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Original Title:
Aju teukbyeolhan sonnim

South Korea 2006


Lee Yoon-ki

Han Hyo-ju
Kim Yeong-min
Choi Il-hwa
Kim Joong-ki
Lee Hyeon-jeong
Sin Yeong-jin
Kwon Da-hyeon
Ki Ju-bong

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Ad Lib Night

Story: A girl (Han Hyo-ju) sits in a park and seems to be waiting for someone. Two men are standing behind her and argue about whether she is a certain individual or not. Eventually, the two address the girl with a name she has never heard before. Despite the girl's asseveration the two men don't want to believe that she isn't the person they are looking for. In the end, they have a proposition for her: For quite some time already they are looking for the daughter of a man who is dying but they can't find her, so they ask her to pretend being her for one day. The girl's father is unconscious anyway and she only would have to sit at his deathbed and ask for forgiveness for running away years ago without ever making any contact to her family again. The girl agrees and at the family's house she has to witness how the family members are argueing about everyhing even if the girl can pass as the long lost daughter. But what reason did the girl have to agree to this very unusual request anyway?

Review: Art house movies are often aiming at pleasing a certain audience, mostly critics or festival goers. However, there are also films that play in their very own world and yet - or maybe just because of that - actually stand as art house cinema. "Ad Lib Night" is such a case. With a very slow pacing, a minimalistic story and quiet pictures this movie takes a trip into the life of a nameless girl and a family that tries to cope with the approaching death of a close relative. Loneliness and the tragical paths life can take for you, are standing in the foreground of the girl's trip. Director Lee Yoon-ki captures the events with a HD-camera which leads to the viewer not really realizing the low budget of this movie. In fact the pictures are nice to look at because of their naturelness. Being shot during a mere 10 days period Lee has created a nice subtle drama which oftentimes even isn't one. You won't shed any tears but "Ad Lib Night" is still moving because of its genuineness.

Director Lee Yoon-ki could already enchant the audience with his debut film "This Charming Girl" and remains true to his roots. That means that his story most likely will not appeal to the wide commercial focused audience, but this certainly isn't a prerequisite for a movie to be good or not! Years later Lee showed with his "My Dear Enemy", though, that he is actually capable of going for a wider audience with his kind of stories as well and without fully having to distance himself from the pecularities of his way of movie-making. "Ad Lib Night" takes us into a world that is somehow imbued with sweet melancholy and feels dreamy in an unobtrusive way without every really taking a step out of reality. Lee has a very distinct style that makes him stand out from the more cold-natured art house directors. But this doesn't mean that his movies aren't told in the same snaillike pacing. He simply manages, in contrast to other directors of the genre, not to put the viewer to sleep.

The story of the movie, which is actually based on a novel by Azuko Taira, is very easy to follow and in fact isn't actively told on screen but more or less unfolds itself more naturally. This leads to a problem, though, which is the dialogue that sometimes feels a bit unprofessional. The continuous questioning of the girl by the two men at the beginning if she really isn't the person they are looking for is a good example for that. Apparently the director provided the actors only with a few notes on what to say and just let them play their scenes with a lot of improvisation. This creates a very natural atmosphere and especially later on during the arguments between the family members proves to be a nice stylistic device, at the same time, however, this leads to numerous repetitions that better would have been avoided.

"Ad Lib Night" centers around the characters. About the family we get to know that some of the members only turned up, because they are interested in the inheritance of the fatally ill man and this leads to quite some quarrels and differences. It's an ugly theme reflected in some nice moments, yet those scenes are also presented with a certain lightheartedness that derives from the fact that there isn't a strict screenplay that limits the characters in their dialogues. There is a lot of drinking, eating and talking about this and that. During that we soon get to know the individual characters and we actually start to feel close to some of them. Sadly, those arguements drag on a bit too long in the middle part and the film suddenly seems to have lost a real focus. The girl can offer only so much as she demands of the viewer to interpret a lot in order to get information about her anyway because of her withdrawn nature. Fortunately, director Lee can get his movie on track again soon enough.

Who is the girl? Maybe she is the runaway daughter to begin with? At first we might think so or at least you can't be sure, but the movie soon leaves no doubt that this is not the direction to look for answers. Which reason had the girl to follow the men anyway? The solution is almost too simple and by that credible as well. This last "twist", if you want to call it that, isn't treated as something special either, it's just that the girl is feeling like talking about her life. When the film leaves us with a more or less open ending we understand the actions of the characters a lot better even if we are still without certain answers. "Ad Lib Night" manages what only few art house dramas manage to do and that also seems to be Lee Yoon-ki's talent: The characters and quiet pictures of his dramas take the backdoor into the viewer's heart and stay there beyond the credit screen as well.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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