Korea cocktail of crime and poetry stuns Cannes

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An unlikely brew of teenage gang-rape and poetry stirred Cannes and firmed Asia's shot at the festival's top prize as Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's "Poetry" screened Wednesday.

A classic morality tale, the 140-minute movie dazzled hardened Cannes critics, strengthening the hand of the powerful contingent of Asian films competing for the Palme d'Or, to be announced Sunday.

Of the 19 contenders, five are from Asia, with "Poetry" the penultimate Asian film shown. Still to be seen is Thai arthouse favourite Apichatpong Weerasethakul with "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives."

Peppered with poems and allusions to poetry, Lee's drama kicks off with a teenage suicide and charts the inner drama of a grandmother dealing with age, a teenage gang-rape, and a quintessentially adolescent grandson -- surly, lazy and breaking out in acne.

"Poetry is about looking for beauty," Lee said at Cannes. "But poetry is not just a beautiful bouquet of flowers, I'm trying to show there's poetry in life."

Leading female star Yun Jung-Hee, making a comeback after 16 years, plays girlishly naive Mija. She is intent on finding meaning in life, including poetic inspiration, but is suddenly faced with a harshly brutal reality.

"The criminal incident in the film could occur anywhere," said Lee, a writer turned teacher turned government minister who last year served on the Cannes festival jury.

What would he rather do at Cannes -- be on the jury or present his fifth feature film to this year's nine-person panel?

"Last year I had to make judgements, give films marks. Today, being here with my own film is more pleasant but it's in competition so that's not pleasant either. But if I had to choose I like this year better," he said.

Asia's other entries have fared well at the world's biggest annual film event.

Applause rang out in festival theatres for acclaimed Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai's father-son drama, "Chongqing Blues" as well as for "The Housemaid", a warped erotic tragic-drama by South Korea's Im Sang-Soo.

Wang, 43, is no first-timer on the international festival circuit, long known for movies that take a hard look at contemporary China.

In "Chongqing Blues", as a father who long ago abandoned his wife and son returns to find out how the boy died, Wang explores the changing face of Chinese society.

The movie is set in the foggy city of Chongqing in southern Sichuan province, a mess of sky-scrapers for blue-collar workers who in back streets and dingy courtyards often live communally as they did decades ago.

Korea's "The Housemaid", a remake of a 1960 movie where class war plays out on the pillow, stars Jeon Do-Yeon, who won the 2007 best actress award at Cannes in Lee Chang-Dong's "Secret Sunshine".

In the film she is a young maid employed by a rich couple who gets pregnant by the man of the house and is turned on by his wife and mother-in-law with gruesome consequences.

Japan's entry, cult director Takeshi Kitano's "Outrage", divided critics with a riot of gruesome violence in a Yakuza gangster film where he uses anything from fists to chopsticks and a dentist's drill to cow his enemies.

US trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter dubbed it "arguably his best film in a decade" but Britain's Screen gave it a thumbs down.

© 2010 AFP

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