Korean master Im Kwon-taek shared the best director prize at Cannes in 2002 for this old-fashioned, beautifully crafted biopic of painter Jang Seung-up, who was born in 1843 and disappeared 54 years later. Jang's life provides more than enough drama and historical incident for this rich evocation of Korea's past; against the backdrop of Chinese and Japanese colonization, political reform, and popular revolt, his career as a rebel artist plays out in a brisk series of episodes, and this telegraphic narrative, with elegant ellipses separating precisely delineated moments, becomes a perfect analogue to his vibrantly impressionistic brushwork. Choi Min-sik, Korea's finest screen actor, gives a vibrant, full-bodied performance as the hard-drinking, prodigiously lustful, defiantly austere painter, whose radical creativity was contradicted by his willingness to produce gorgeous paintings, screens, and fans for well-connected connoisseurs. Ultimately this triumph of cinematography and art direction, which translates easily into Western art-house fare, remains vulnerable to its own internal critique of art as commodity. In Korean with subtitles. 117 min.
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