‘Jiseul’ wins Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Jan 27, 2013 - 19:11
  • Updated : Jan 27, 2013 - 19:11
A film about the 1948 Jeju Massacre has won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, being the first Korean movie to win the prestigious award.

An artistic, black and white work by Jeju-based director O Muel, “Jiseul” tells the story of a group of some 120 villagers who hid from soldiers in a cave during the massacre. The real-life incident resulted in the death of some 30,000 islanders as the government sought to quell an uprising led by a small group of communist insurgents.

“I would love to share the honor with the people of the Jeju Island,” said director O after accepting the prize, according to the website of the film festival. 
A scene from director O Muel’s “Jiseul,” which claimed the grand jury prize for dramatic world cinema at the Sundance Awards on Saturday. (BIFF)

The film was premiered at last year’s Busan International Film Festival and won a total of four awards there ― including the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema Award and the Citizen Critics’ Award. The film was also screened at last year’s Seoul Independent Film Festival.

Director O occupies a rare place in Korean cinema, being one of the very few filmmakers creating work about Jeju Island. 
Director O Muel (BIFF)

He was born and grew up on the far-southern island and majored in Korean painting at Cheju National University. He later worked in Jeju’s performing arts scene by founding a local theater troupe. Since turning to filmmaking, he has been creating films that depict the unique community culture of the people of Jeju, as well as their distinctive folk customs. All of his previous works were shot on his native Jeju, in the Jeju dialect, featuring the lives of people of the island.

While his previous works “Pong Ddol” (2010) and “Nostalgia” (2009) are rather humorous and even light hearted, “Jiseul” is grim, aesthetically rich and tragic. At BIFF, the film was noted for the exquisite, almost-poetic cinematography, as well as its depiction of the ordinary, simple victims who don’t have a real grasp of their situation.

At Sundance, “Jiseul” competed against 13 other works in the World Cinema section.

The film’s title “Jiseul” means potatoes in Jeju dialect. In the movie, it is the only food the villagers have and share while hiding together in the cave.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)