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Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Director award, CHIHWASEON is a vivid portrait of the turbulent life and times of Korea’s greatest artist. As remarkably embodied by Choi Min-sik, the temperamental, passionate brush master Jang Seung-up paints with a martial artist’s fervor while indulging a rock star’s single-minded lust for life. Amidst the tumult and destruction of nineteenth century Korea, “Ohwon,” as he comes to be called, fights to escape both the rigid artistic boundaries and the social fetters that would deny his low-born, unschooled genius.

Saved from a street gang’s fists by a wealthy patron, young Ohwon’s raw talent, as demonstrated in a sketch thanking his rescuer, opens the door to a world that would otherwise be forbidden to the dirt-poor outsider. As Ohwon’s artistic abilities develop to near supernatural perfection, his carnal appetites grow into self-immolation. But whether imprisoned in a gilded cage as a reluctant Court Artist or painting Kama Sutra pillow book porno for booze money, Ohwon’s personal dissolution and political innocence yield artworks that one awestruck admirer says “emanate divine strength as if ghosts were dancing around them.”

While Ohwon’s brush tugs at paper inside the quiet of Seoul’s most privileged homes, out on the street the flames of revolution are fanned by the Japanese and Chinese generals who would claim Korea for their own. In CHIHWASEON, director Im Kwon Taek portrays both the near apocalyptic upheaval of turn of the century Korea and the intimate interior battle between Ohwon's creative and libidinous desires.

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KI3342 Chi-Hwa-Seon (Painted Fire) DVD (2002/Im Kwon Taek/South Korea) $29.95 $26.99