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Original Title:
Himalayaeui sonyowa

South Korea 2008


Jeon Soo-il

Choi Min-sik
Tsering Kipale Gurung
Tenjing Sherpa
Namgya Gurung
Hamo Gurung

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Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells

Story: Choi (Choi Min-sik) has some problems concerning his job and to make things even worse one day one of his colleagues dies in an accident at work. Choi takes the ashes of the nepalese worker Dorgy and wants to hand them over this his family. However, when he gets to Nepal he realizes that he isn't prepared for the enormous struggles that come with climbing the Himalaya. Fighting the elements he somehow manages with great efforts to get to the place where Dorgy's family lives, but he almost dies due to mountain sickness. Dorgy's wife (Tsering Kipale Gurung) and the rest of the family nurses him until he gets better and in the following days Choi makes friends with Dorgy's son (Tenjing Sherpa). Choi finds a completely different culture and way of life on the Himalaya which has a special appeal on him. Nonetheless, he still has to muster up the courage to tell the family the truth about Dorgy's fate and hand them over his remains...

Review: After a three year break "Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells" is the return of actor Choi Min-sik who gained quite some fame with movies like "Oldboy" and "Failan". Concerning his acting skills he is with the best of the business and excites with his empathic as well as subtle performances. But somehow he seemed to have lost enthusiasm for the movie business and so it shouldn't be surprising that his comeback is in a rather unusual independent film by Jeon Soo-il who has received big applause by critics for his work "With the Girl of Black Soil". For Jeon it surely means getting access to a wider audience by having Choi on board. But "Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells" is an art house movie that illuminates the life on the Himalaya in a documentary, meditative actually even somniferous fashion. Those who are into endless shots of the region, endless silence and a minimalistic plot might get something out of the movie - everyone else won't.

Critics applaud, directors give themselves a pat on the back and everyone else who can't get anything out of the movie concurs and claps their hands as well simply because you don't want to look like an art-ignoring idiot. Some among the critics will most likely belong to that group as well. Anyway, fact is that Jeon Soo-il's movie is incredibly lengthy, yes let's be honest, boring. It's ok, no it's even welcome when dramas set themselves free from general circulating formulas and try to do something else, but while doing so to narcistically lose themselves in snapshots that last for minutes and minutes is something I'm no longer willing to excuse. "Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells" may be a movie that tries to sketch the way of life of the people on the Himalaya and to show some scenes featuring Choi wandering through the endless landscapes of the land surely also adds to the feeling of isolation and wideness of nature, but to have no focus whatsoever and simply let the film run by should by no means be called art.

The movie already begins with Choi walking down a hall for a period of time that feels like minutes and it goes like this for the rest of the film. To depict his loneliness through use of numerous scenes of him wandering doesn't mean that you have to show this the whole movie. Granted, during those moments the filmmakers also indulge in the breathtaking nature against whose majestic greatness men look like a meaningless ant, but I nonetheless can't agree with the critics who praise the fantastic pictures. The fact that the pictures look great simply is because of the fantastic scenery of the Himalaya. You don't need to do much to impress the viewer with this setting. Simply shooting what you get in front of your lense is enough. Because that's exactly what has been done here and needs to be criticized. The awesome scenery could have had more impact if there had been made use of better filters and some more camera movements. By shooting the majesty of nature with a better-than-average handcamera surely doesn't do it justice and moreover the snow-covered hilltops are lost in an uniform white. That's even the more annoying since the director's talent for picture composition actually shines through during serveral other scenes.

It might be interesting to accompany the people on the mountain and have a look at their lives, but sadly simple documentaries have already managed to do that even more captivating and in a more profound manner than here. We also don't get any additional information concerning the characters. Only about Choi we learn to understand that he has a wife and a family in America who he is living seperated from and we only get to know this through a phone call. The lacking dialogue underlines the picture of loneliness and isolation drawn here. The process of healing one's soul, the legend of the mountain on which you can obtain this healing and a white horse looking like an otherworldly being that seems as if it wants to lead Choi to a certain place all stand as small allusions that never really take effect, though, as you start to feel incredibly lonely because of extremely long shots of the family sitting together at a table or of the mountains that stretch farther than you can look. You get the feeling that Choi should be longing to get home again, but he stays nonetheless and thus we are taking a look at the clock bored and wondering when the film will end, eventually.

Until the ending, which comes along as minimalistic and unimpressive as the rest of the film, it takes 90 minutes, though. That's a lot of minutes in which Choi is hopelessly unchallanged acting-wise as he is either wandering through the land or lying sick on his bed. There is also no music score apart from some dull sounds and the at some time annoying tunes of the flute of Dorgy's son. Only the traditional songs sung by the family seem at least interesting. The few lines that are spoken are either in Korean, English or the local dialect and are subtitled.
"Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells" is a monotonous, lengthy and surely no well done movie about a place full of impressive pictures of nature. If you want to know how you do such a movie the right way you only have to look at the magnificent pictures of "Kekexili: Mountain Patrol". However, what we get here is a movie that doesn't earn unfounded laudation by everyone because in my opinion this boring trend of art house cinema is according to a simple formula, too, and moreover (and to make things worse) isn't even as entertaining as most cheap romantic comedies. These may be harsh words, but they are grounded and this is how I would like to end this review, finally.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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