AD LIB NIGHT
In some ways similar to the titular character of Lee Yoon-kis accomplished and celebrated debut feature, This Charming Girl (2004), the young female protagonist of his thoroughly engaging new film, Ad Lib Night (Aju teukbyeolhan sonnim), turns out to be a solemn and melancholic individual who the proceedings gradually peel away in an attempt to excavate the subjects mental and emotional inhibitions. Initially seen waiting for someone at a street corner in Seoul, this anonymous girl (Han Hyo-ju) is approached by a couple of young provincial men who appear to have mistaken her for a dying man's runaway daughter they're trying to find in order to fulfill his last wish.
After hesitantly assenting to their offer, which requires her to pretend in front of the morphine-injected cancer patient, she is whisked away to the suburban working-class neighborhood where a few family and friends have gathered, and in some cases, selfishly so. Lee shows a great eye and ear for the ambient, humor-laden occurrences as this "very special guest," which is what the Korean title roughly translates to, slowly becomes acclimated with the surroundings. The perpetually bickering yet curiously close-knit clan, whose members probably wouldnt look out of place in Martels claustrophobic milieus, eventually succumbs to the filmmakers deliberately methodical pacing and lightly detached air, which further eschews sensational variations of satire and melodrama.
Reportedly shot in 10 days on digital video, this subtle and subdued effort eventually raises numerous points regarding familial and personal responsibility, modern isolation and emotional longing. Incidentally, Lee recently stated in an interview that "I do have an interest in stories about peoples inner feelings, exploring the pain or trauma any of us feel in a lifetime." And Ad Lib Night only comes full-circle once, in a couple of delicately realized sequences, the true identity of its protagonist is revealed. The film then not only earns its tears but also begins to expand in memory.
*AD LIB NIGHT premiered at the 2006 Pusan Film Festival. Now available on English subtitled Korean (Region-3/NTSC) DVD from HB Ent. As usual, the extra features -- making of doc, premiere video, photo shoots, TV spots, etc. -- aren't subtitled, though that didn't prevent me from viewing them. Besides THIS CHARMING GIRL and AD LIB NIGHT, the only other film Lee had directed so far is LOVE TALK (2005), which I haven't seen at this point.