Sydney Film Festival Review: A Fish (South Korea, 2011)

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Korean film A Fish is a haunting fantasy-mystery piece by Park Hong Min that tells the tale of a man named Lee Jeonhyuk (Lee Jang Hoon) who goes to find his wife, Jiyeon (Choi So Eun). He gets help from a private detective (Kim Sun Bin) that he soon realises might have affection towards his wife. In an alternate story, two men are fishing at night and found a magic talking fish.

It’s very hard to connect the dots when watching the movie for the first time. I’m not sure whether only a Korean would understand it, since it might relate to their culture and belief, or it’s just confusing in general. But when you passed the scene of the shaman ritual in the sea, you’ll be able to start seeing a pattern. I think the film have a hidden message that might be hard to find for general audience.

The title A Fish for me is symbolizing the dead spirit as ‘fish’ that got caught and fished out by the shaman stick during rituals. As mentioned in the movie the stick is used to catch drowning dead spirits that are wondering around and pray for them. The ritual is also performed in the middle of the sea which emphasize on how it relates with ‘catching fish’.

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The suspense of the movie builds up but the pace is too slow and thus lacks a punch. Some of the scenes were able to grabs people’s attention and put them on the edge of their seat however because of the slow pacing it might bring the mood down. There’s a lot of unnecessary shot length as well that makes the action seems unrealistic. One example where the private detective was offering a hand for Professor Lee to get into the boat, the shot move really slow and the response of Prof. Lee was really slow as well. In real life who would give you a hand and held it out for a minute?

There’s some continuity problem as well if you pay closely to the scenes. The part where Jeonhyuk was driving back from the port after meeting the ferry captain. If you pay attention to the background of the car the road on the private detective’s side and Jeonhyuk’s side are different. Then when they change the shot to close up of the car rear view mirror and back to medium shot, they are suddenly in a whole new background. From a highway to a countryside road.

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Despite the downs, some of the shots are actually very interesting. Like the use of rearview and side view mirror in some scenes, the one where the private detective and Jeonhyuk were chatting on the way to Jindo. The shots just go back and forth to one side view mirror to the other. I also realise they use a lot of two-dimensional looking visuals. From the start, when we were looking to the highway through Jeonhyuk’s car window. Also, the two fisherman shots where it’s always flat from the front. Another beautiful shot was when it’s almost sunset and Professor Lee was on the boat with the private detective, his wife and the shaman were performing a ritual for the dead. The wide shot was really pleasing as it shows the entire scene with majestic sea and mountains background painted with a pastel colour of the sun.

The characters are very well thought i must say, interesting and engaging. The main character is very cold and quiet with a very sadistic face. However deep down he’s soft and fragile, a man who yearns his wife love and the guilt of losing his only child. The private detective however is the complete antagonist character, not in an evil sense but just a rude and unethical person. His face looks perverted and in a way he’s portrayed is a bit lunatic and mentally ill. In a minute he can smile and laugh out of nowhere and suddenly he just goes poker face and bloody serial killer mode on. He goes around beating people even though his job is to do the other way around.

I also like how the movie is very raw and untouched. Most of the scenes are handheld, you can see the shakiness of the shots which is beautiful and makes it more engaging and emotionally attached rather than a flat steady shot. One of it is when Jeonhyuk and the private detective was on a boat and they were arguing, you can see how the shot move as the sea waves moves. The lighting is very natural as well, they will let a shadow cast on the actor’s face and let the color look pale and gloomy. But I felt that it achieved what kind of mood the movie wants to portray, the eerie and unsettling feeling can definitely be felt.

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The foggy day represent that all the characters are actually dead and they are a walking ghost. The two fishing men are dead from the beginning. Stuck in the boat, in the beginning they’re immersed in their conversation but then realised that they don’t even know how and why they are there in the first place. They questioned their identity and memory.

“We are both a stupid fish” one of the fisherman mentioned that towards the end. I believe it’s explaining the reason how they are dead. In their conversation they were talking how fishes are stupid, they choose to take the bait knowing that it will end their lives. It’s a choice that they make thinking there might be something better on the other side. But just like the real fish who got eaten by the fishermen, “I am fooled” means the thing they expected is not exactly like what it is.

As the scene goes back and forth to one story and the other, when the shaman starts the ritual to capture the dead spirits, the two fishermen falls down to the water. It is showing that they’ve been captured by the stick and brought to the other side. As how it is explained that the stick represent a hook to catch ‘fish’ (dead spirits) that are drowning.

At the end of the day, I don’t really know how and when did Jeonhyuk died. He came to posses his wife’s body and end up killing the private detective. He was a wandering soul and soon came to realise the truth when he saw his own reflection in the mirror, which is none other than his wife. This movie is really intriguing and kept me wondering until this day. So many questions left answered, it’s a piece for movie lovers who wants to get a taste of rawness beyond the mainstream cinema line-ups.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Editors Note: The original screening of A Fish was shown with 3D effects. This review of A Fish was seen on 2D.