Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Korean director Jang Sun-Woo (Lies, Bad Movie) is a man of many seeming contradictions. A former activist who has become a very bankable film-maker. A social provocateur who is fascinated by the Buddhist quest for enlightenment. A modernist with a love of Korean folk traditions and shamanism. A man who calls himself ‘lazy’ and ‘cowardly’ but makes films which many authorities want to censor or ban.
This documentary goes to the heart of Jang’s contradictions. In 12 chapters, each organized around a theme or topic, it not only surveys his career to date but also explores how others see him and how he sees himself. Through an intricate structure (and with a generous measure of humor), director Tony Rayns suggests that the protagonists of Jang’s films mirror aspects of the man himself. Jang emerges as a complex man grappling with his own conflicting impulses: thoughtful, articulate and self-questioning.
Digital editing techniques allow Rayns to see the man and his films literally side-by-side, and to bring in other people’s divergent opinions and memories as counterpoints. Contributors include Jang’s current and past producers, actors and artistic collaborators. — Mary Carbine
The Asiaphile film critic and sometimes film-subtitler Tony Rayns renders an astute, thoughtful profile of the latitudinarian film director Jang Sun-Woo in The Jang Sun-Woo Variations. Rayns idiosyncratically contends that Jang’s mangy, woolly hairstyle is as revealing of his true character as the political and sociological concerns expressed in his films…
Rayns proselytizes the merit of Jang’s collective filmography, so that long before the picture is over, one is anxious for a look at Road to the Racetrack and A Petal… Rayns’ hybrid technique aligns itself succinctly with Jang’s protean personality, but his dispensing with the stateliness of most films about filmmakers gives the documentary a real kick. The picture is a spinning mobile of fluctuating discourses and locales, situating Jang in a variety of ironic spaces (examples: talking about sex while seated inside a Buddhist temple; speculating on religion while undergoing a massage in a male bathhouse).
We even see Jang at work on his latest feature, a high-flying, Crouching Tiger-esque martial arts picture, based in part on The Little Match Girl – and there’s more than a hint of bilious cynicism to Rayns’ presentation of the footage. — Scott Foundas, Variety, 26/3/01