In Chapter One – First Love, Yoshiko, a Korean director travels to the Japanese city of Gojo. There he intends to scout for locations for his next film, and meets a young and attractive bilingual Korean woman who helps as a translator. As they and their Japanese guides wander around the city, the director takes notes and listens to the stories of the local people. In Chapter Two – Well of Sakura the story jumps to a few years prior and is seemingly inspired by a romantic story from one of the guides. A young Korean actress travels to the city of Gojo and meets a Japanese man, and as they walk around the area together they become close.
A Midsummer’s Fantasia (한여름의 판타지아) is the latest film from director Jang Kun-jae (장건재), the man behind the beautifully moving relationship drama Sleepless Night (잠 못 드는 밤). As with his previous work A Midsummer’s Fantasia seems to be based upon director Jang’s experiences which he separates into two distinct chapters. Shot entirely in black and white, Chapter One – First Love, Yoshiko captures the difficulties of working on foreign soil as the director, translator and Japanese guide walk around Gojo City together looking for suitable locations for the director’s next film. Due to the language barrier everything must be translated and repeated multiple times, and often certain meanings and details are lost amongst them. The black and white shots are very attractive, particularly when used in conjunction with location shooting as Gojo City is quite picturesque. However it is all frustratingly dull, as nothing of note actually happens. While it is interesting to see a director working on location scouting, tedium very quickly sets in, particularly as there are no characters and character development for the audience to invest in.
Chapter Two – Well of Sakura fares marginally better however. Perhaps inspired by a guide’s story from the first chapter, or perhaps just a mere fantasy, the film changes into colour and depicts the story of a Korean actress walking and talking around Gojo City with a local Japanese man. As is his trademark, director Jang constructs the relationship with sincerity as he captures the awkwardness of two young adults becoming closer. As they visit places related to the guide’s childhood and eat together at small quaint restaurants, it is interesting to see their relationship develop. Yet as they are so shy and reluctant to engage in more than small talk the film again quickly sinks into dull monotony. The actress in particular is so averse to discussion that she conveys a cold and unlikeable demeanor, with neither of them growing or developing during the course of their encounter. The chapter appears to be an attempt of sorts at constructing a Before Sunrise-esque narrative, yet unlike Richard Linklater’s classic the main protagonists discuss very little about life and have precious little chemistry between them, and as such it’s particularly difficult to care about their journey.
A Midsummer’s Fantasia is separated into two distinct chapters; of a director scouting for locations, and of a fantasy meeting between an actress and local guide in Gojo City. Director Jang Kun-jae films both episodes with his trademark sincerity in capturing the realism in relationships, while the use of film stock is effectively used. However the film is inescapably dull, as the protagonists rarely engage in anything other than small talk, making A Midsummer’s Fantasia one primarily for fans of realist cinema.