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Painted Fire (2002) More at IMDbPro »Chihwaseon (original title)

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Painted Fire -- Chihwaseon(2002)


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Down 14% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
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Release Date:
10 May 2002 (South Korea) See more »
The Life of Painter Jang Seung-up
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. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
3 wins & 4 nominations See more »
User Reviews:
How not to make a film about an artist... See more (18 total) »


  (in credits order)

Min-sik Choi ... Jang Seung-up

Sung-kee Ahn ... Kim Byung-Moon
Ho-jeong Yu ... Mae-hyang

Yeo-jin Kim ... Jin-jong

Ye-jin Son ... So-woon
rest of cast listed alphabetically:

Jin-seo Yoon

Directed by
Kwon-taek Im 
Writing credits
(in alphabetical order)
Kwon-taek Im 
Yong-ok Kim 
Byung-sam Min 

Produced by
Woo-Suk Kang .... executive producer
Michael Kim .... executive producer
Ji-seung Lee .... associate producer
Tae-won Lee .... producer
Original Music by
Young-dong Kim 
Cinematography by
Il-sung Jung 
Film Editing by
Sun-duk Park  (as Seon-deok Park)
Art Direction by
Byung-do Joo 
Costume Design by
Ki-chul Kim 
Hye-ran Lee 
Sound Department
Choong-Hwan Lee .... sound
Visual Effects by
Jong Ik Kang .... visual effects supervisor

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

Also Known As:
"Chihwaseon" - South Korea (original title)
"Strokes of Fire" - International (English title)
See more »
120 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.85 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Australia:MA (TV rating) | Canada:G (Quebec) | France:U | Hong Kong:III | Japan:R-18 | Mexico:B15 | Singapore:R(A) | Singapore:PG (cut) | South Korea:18 | South Korea:12 (cut) | Switzerland:12 (canton of Geneva) | Switzerland:12 (canton of Vaud) | UK:15 | USA:Unrated

Did You Know?

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


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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful.
How not to make a film about an artist..., 22 October 2014
Author: rooprect from New York City

Nobody, least of all me, will argue about the visual beauty of this film. It is very well done with majestic scenes of nature as well as tight claustrophobic shots of a tormented man at work in his shuttered studio. As a period piece it comes across as very authentic, and I give it high marks for its sets & costumes. So why didn't I like "Painted Fire"? Because I feel if you're going to do a film about an artist (or musician or writer or poet), of utmost importance is to convey exactly what drove, inspired and influenced the artist.

Excellent examples include "Amadeus" (1984) which showed Mozart being propelled by arrogance and perhaps moreso by his need to please and/or escape his domineering father. Or "Frida" (2002) shows that Frida's Kahlo's grotesque, often self-deprecating sexual paintings were the result of her dysfunctional romance and sexual subversion by her husband/mentor Diego. These films seek to explain the idiosyncrasies of the artists' works by digging deep into the personality, the psychology and the philosophies that drove the artist. That's why I like to watch films about artists--to get insight that we don't learn from textbooks.

Here in "Painted Fire" it felt more like a textbook reading of the life of Ohwon. It shows his base beginnings as an orphan who, in adolescence, joins the house of an aristocrat. Abruptly jumping ahead 20 years, it shows him as a frustrated drunk. He fights hard to divest himself of his vulgar origins but always swings back to his uncooth nature (drinking, womanizing). But why? What made him act the way he did? And how did it imprint the themes of his art? Not much of a connection is made; the man is shown to suffer from demons, but we are never shown what these demons are nor how they influenced his art. There are a few scenes where a peripheral character is whispering in the background about the symbolism in Ohwon's art ("The bird symbolizes freedom..."), but that's more of a broad cultural analysis rather than an analysis of Ohwon's psyche.

I am a fan of Ohwon's paintings and have always been hypnotized by how beautifully he painted animals and the majesty of trees. In my mind I fashioned a painter who found great solace and order in nature while conspicuously avoiding human subjects. This could have been a great point to investigate in the film. Did he love animals? Did he fear humanity? None of this is in the film, and none of his paintings are explained. We just see a drunk, crass man who possesses a rare artistic talent. What a missed opportunity.

Again, contrast this against, say, a scene in "Immortal Beloved" where Beethoven's reclusive genius is exposed as the result of his shame of being deaf and struggling to keep it secret. At the same time Beethoven is shown to have a great capacity to love, but explosively bitter when love is unrequited. In a scene he loses the love of his life because his carriage gets stuck in the mud on a stormy night, and as we watch the man's torment we hear his music "Apassionata" in conjunction with the frantic beating of the horses' hooves. Every work of art has its particular motive, and it's always fun to learn what that motive is.

"Painted Fire" does not give us motive. It left all my questions about Ohwon unanswered, presenting only a visual representation of what I already read in biographies. It gives us a good feel for what it was like to be alive in Korea in the late 1800s, it paints the culture and political unrest of a nation in flux. But none of this really seems to affect Ohwon. He is just a particle awash in this cinematic sea.

I can definitely see how it would win at Cannes because, on a technical level it should wow any film connoisseur. But on a literary level--meaning the act of telling a story and theme--it did not satisfy me. For that, I return to the works of Kurosawa, Teshigahara and even modern Asian masters like Takeshi Kitano, because I love their ability to incorporate cinematic prowess with the poetry of thought. "Painted Fire" was not an unpleasant experience, but I can't say it did anything exceptionally good for me.

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