[Review] Lee Myung-se’s psychodrama ‘M’ big on the glitzy visuals

By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: October 19, 2007


Lee Myung-se`s latest psychodrama “M” got a lot of attention at the Pusan International Film Festival which ended on Friday, partly because there were only a handful of “new” Korean films making their formal debuts. Another, more important reason was that “M” features top-rated stars such as Gang Dong-won.

He is a heartthrob in Korea, and director Lee, who became famous for his stylized features like “Nowhere to Hide” and “Duelist.” The two were a big draw during a press preview held in Seoul on Tuesday.

The film revolves around the experience of a writer of a bestseller, Min-woo (played by Gang), and his dreamy journey into the past where he attempts to reunite with his first love, whose existence is shrouded in mystery.

Min-woo has a bad case of writer`s block; to break out of this artistic stalemate, he immerses himself in flashbacks involving his first love, Mi-mi (Lee Yeon-hee). But this psychological quest involves several obstacles, one of which is the suspicion of his current girlfriend Eun-hye (Gong Hyo-jin).

But the plot itself might not help the audiences grasp what the movie tries to achieve, largely because director Lee uses plenty of visual effects, complex (and confusing) dream sequences, and gliding camerawork.

At the news conference following the press preview, director Lee said that this movie is based on his earlier screenplay “Milyoung,” which he had written in 2000. “The original script was inspired by one of the dreams I had, and, by the way, I almost always have a major dream around the New Year`s Day. In that dream, I met the novelist Choi In-ho, and we talked about what the dream really means,” he explained.

In the dream about dreams, Lee concluded that dreams provide a channel through which the living and the dead communicate; this is a theme that informs the main plot of “M.” Asked about the rich visual effects, director Lee said he wanted to describe the darkness in a way that highlights its shining light. “Some might ask how darkness can shine at all, but, on a closer look at the darkness, we can feel the layers of darkness and its intricate depth,” he said.

The emphasis on darkness is also linked with the dreamy state, or a moment before one wakes up to the bright light, Lee added.

Gang Dong-won, meanwhile, said that he was steadily encouraged by the filmmaker to keep an open mind about the story and his performing, depending on the nature of a specific scene. Gang, who worked with Lee in his previous feature, “Duelist,” said he felt that he was experimenting with his own acting talent a lot during the production.

“There`s a rumor about director Lee, concerning his strict style in the shooting sessions, but I think he`s very kind and gentle, because I`ve never seen him lose his temper. Never. Director Lee is very persistent in getting things right, getting things done, but once actors open up their hearts, and focus on acting, he`s quite a kindhearted person,” Gang said.

As with “Duelist,” Lee`s latest film is filled with startling visual effects, but critics and audiences did not react positively to “Duelist.” People were disappointed with the poor storytelling. This raises the possibility of a not-so-impressive reaction to “M” at the box office.

However, director Lee seemed unfazed by such a prospect. “Every director cares about the audience and their reception of his films, but the relationship between directors and audiences is similar to the act of writing a love letter. Even though the box-office scores are not good, I will continue to write my love letter to my audiences, and I believe a true feeling will be eventually delivered,” Lee said.