There are so many gorgeous shots of the world outside the paintings that we get a mirror effect where we see the beautiful world inspiring Ohwon, Ohwon living and looking in that world, and the works of art he creates, all mirroring off one another.

The story is told with extreme economy. A feeling evoked is hardly ever lingered with or explained, it just appears quickly then is gone for the next one to appear. As an analogy it is a sort of Mozartian work of art (endless and quick succession of great ideas) rather than Beethovinian (Obsessive lingering on one great idea). It has a classical restraint, much like Ohwon's paintings. There is really no music hinting how to feel except a few classical Korean pieces used with great effectiveness in several scenes (and mostly played by characters in the movie). One haunting image, if I remember correctly, is of a flock of birds soaring away over the blue mountains while a female singer croons

"This life is like a dream, and only death will awaken us"

One telling line of advice in the film, from one of Ohwon's teachers, is that "the painting lies between the strokes." The film follows that attitude as there is so much matter *between* what is spoken and described in the film. I have seen it twice and it was very rewarding on the second viewing. A very terse film, with little in the way of obvert explanation, one could see how it is Im's 96th film. It is an artistic masterwork. Like Ohwon's great friend and mentor tells him in describing one of his paintings, "Not a single stroke is wasted."

I compare it to Andrei Rubylev in quality, though in style it is very different. It is much easier and more directly entertaining to watch, but classical in form where Andrei is gothic.

All in all highly recommended to almost anyone except appetite junkies. Both times I left the film I felt a wonderful spiritual renewal.

One point of Ohwon's life that intruiged me was that his mad drinking and raving began suddenly after visiting the noble who told him that "Good art can come only from great knowledge and learning." The next brief scene Ohwon was very angry, and the next blasted drunk as he often remained for the remainder of the film. I am curious why the nobles words effected him so much and drove him to the drinking that dominated the rest of his life. Or was it just a coincidence?

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