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Ko - production in Busan
  • ZHANG Lu’s Warm Gaze At Foreign Laborers
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  Dec 30, 2013
  • SCENERY, the latest work from the director of DOOMAN RIVER
    Photo ⓒCine21 
    “What is the most memorable dream you had while living in Korea?” Korean-Chinese filmmaker ZHANG Lu poses this question in his latest documentary Scenery. People in front of the camera laugh at first, but then start racking their brains to remember the dream they had thought of the previous night. Then in a soft and careful tone, foreign laborers from the Philippines, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, who flew over to this country to work at the Dapsimni spare parts center, the Daerim-dong Korean-Chinese town, and the Majang-dong livestock market, begin telling their stories. One relates a trip to Jeju Island which he had never visited before, and another mentions a meeting with his father whom he resents very much, while a shy bride-to-be dances to her heart’s content. “The first Chinese character ‘poong(風)’ for scenery (poong gyeong - 風景) means ‘wind,’ which may look static to the naked eye, but is always on the move.” As if corresponding to this thought, the foreign laborers who attend to their work and personal lives in silence timidly reveal their wavering emotions to the director’s subject of ‘dreams,’ an approach quite familiar to the filmmaker’s body of work.
    Starting a career in film at the not-so-young-age of 38, filmmaker ZHANG Lu has consistently maintained a modest and careful attitude towards film. Getting his name out at the 10th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) by winning the ‘New Currents Award’ for his 2005 work Grain in Ear, he has been diligently releasing almost one film per year since his feature debut in 2004 with Tang Poetry. Or at least until 2011 when he finished his last feature Dooman River and stepped back from the film scene for the next three years. There seemed to be no further need to make films anymore after completing Dooman River, which he initially hoped to make as his first feature film. Time seemed to pass him by when one day the Graduate School of Communication & Arts department at Yonsei University approached him to teach a course. “Spending a year and a half with students stirred my interest in films once again.” And it was the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) that reignited his creative fire as the festival invited Japan’s KOBAYASHI Masahiro, Indonesia’s Edwin and ZHANG Lu to direct the omnibus project Jeongju Digital Project 2013 under the theme ‘Strangers,’ which sought to highlight the distant corners of people’s minds.
    The filmmaker’s delicate treatment of minute uncertainty is repeated once again as he captured Korean-Chinese, the displaced and foreigners on camera. However, this time he made a rule not to ask uncomfortable questions. “When you are shooting a documentary, you have this desire to learn more and document everything. Unfortunately this ‘desire’ often gets in the way. After setting this principle to just comfortably share stories of our dreams, everything went quite easily. The people who were cautious at first laughed when I asked them to talk about their dreams. In this case, there is no need to lie or to be exploited. The interviewer can look silly and even funny to them.”
    If feature films are questions directed to oneself as ZHANG Lu has stated, documentaries are those directed to others. And as he was determined to be earnest in his approach, he observed rather than asked. This explains why he ended up spending more time on the ‘scenery of labor.’ “The lives of these people are spent in silence. At the workplace, they can leave things behind and focus. Like sports, labor gains rhythm with movement. I found the beauty in this during the course of observing.” Between interviews and the sites of labor, the elephant images on the window and the scenery of tricycles standing at the road are presented in cinematic poetry while emotional currents runs between the filmmaker and the interviewees. “The scenes created by connecting the things that existed in the interviewing space and the subjects the interviewees yearned for actually gave me comfort and consolation.” Accordingly, filmmaker ZHANG Lu intends to start all over again. With Scenery, he will soon meet with the public, and his latest feature project Gyeongju will be released early next year. Like the ending of Scenery, the camera he holds will continue to push ahead in his endeavor to capture whatever lies ahead. 
    By SONG Soon-jin
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