Lucky Chan-sil (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cheer up, Chan-sil

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South Korean independent film “Lucky Chan-sil” is often amusing and interesting for several good reasons. While clearly reminiscent of those little comedy films of Hong Sang-soo, the movie distinguishes itself via its filmmaker heroine’s comic struggle with what seems to be the dead end of her modest filmmaking career, and it eventually comes to us as a sincere and sweet affirmation on life and artistic passion.

At the beginning, we see how things suddenly go wrong for Lee Chan-sil (Kang Mal-geum), who has worked for many years as the producer for a famous arthouse movie director who is clearly a fictional version of Hong. While she is drinking along with him and the other key crew members not long after starting the production of his latest film, he suddenly dies due to a heart attack, and Chan-sil subsequently finds herself unemployed just because she has been regarded as someone replaceable.

As she cannot afford to live in her current residence anymore, Chan-sil moves to a small house located in one of the shabbier areas in Seoul, and she certainly feels miserable about that while also becoming more uncertain about what to do next for her life and career. Considering that she is a 40-year-old single woman who has single-mindedly devoted herself to filmmaking for many years, it looks like there are not many options for her at present, and that is why she eventually comes to accept a job offer from her close actress friend Sophie (Yoon Seung-ah), who happens to need a cleaning lady for her messy residence right now.

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While spending lots of time in Sophie’s residence as her new cleaning lady, Chan-sil meets Kim-yeong (Bae Yoo-ram), a struggling movie director who has so far made a few short films without much success and has routinely come to Sophie’s residence as her private French teacher. As talking with him a bit on how much they have respectively struggled, Chan-sil cannot help but become attracted to Kim-yeong, and we accordingly get a dryly funny dream scene not so far from those similar scenes in Hong’s movies.

In the meantime, something strange starts to happen around Chan-sil. At one point, we see a mysterious figure passing by her, and that figure in question, who is usually wearing only underwears despite cold winter weather, eventually presents himself to her as Leslie Cheung from Wong Kar-Wai’s “Days of Being Wild” (1990), which is incidentally one of Chan-sil’s favorite films. While it is evident to Chan-sil right from the beginning that he is not real at all, he keeps appearing around her nevertheless, and we come to gather that he is a sort of inner voice to Chan-sil’s uncertain and confused mind.

He often tells Chan-sil that she must discern what she really wants for her life and career, and it seems to Chan-sil that she should try some courtship on Kim-yeong, though they are quite different from each other in many aspects. While she loves those slow and gentle works of Yasujirō Ozu, he likes more eventful movies such as the works of Christopher Nolan, and the movie does a sly homage to Ozu’s films when they talk and drink together at a Japanese restaurant bar.

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Constantly generating laughs via small comic moments including the one involved with a letter sent by Chan-sil’s father, the movie slowly adds more depth to its story and characters. Although she makes a few missteps in her continuing struggle, Chan-sil gradually comes to realize that she still loves movies as before, and, if you are a serious moviegoer like me, you will be delighted to see her old VHS copies of several notable movies including Emir Kusturica’s “Time of the Gypsies” (1988). In case of the other substantial characters in the film, Sophie turns out to be more caring and sophisticated than we expected from her seemingly superficial attitude and appearance, and I also like how Chan-sil comes to bond more with her landlady, who turns out to be illiterate but has earnestly tried to learn how to read and write.

In addition to making a few short films before this feature film debut of hers, director/writer Kim Cho-hee also worked as the producer of Hong’s several recent films including “Right Now, Wrong Then” (2015), and the influences from Hong’s films are obviously shown here and there in the movie. Many conversation scenes in the film look plain and simple on the whole while occasionally accentuated by slow zoom-in, but they draw our attention nonetheless as deftly delivered by the main cast members of the film, who imbue lots of personality into their archetype characters. While Kang Mal-geum diligently holds the center with her strong lead performance, Yoon Seung-ah, Kim Yong-min, Bae Yoo-ram, and Yoon Yuh-Jeong are also enjoyable in their colorful supporting roles, and Yoon Yuh-jeong, who has been one of the most dependable actresses in South Korea for many years, delightfully steals the show as she recently did in “Beasts Clawing at Straws” (2020).

Overall, “Lucky Chan-sil” is an engaging comedy movie which tries to do something different in its familiar territory, and Kim Cho-hee surely demonstrates here that she is another interesting South Korean female filmmaker to watch. To be frank with you, I have no idea on how much this autobiographical work of hers is based on her real-life experience, but now she moves onto the next phase of her life and career just like her heroine does at the end of the film, and I will certainly have some expectation on her next work.

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