Ever since the sudden disappearance of his wife Yeong-wha (Pang Ji-in (팽지인) two years ago in Paris, native Korean Sang-ho (Cho Jaehyun (조재현) has lived homeless on the streets of the capital, hoping to find and bring her home. Each day Sang-ho scours the back alleys of the Parisian underworld fearing she may now be part of the sex trade, showing Yeong-hwa’s picture to prostitutes in his quest for information. Yet despite a frustrating lack of help to find her, Sang-ho refuses to give up.
Slow-burning and insightful, director Jeon Soo-il’s A Korean in Paris is a gorgeously shot cross-cultural drama. Featuring keen observations of a Paris that lies beneath the tourist veneer alongside some truly stunning cinematography from Kim Sung-tai, the poetic film is a compelling mystery despite sporadically floundering from lack of impetus and sexual politics that are occasionally found wanting.
A Korean in Paris is a rare breed of drama by director Jeon Soo-il. Independent films from the peninsula often tend to focus on internal socio-cultural issues, yet director Jeon – who studied film direction as well as receiving a Masters and PhD in the French capital – has crafted a keen and insightful examination of Parisian society as told through the eyes of a middle-aged Korean man. It’s a consistently fascinating commentary as director Jeon explores the seedy underbelly beneath the city’s romantic veneer, exposing a rampant sex trade, a homelessness epidemic, and horrible racism towards poverty stricken immigrants. Such bleak subject matter is beautifully, and quite ironically, juxtaposed with the exquisite locations within the capital, captured in glorious fashion by the quality lensing of Kim Sung-tai, that serve as stunning backdrops to a city that is seemingly in decay.
While very much a slow-burning drama, A Korean in Paris interestingly plays out akin to a mystery as Sang-ho traverses the city looking for any traces of his wife. Through his journey the film notably articulates that many Asian immigrants in Paris find themselves working in the sex trade, as well as the circumstances they endure. As Sang-ho shuffles along the numerous streets lined with prostitutes each night the story becomes somewhat repetitive, while the potential offered by his burgeoning relationship with a Korean prostitute (Lock Mi Kwan (미콴락) is squandered before it truly begins.
Things do pick up however when the narrative employs a flashback sequence revealing the events that led up to Yeong-hwa’s disappearance, conveying eccentricities in her character that raise certain questions and implies that the situation is far from a simple ‘disappearance’ case as previously believed. While the film attempts to avoid concrete answers and let audiences interpret events for themselves, the narrative infers a particular discourse that is rather unenlightened in regards to sexual politics.
A Korean in Paris is a slow-burning drama that examines the seedy underbelly of the French capital beneath the romantic veneer. While director Jeon Soo-il’s story is keenly insightful and cinematographer Kim Sung-tai lensing is gorgeously composed throughout, the rather repetitive nature of the story and unenlightened sexual politics make the film equal parts perplexing yet fascinating.