Apartment complexes were an important part of my childhood life during the 1980-90s. As I and my family often moved from one apartment complex to another one, I always looked at those big buildings with wonder and curiosity, and I still fondly remember them. Although more than 20 years have passed now, some of them still exist even at this point, and I must confess that I could not help but a bit sentimental when I checked their current status via online searching a few years ago.
And that is why I was touched a lot by what is shown in “A Long Farewell”, a little South Korean documentary film which is about one big apartment complex area about to be demolished for reconstruction. While simply presenting a number of different apartments and the environment surrounding apartment complexes on the screen, the documentary is often poignant as listening to personal memories and thoughts from a group of residents of the area, and it is also quite interesting as showing us a curious case of beautiful balance between nature and civilization.
The apartment complex area in question is Dunchon Jugong Apartment complex area, which is located in a fringe region of Seoul. Built in 1980, this apartment complex area has been considered for reconstruction since 1998, but the reconstruction has been delayed for more than 15 years, and, as told to us at the end of the documentary, the reconstruction finally began this year after all of the remaining residents relocated to other places.
In the beginning, the documentary alternates between two different apartments in Dunchon Jugong Apartment complex, and their owners tell us a bit about how they have lived in their respective residences. While there have been a number of inconveniences as their apartment buildings get older and more deteriorated year by year, they try to live in their big neighborhood as long as they can because, well, they feel attached a lot to where they lived for many years, and that aspect is clearly felt from a number of static shots showing small and big things in their respective apartments.
In case of a married female resident, she tells us about how she came to spend most of her life in an apartment which was her family home at first. She went through her childhood and adolescence years there, and, after her parents relocated to a rural area, she and her husband moved to there a few years ago. At present, she is raising her child there just like her mother did a long time ago, and the documentary gives us a quiet but moving moment as looking around her apartment strewn with several stuffs for child.
The apartment buildings of Dunchon Jugong Apartment complex area certainly look old and shabby to say the least, but its environment surprisingly feels fresh as filled with trees and many other different plants which have grown there for many years. While many of tress in the area are quite big and tall, they somehow provide a soothing atmosphere to the residents of the area, and there are a number of lovely shots showing splendid sceneries accompanied with natural beauty to be appreciated. While I especially liked a tiny lane surrounded by a bunch of trees, I was also impressed by a brief shot showing a tree nearly covering one side of an apartment building, and I felt soothed a lot by a wide shot showing how much the area is filled with greenery thanks to those numerous trees, which will sadly be removed once the reconstruction is started.
And we also come to feel more life from various apartments shown in the documentary. In case of one particular apartment, it is filled with many Catholic objects including a big photograph of Pope Francis, and we can sense its resident’s strong faith even though the resident does not talk about that at all. In case of one very neat apartment, it looks so well and ordered that I felt a bit sad as observing that it will be gone forever just like many other apartments in Dunchon Jugong Apartment complex area.
Later in the documentary, a young woman who once spent several years along with her family in Dunchon Jugong Apartment complex area tells us about how she came to return to the area. As going through a difficult moment in her life, she decided to go back to the area because of her strong emotional attachment to the area, and she says that living in the area felt like a personal healing process. While her place looks pretty modest, she always feels soothed and energized by the bright, comforting mood of her residence, and she particularly likes the evening bell sound from a nearby Buddhist temple. As listening to her words, the documentary shows several cats living in her residence, and it seems these cats also feel same about her residence.
“A Long Farewell” is directed by Raya Kim, who also did the shooting with her co-cinematographer Cho Yong-gi. This is her first feature documentary film, and I admire how subtly and deftly she engages us via her plain but effective approach. While the documentary just observes and listens along with us, it vividly conveys to us a sense of place, time, and people, and I assure you that you will come to reflect a lot on what is presented on the screen. Although it is a little shame that the running time is no less than 72 minutes, the documentary is still one of the most satisfying experiences I had during this year, and I sincerely hope that it will get a chance to be appreciated outside South Korea.