Green Fish (Chorok mulkogi)

Korea (1997) Dir. Lee Chang-Dong

Makdong (Suk-kyu Han) returns home from the military to find his spacious family farmland is now replaced by modern buildings which he finds disorientating. On the train home Makdong helps out a woman, Mi-ae (Shim Hye-Jin), who is being harassed by some men. Makdong meets her again later singing in a night club but when he tries to talk to her outside he is interrupted by gang boss Bae Tae-kon (Moon Sung-Geun) who just happens to be Mi-ae’s lover. Mi-ae persuades Tae-kon to give Makdong a job beginning his slow and tempestuous journey up the ranks of the criminal underworld.

This 1997 outing is the directorial debut of former author/screenplay writer Lee Chang-Dong, who went on to helm such challenging and award wining films as Peppermint Candy, Oasis and Poetry.

Story wise this is the run of the mill tale of a man trying to fit into a changed society and making his way via illicit means while his dysfunctional family crumble around him, with a love triangle thrown in for good measure. Makdong’s dealings with the criminal world sees him become all too quickly subservient to “Big Brother” Bae Tae-kon while quietly watching him abuse Mi-ae, a drunkard who teases intimacy with Makdong by way of escape. Trouble is brewing however when Bae’s former gang boss returns from jail and wants a slice of the action which leads to, not unsurprisingly, some bloody violence.

The characters are also fairly standard fare but Makdong’s disabled brother, while not made a focal point, is a precursor to Moon Soo-Ri’s character in Oasis. Whilst not as lofty or as outstanding as his ensuing works, this rough around the edges debut is an assured effort which shows the palpable portent of things to come. His unflinching and cynical look at modern life in Korea became a regular theme in his films so it is interesting to see where it still started.

A gutsy and solid debut effort which proved to be the quiet before the storm.