Soo-hyeon, a student at Catholic Theological Seminary, decides to pull himself together and focus on his studies after breaking up from his girlfriend, Sua. One day he receives the news of ...
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Soo-hyeon, a student at Catholic Theological Seminary, decides to pull himself together and focus on his studies after breaking up from his girlfriend, Sua. One day he receives the news of his mother's illness, and with the permission from school authority, he spends a night at home. The next day, he departs for the train station but finds himself unable to take a school-bound train, heading instead for his ex-girlfriend, Sua. He is dispirited from Sua's adamant unwillingness to see him. Back in school, Soo-hyeon makes the difficult decision to quit studying, but is persuaded to go to a monastery for a spiritual purification retreat by the rector. As for Soo-hyeon, his tranquil adjustment to the life in monastery is abruptly brought to an end when he meets Helena at a mass, whose strikingly resemblance to Sua stirs up old emotions. He grows even more confused upon hearing the shocking news of Sua's sudden death.Written by
With a background that includes studies in Cinematography from Russian State Institute of Cinema, and his first two films made respectively in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, it was always going to be interesting to see how Min Byung-hoon operated on his home turf. And indeed, even though it is set in South Korea, Pruning The Grapevine manages to find a small community isolated and remote from the encroaching world around them, a world that offers temptations, but also threatens a traditional, purer way of existence.
The small community is that of a Catholic seminary, where Seo-hyeon (Seo Jang-won) is studying to become a priest. The young man has been there for three years and has proved himself to be a top student, but while theory is all very well, he is finding it much harder to deal with the practical necessity of leaving his old life behind him. It surely shouldn't be so difficult to identify the correct way to behave in such situations, but Seo-hyeon only sees the actions he believes to be right causing pain in those around him.
Filming in Korea, Min Byung-hoon's third feature confirms that he is not so much interested in making a socio-political commentary on the places he films, as much as using their situations to delve into basic human nature, using remote locations whose "purity" can provide a means to examine how personal ideals and traditional community values can be maintained when confronted with real-world pressures. When Seo-hyeon's actions are often misjudged and the consequences can be very serious indeed in Pruning The Grapevine, it might seem like the director is challenging whether such idealism, particularly in religious belief, is practical.
The title of the film however suggests that by eliminating distractions and superfluous elements, finding a true path may be possible. The film however could have done with a little bit of pruning itself. The confusion about one's purpose and true self isn't just restricted to Seo-hyeon, but to Kang-woo at the seminary, to the priest at the monastery, to other novitiates, and even to a young altar boy. Their circumstances may all certainly adhere strongly to the central theme and principle of the film, but the resolution to many of them or the suggestion that a resolution can be found does make the film slightly too neat and schematic.
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