Dir: Park Kiyong | Dragons & Tigers | South Korea | 2015 | 100 minutes
Oct 04 01:30 pm | The Cinematheque
Park Kiyong’s third documentary, Yanji, is a study of Koreans in China, focusing on the booming Chinese city closest to the North Korean border. His unique approach to the documentary style provides audiences with the opportunity to draw their own conclusions from the observational film.
Kiyong’s camera work and cinematography allows the audience to feel present in Yanji. Choices such as letting the camera ride every bump and bounce in buses or taxis and having the shot blur while looking out of the window of a moving vehicle create similar sensations to what one would experience in those situations, thus forming a more intimate connection with the audience. The lack of commentary or narration by the filmmaker, as well as the sparse subtitles, compels audience members to pay close attention to what is being shown. Rather than being directed towards a shared conclusion, they are in a position to make individual observations.
Through the footage of his time in Yanji, Kiyong paints a revealing image of a city with two cultures, both Chinese and Korean. He expertly demonstrates the ordinary lives of those who were either born in China or managed to settle and adjust to Chinese realities. Whether they are construction workers, marketplace vendors, or groups of people playing games beneath a bridge, Yanji showcases the communities that exist within Yanji.
The presence of both Chinese and Korean cultures in the city is made explicit in the documentary through subtitles and annotations indicating which books, music, food, brands or trades come from which country. Korean culture is especially prevalent throughout the film as Kiyong highlights the Yanbian Song and Dance Troupe, an ethnic Korean opera and Korean karaoke that takes place outdoors in a public square.
While much of the film focuses on exterior aspects of the city, such as marketplaces, construction and views of the city as a whole, Kiyong also brings his camera into family homes and celebrations. We are granted access to a 60th birthday party, a wedding, a funeral and multiple family portraits, spanning across multiple generations. In contrast with the perfunctory and at times bleak look at the city as a whole, the celebratory nature of these events makes them some of the most affecting moments of the documentary. They are a reflection of the warmth within households and an intimate view of how culture manifests itself in each individual and family.
A quietly powerful documentary, Yanji provides a unique snapshot of a city with two cultures and the people who call it home.
Schema Magazine is proud to be the sponsor of Yanji at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.