tranquil eye for detail when it comes to capturing nature, rural scenery and moments in life and create something that is layered and rather profound
"Would you go to a firework festival tomorrow?"
2013 Hong Kong-Asian Film Financing Forum Wouter Barendrecht Award
2013 KOFIC International Co-Production Support Program
2014 KOFIC Independent Film Post-Production Support Program
2015 KOFIC International Distribution Material Production Support Program
19th Busan International Film Festival DGK(Directors Guild of Korea) Award (2014, South Korea)
40th Seoul Independent Film Festival Special Mention (2014, South Korea)
3rd Muju Film Festival New Vision Award (2015, South Korea)
3rd Muju Film Festival Jeonbuk Critic Forum Award (2015, South Korea)
35th The Korean Association of Film Critics FIPRESCI Award (2015, South Korea)
16th Asiatica Film Mediale MIGLIOR Film Award (2015, Italy)
16th The Busan Film Critics Association Best Screenplay Award (2015, South Korea)
2015 Best Korean Independent Film (The Association Korean Independent Film & Video)
3rd Wildflower Film Awards Best Cinematography (2016, South Korea)
3rd Nara International Film Festival-Opening Film (2014, Japan)
19th Busan International Film Festival “Korean Cinema Today-Vision” (2014, South Korea)
40th Seoul Independent Film Festival-Competition (2014, South Korea)
44th International Film Festival Rotterdam-Spectrum (2015, Nederland)
38th Göteborg International Film Festival-Japan Focus (2015, Sweden)
39th Hong Kong International Film Festival–Indie Power (2015, China)
2015 Silk Road Film Festival–Competition (2015, Ireland)
4th Toronto Korean Film Festival (2015, Canada)
20th Independent Film & Video Makers' Forum (2015, South Korea)
Freer & Sackler Gallery, Washington "2015 Korean Film Festival" (2015, USA)
3rd Muju Film Festival-Competition (2015, South Korea)
21st Los Angeles Film Festival-World Fiction Competition (2015, USA)
5th Sakhalin International Film Festival (2015, Russia)
1st Bogota International Film Festival (2015, Colombia)
11th Zurich Film Festival (2015, Switzerland)
10th Festival du Film Coréen à Paris (2015, France)
10th London Korean Film Festival (2015, UK)
30th Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata (2015, Argentina)
15th South Taiwan Film Festival-Opening Film (2015, Taiwan)
16th Asiatica Film Mediale Festival-Competition (2015, Italy)
1st Wascow Korean Film Festival (2015, Poland)
30th Takasaki Film Festival (2016, Japan)
Korean title: 한여름의 판타지아
English title: A Midsummer’s Fantasia
Original language title: Han yeo-reum-ui pan-ta-ji-a
Country of production: South Korea
Year of completion: 2014
Color or B&W: B&W, Color
Running time: 97mins
Written and directed by Jang Kun-jae
Cast: Kim Sae-byeok, Im Hyeong-gook, Iwase Ryo
Producers: Kawase Naomi, Jang Kun-jae
Associate producers: Dodo Shunji, Kim Woo-ri
Cinematographer: Fujii Masayuki
Location sound: Kim Hyun-sang
Editor: Jang Kun-jae, Lee Yeon-jeong
Music: Lee Min-whee
Production: MOCUSHURA & Nara Film Festival
International sales: MOCUSHURA
Review / Interview
A Midsummer’s Fantasia sees director Jang Kun Jae spread his artistic wings in comparison to his his last effort Sleepless Night. They still share a very similar tone, and once again sees exploration of relationships in a calm and subtle manner. Where it differs is in the artistic ambition. Before, Jang kept to a 4:3 aspect ratio, whereas now he is in full widescreen mode. The switch makes perfect sense, given the fact that he captures many beautiful exterior shots of stunning locales. The film is also broken down into two chapters, which effectively work as two individual films.
The first is shot in black and white and sees a Korean film director (Im Hyeong Gook) and his translator (Kim Sae Byuk) travel to Gojo in Japan to location scout for a new film. The film is very natural, while still being more stylised than Jang’s last effort. Gone are the cramped shots and gritty camerawork, and here are crisp black and white images. So many levels of greys are contrasted against one another that one incredible shot seems o illustrate a trio of mountain ranges, one behind the other, before blending into the clouds. This half of the film follows the in film director’s fascination with different subjects in the area, whether it be a specific location, story, or elderly woman sitting on the side of the road.
The dialogue is very natural, and can often be delivered in seemingly unrelated anecdotes. One exceptionally long take – of which Jang is certainly a fan – sees a local recount his aspirations to become an actor. The shot is close-up and never looks away, giving us deep insight into a secondary character. It’s a subtle moment of complete dedication on Jang’s part, where the rest of the film pauses for this moment. Everything delights in this portion of the film and it feels fresh and insightful.
The second half is by no means bad, but it does feel less essential. Shot in colour, the second chapter has no connection with the first chapter, although it is heavily implied that it is the film that the director in the first segment was scouting locations for. This is the most interesting aspect, as we see locations previously only seen in black and white suddenly come alive in colour. Despite the use of colour adding more life, the story itself is less fulfilling.
This time we follow a young woman visiting Gojo who is befriended by a local farmer. The two hang out and chat, and a kind of romance obviously blooms. It’s understated, but to a point where it is hard to invest. It may not follow usual romantic conventions, and does explore the complexities of emotions rather than labelling them as love or not. It is also great to see Jang move effortlessly from black and white to colour and treat each section as a truly individual product with rewarding connections.
A Midsummer’s Fantasia is exceptionally well crafted if a little unbalanced. In some ways it could be described as a double feature of two shorts, and it’s just a shame that the stronger film was placed first. It works as a lovely little travel diary for the small town of Gojo, and the peaceful tranquil setting, from where young people have almost vanished, fills the viewer with joy and a longing to visit. A lovely shot effort that once again shows the promise of Jang as a director, hopefully next time the raw emotion of Sleepless Night will combine with the artistic visuals here.
By Luke Ryan Baldock (November 7, 2015)
Naturally, given their respective styles, A Midsummer’s Fantasia adopts a realist aesthetic while mimicking Kawase’s enigmatic documentary-like structure making theatrical screenings limited to festivals and possible art-house exposure, but should it attract sufficient attention, it could generate a dedicated following.
The feature, which was supported by the Nara International Film Festival in Japan headed by Kawase - where it had its world premiere in September - will further benefit from its screening at the Busan International Film Festival along with Jang’s rising status following the international success of his two previous films including Sleepless Night which screened in Vancouver, Tokyo, Rotterdam and Edinburgh festivals. Kawase’s role as a producer should also generate publicity for the film.
Split into two parts, shot in black and white, the opening chapter First Love, Yoshiko follows a Korean director (Lim Hyung-kook) who is scouting for locations for his next film in the Japanese rural town of Gojo, and is joined by his assistant director Mijung (Kim Sae-byuk) who interprets for him. There he meets the locals including an elderly lady and a civil servant (Ryo Iwase) who helps him tour the area.
The second part, Well of Sakura, captured in colour, is inspired by a story told in the opening chapter of a romance between a Korean woman and a local man. Mijung is now an actress while the civil servant is a persimmon farmer as they walk around the town and learn about each other.
Comparisons to Richard Linklater’s minimalist Before Sunrise and subsequent sequels are inevitable, and though they do share qualities in terms of the film’s second half in particular, Jang’s intelligent fragmented script and documentary-like style first chapter and how the two parts interrelate successfully differentiates it from those films.
The small town of Gojo and its elderly residents play a central part in the film as the film tellingly documents through conversations with the locals how the young have turned to the bigger cities in sight of brighter employment opportunities and a better life.
Yet juxtaposed with the more fictional elements in the second half of the film it creates a sense of nostalgia that’s in part attributed to Masayuki Fujii’s masterfully effective cinematography that almost appears to capture a town that’s much older than it actually is.
The leads Kim Sae-byuk (Stateless Things) and Ryo Iwasa. along with Lim Hyung-kook (also stars in Stateless Things), have no issues adapting the film’s understated tone finding an inner depth to their roles and able to meet the demands of long takes adding to the film’s authenticity.
Like many other realist dramas with little to escalate tension as such, some viewers may find the film a demanding experience. However, what makes Jang stand out compared to many of his contemporaries is his talent to capture moments in life and create something that is layered and rather profound.
By Jason Bechervaise (October 10, 2014)
Korean writer director Jang Kun-jae follows up his much-praised 2013 Sleepless Night with A Midsummer’s Fantasia, a film split into parts following the experiences of a film director and his assistant in rural Japan. Reuniting Kim Sae-byuk and Lim Hyung-kook, who worked together on Kim Kyung-mook’s 2012 Stateless Things, the film also stars Iwase Ryo (Yellow Kid), and was produced by acclaimed director Naomi Kawase (Still the Water), whose Nara International Film Festival provided support. Having played to positive reviews at festivals around the world, the film emerged as one of the year’s biggest indie hits back in Korea, confirming Jang as one of the country’s most interesting rising talents.
The film consists of two chapters, opening with First Love, Yoshiko, in which a Korean director (Lim Hyung-kook) travels to Gojo in rural Japan as part of a location-scouting trip for his next production. Joined by his assistant director and translator Mi Jung (Kim Sae-byuk), the two travel around the area and interview several of the locals, becoming very interested in particular by the stories of an elderly woman and a civil servant who has returned from the city to live there (Iwase Ryo). The second part, Well of Sakura, depicts a romance inspired by a tale told during the previous chapter, with Mi Jung this time being a Korean actress visiting Gojo and falling in with a local persimmon farmer (Iwase again). Gradually warming to each other’s company, the pair wander the town, growing closer as they share experiences and memories.
There’s undeniably an air of familiarity to A Midsummer’s Fantasia, with its two part structure, overlapping stories, shifting characters and often rambling scenes of dialogue recalling the works of Hong Sang-soo and Richard Linklater’s Sunrise trilogy. The influence of producer Kawase can also be seen during the opening segment, shot in black and white documentary style, and with the film as a whole showing the same kind of tranquil eye for detail when it comes to capturing nature and rural scenery. The plot itself, both in terms of its understated romance and its Korean-Japanese cultural communication is similarly nothing new, with the presence of a film director, assistant director and an actress as protagonists being common in indie cinema.
Thankfully, A Midsummer’s Fantasia is a very strong indie in all other respects, Jang Kun-jae showing himself to have matured and progressed with his third offering. The film industry connection and his own experiences in Japan aside, the plot moves away from the autobiographical angle seen in Eighteen and Sleepless Night, though it’s no less intimate for it, and has a winningly naturalistic and laid-back feel throughout. While some viewers might find its meandering narrative and avoidance of artificial drama hard to get a hold on, it’s a deeply humanistic film with very likeable characters, the hour and a half spent in their company being engaging and pleasant indeed. Jang gets great performances from Kim Sae-byuk, Iwase Ryo and Lim Hyung-kook, and there’s a relaxed feeling to their interactions that is convincing and subtly moving, the film’s second half benefitting from a quiet romance that slowly pulls in the viewer along with the leads.
The film is also beautifully shot, Jang making great use of the gorgeous scenery without making things feel too picture postcard or touristic. Though the switch from black and white to colour is a bit jarring and pronounced, the film is atmospheric and easy on the eyes, its languid pace sitting comfortably with its hints and suggestions of profoundness, and its patient approach will certainly speak to viewers in tune with its charms.
For all its familiarity A Midsummer’s Fantasia is definitely one of the stronger Korean independent films of the last year, confirming Jang Kun-jae as a director to keep an eye on. Immensely likeable, well-made and accomplished, it’s easy to see why it’s proved so popular with domestic audiences, and the film should continue to win Jang more admirers on the international circuit as well.
By James Mudge (November 16, 2015)
Taking place in the quiet town of Gojo in Japan, an ageing community tinged with a lingering sadness and marked by stillness, A Midsummer's Fantasia is a wistful, hopeful and nostalgic third feature by rising Korean indie auteur Jang Kunjae.
Split into two chapters, Jang's film begins in black and white, as a Korean director visits Gojo to do research for his latest film. With the help of a city council member and an interpreter, he tours the area and meets the elderly locals. Switching to color, the film's second half presents a tale hatched in the filmmaker's mind of a burgeoning romance between a local man and a young Korean woman, on her last stop in Japan before returning home.
A commissioned work of the Nara International Film Festival, an event spearheaded by Japanese filmmaker Kawase Naomi (who serves as the film's producer), A Midsummer's Fantasia opens in the warm confines of a small cafe, buzzing with the chatter of its senior patrons. Jang's film explores a small community which has been gutted of its youth, as men and women have migrated for the cities and their promise of employment and creature comforts.
For its documentary-like first half, which is essentially a recreation of the director's own experience researching for the film, Jang's camera remains still as it gazes on the village's inhabitants (none of whom are actors, save for the city council member) and serves as a witness to their daily routines and conversations. Jump cuts add to the non-fiction style and punctuate its deliberate pacing while the monochromatic lensing evokes an older time and turns Gojo's interiors into warm and welcoming locales.
Director Jang has always placed himself at the centre of his narratives, employing surrogates that have highlighted the various stages of his life. Following the teenager of Eighteen (2009) and the young husband of Sleepless Night (2012), his latest is the first to reflect on his career as a filmmaker. Unlike his earlier efforts, his surrogate here is no longer the driving force of the narrative, acting merely as a gateway into a fictional tale of romance that he accents with his particular proclivities. Yet the film is also largely a document to his creative process, offering us a peek into an artists' mind.
Deliberately sped down, to reflect the unhurried lifestyle of the Gojo community and the slow nature of cross-cultural communication, the first segment acclimates us to the tempo of the film's director and its locale before guiding us into the more colorful back half, which is introduced through an iridescent and literal burst of color, by way of a night time fireworks show.
The beautiful, sweet and unfulfilled romance that makes up the second part of the film, staged with great restraint yet richly evocative, is touching and almost heartbreaking in its simplicity. Though set in the present, it yearns for a less complicated past and draws its strength from why is left unsaid rather than what is shown on screen.
Once again, Jang demonstrates his keen ability to say so much while seemingly doing so little as the pauses in his work are often more important than the dialogue. Filled with unuttered thoughts, pregnant with desires and fraught with anxieties, these moments reflect each and every one of us and the silent machinations that drive our every move. However, skilled an artist though Jang is, it would be for nothing were it not for the transparent and seemingly effortless performances of his endearing cast. Employing a great deal of improvisation, Kim Sae-byuk and Iwase Ryo shine as the potential love birds. Effortless and affecting, the duo are a joy to watch on screen and their final scene together, light on words but brimming with soft passion, is a memorable ode to love.
Much like his previous film, Jang's style features an abundance of long shots that film the characters from a safe distance. Yet this separation doesn't prevent us from getting close to the protagonists. In particular, his use of unobtrusive steadicam for lengthy tracking shots makes us feel as though we are right beside the protagonists.
Due to its split and Brechtian structure, A Midsummer's Fantasia may not travel quite as far as the subdued yet triumphant Sleepless Night, but further proving Jang's innate ability to visualize the ineffable and demonstrating his willingness to experiment, it is a formidable addition to a filmography that is quickly turning into one of the most accomplished in modern Korean cinema.
By Pierce Conran (October 3, 2014)
In its calm, delicate pace, “A Midsummer’s Fantasia” slowly and subtly draws us into the sunny and soothing summer days in a rural Japanese city. During its first part, it leisurely looks around the city with meditative curiosity, and we look and listen close to various people who tell us a bit about their lives in front of the camera. And then the movie shifts itself onto a different mode during its second part, and it becomes more playful and poignant as wandering around with two different characters who are possibly inspired by the journey shown during the first part.
Shot in black and white film, the first part of the film revolves around a field inquiry in Gojo, a small city located in Nara Prefecture, Japan. We meet South Korean director Tae-hoon (Im Hyeong-gook) and his translator Mi-jeong (Kim Sae-beok), and we see them meeting Yusuke (Ryo Iwase), a city hall employee who will accompany them during their first day in the city.
While getting to know more about Gojo through him, Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong become interested in how Yusuke came to live in Gojo. He studied literature at first, but then he tried to be an actor, and then, after realizing that he was not a good actor, he eventually found himself settling in this quiet place as a public servant. Sometimes life leads you to where you have never expected, and the same thing can be said about one aging couple, who quietly reminisces about how they hopped around different businesses during many years of their long married life.
The movie continues to look closer to the people of Gojo and their past like that. The opening scene shows the warm, cozy environment of a local restaurant, and the old faces of the customers suggest years of life and experience behind them as the camera attentively observes these people for a while. Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong later meet a local middle-aged guy who will be their guide instead of Yusuke, and it turns out that man also has an interesting life story of his own. While they spend time together at some cafe, a usual customer at the cafe talks about how long he and the mistress of cafe have known each other, and we come to listen to him as the camera looks at him with quiet interest.
Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong also go to a rural town mostly occupied by old people, and they meet an old lady who has lived her whole life in her hometown. The town has become emptier than before due to the absence of youths in the town, but she is content with her remaining life, and her town is shown with serene beauty as the camera looks around houses and forest trees. After the brief visit to an empty elementary school near the town, Tae-hoon begins to get an idea for his film, as the night begins with the fireworks in the sky.
The director/writer/co-producer/co-editor Jang Kun-jae made his film as a project commissioned by the Nara International Film Festival through Naomi Kawase, who produced the film with Jang. Like what is shown during its first part, he spent some time in Gojo for writing his screenplay, and I heard that many of the actors in the film are local non-professionals and some of them actually tell about themselves during their scenes. The movie is also humorous at times, and the main source of its low-key humor is the bilingual communication between South Korean and Japanese characters, which is usually mediated by Mi-jeong’s bilateral translation.
After establishing the vivid sense of place and people so well through this documentary-like approach, the movie instantly moves to its second part. Shot in color film in contrast to the first part, the second part is about a tentative romance tale between a South Korean tourist named Hye-jeong (Kim Sae-beok) and a young local farmer she meets in Gojo. Before going back to South Korea, Hye-jeong decides to spend her last two days in Gojo, and she encounters Yusuke (Ryo Iwase) when she is looking for any interesting sight to see in the city. As they walk around the city together, it is apparent through their interaction that they enjoy each other’s company, and Hye-jeong agrees to spend more time with him on the next day.
Because many things shown or mentioned during the first part appear again along with the same main performers, you will naturally begin to wonder whether this is a story imagined by Tae-hoon. Hye-jeong may be a character inspired by an anecdote told to Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong at one point during the first part, and Yusuke in the second part can be a more localized version of Yusuke we saw from the first part.
Regardless of that possibility and others implied in the second part, its summer romance between two strangers is engaging to watch thanks to the natural rapport between its lead performers. Deftly going back and forth between two languages, Kim Sae-beok is charming and graceful in her two different roles, and her co-actor Ryo Iwase is equally wonderful in his likable dual performance. During a longtake scene where the camera patiently observes them talking and walking with each other along the street, their tantalizing chemistry is clearly visible on the screen, and that may take you back to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklator’s “Before Sunrise” (1995).
“A Midsummer’s Fantasia” is the third work directed by Jang Kun-jae. He previously directed “Sleepless Night” (2012), and I was very impressed by his restrained but confident presentation of a very intimate character drama about a young couple who may soon have to make an important decision for their life. As he did in his previous film, Jang lets his story and characters flow by themselves under his effortless direction, and many feelings and thoughts felt below the surface are effectively conveyed to us through subtle and elegant touches. This is a small but fabulous work full of charm and mood to savor, and you will want to revisit this relaxing movie on any summer day.By Seongyong (June 14, 2015) https://kaist455.com/2015/06/14/a-midsummers-fantasia-2014/
Sometimes it seems like every time I think every form of meta film commentary's been done, another weird angle pops out of the woodwork. With "A Midsummer's Fantasia", that commentary is on location scouting. Technically speaking most location scouting these days is done according to tax incentives. And realistically speaking "A Midsummer's Fantasia" was obviously produced the same way. The project was spearheaded at the Nara International Film Festival, and as it happens the location on display here is Gojo City, a picturesque town in the Nara district of Japan.
But let's ignore the cynical angle for a moment. If you're into beautiful filmic shots of faraway places, writer / director Jang Kun-jae has you covered. Gojo City is just, well, really pretty to look at. Even though the first half of the film is shot entirely in black-and-white, there's a sort of simple charm in a town that was able to maintain it's more quaint, aesthetically pleasing traditions for the sake of luring in turists. If I had to choose one place in Japan to travel to this year, I would probably go to Gojo City.
This point is also literally illuminated in the meta-narrative. The black-and-white portion of the film is about the location scouting. The color portion is a film that was presumably produced by the people who were doing the location scouting in the first segment. Subtle reminders are fairly constant- like how subtle details of the town or even random hallucinations make reappearances in the more properly filmic tale that's presented in living color.
There's just one problem with all this. The story is obviously not real. The entire framing device makes it quite clear that the color story is an imaginary one. Let's ignore for the moment the fact that pretty much all movies are imaginary stories. Most movies at least pretend to be real, and yet "A Midsummer's Fantasia" goes out of its way to tell us that location scouting created this love story, and that this love story is in fact a complete lie. What could this mean?
...I have no idea. That's the problem with meta-narratives, really. Every so often they get so clever it's impossible to tell what point they're trying to make unless you're doing academic style research. As far as the simulacrum of film goes, "A Midsummer's Fantasia" is a pretty accurate representation of what we all think random getaways into foreign countries should look like. Personally speaking my deep, insightful, vaguely romantic conversations with strangers never leave much of an impact in memory.
Ah, but that is the point of film is it not? To create a false reality that seems more true than the real thing. To some extent that's certainly an admirable attitude- goodness knows the fake has to put in a lot more effort to be something that it's not. In any event, you don't really have to analyze "A Midsummer's Fantasia" if you don't really want to. This is a perfectly fun movie just to look at, and absorb the ambience. It might not be a real vacation, but even so. Does it really matter?
By William Schwartz (June 6, 2015)