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SXSW 2015: ‘The Avian Kind’ is as beautiful to behold (and as hard to grasp) as its namesake

SXSW 2015: ‘The Avian Kind’ is as beautiful to behold (and as hard to grasp) as its namesake


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The Avian Kind
Written and directed by Shin Youn-Shick
South Korea, 2014

Everyone has those moments. That itch and urge to pack up and start anew somewhere else. Most never make it past the front door. For others, that incessant feeling bores deep and hollows one out until they’re certain this is not who they’re meant to be.

Shin Youn-shick’s follow-up to critical darling The Russian Novel and Korean box office hit Rough Play is a lot like the birds its characters fawn over —  beautiful, strange, and mostly imperceptible. The Avian Kind follows an unsociable novelist,  Jung-suk (Kim Jeong-suk), as he mopes and meanders about the provinces of South Korea in search of his wife (Jung Han-bi) who left him and their daughter 15 years prior to seek a cult doctor who could transform her into a bird. One day, Jung-suk encounters the successful and enigmatic Alice Kim (Soy Kim), who suggests having known his wife and promises him direction in finding her.

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Throughout the film, dual narratives tell the story of  Jung-suk’s wife’s transformation as well as his lagging search. Although the viewer follows Kim and Jung-suk from clue to clue, very little is provided in the way of motivation or logic. The film uses its supernatural conceit as nothing more than a stepping stone to ponder and muse about grief and transformation, and the empty spaces people leave behind. The characters remain distant and unsolvable from beginning to end.

It’s a film as much about the pain of those who walk away as it is about the hurt and confusion of those left behind. For what it lacks in explanation, The Avian Kind is undeniably a beautiful film to soak in thanks to cinematographer Choi Yong-Jin’s masterful use of colors and the Korean wooded rurals. A slow, grinding film, The Avian Kind is uneven but gives plenty to chew on.

— David Tran

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