The Artist: Reborn is a promising debut feature from writer-director Kim Kyoung-won and stars Ryu Hyun-kyung as the artist “Gisele” whom the film is titled after. Ryu is typically seen in supporting and ensemble roles but The Artist: Reborn has her taking center stage and the film is almost entirely focused around her. The other lead, Jae-bum, is played by rising-star Park Jung-min, who blew audiences away with his powerful performance in Dongju: Portrait of a Poet last year.
Obviously as the title suggests, this is a film about art and the people involved in the modern art world. It is a rather small film but it attempts to make some big statements through its main character Gisele and the evolution she undergoes. After arriving back in Korea after 10 years of living abroad and studying art, she finds herself turning every conversation into what one would imagine the stereotypical art snob bringing up at diner parties, pondering the true meaning of art and what it means to be an artist. With this high cultured attitude, she has some rather humorous moments at the films opening when she undergoes a sort of reverse culture shock upon arriving back in Korea, which was a fun and interesting set up for her character. Unfortunately her pretentiousness quickly moves into annoying territory. Also, there is an unspecific and odd sense of time passing here as Gisele begins to look for work and attempt some teaching jobs.
Gisele becomes more than a little jaded with society’s inability to understand the meaning of art and is disgusted in general by the overall tone of the modern art world. After nearly giving up on producing any more art, the young and ambitious art gallery owner, Jae-bum, takes an interest in her work and it seems like Gisele’s time for fame has finally come. But when Gisele suddenly dies mysteriously on the eve of her first exhibition, her fame skyrockets and her paintings quickly become worth millions of dollars, landing Jae-bum’s small firm all the success they ever dreamed of. This death marks a pivotal shift in tone of the movie and for the character Gisele. When Gisele is proven to have experienced the “Lazerus syndrome,” a clinical term to explain her unexpected resuscitation, the world of The Artist: Reborn takes a rather dark turn as the profitability of Gisele’s work comes into question over her being alive rather than dead.
This darker second half is where the film’s sub-genre category of “mystery” and “crime” stem from. Although by no means is The Artist: Reborn what you would expect in the form of a crime and mystery film since there is absolutely zero police procedural aspect to the criminal and mysterious elements of this film. The crime has more to do with how Jae-bum and his team approach the marketing and sales of Gisele’s work, and the mystery surrounds just who Gisele truly is, both in the public’s eye as well as her own image of herself as an artist. She also now goes by her given name, Oh In-sook, and has a drastically different attitude and philosophy when it comes to making art and what being an artist means to her. In contrast to Gisele, Oh In-sook is more of a thinker than a talker, which makes her screen presence much more bearable than in the first half, but we never get the chance to really care for her until far too late into the film.
The chemistry between Ryu and Park works relatively well together considering their characters are at odds with each other for most of the movie. This dynamic was an interesting choice of direction since these two characters carry nearly the entire weight of the film on their shoulders save for a few smaller peripheral characters. One of the side characters that really stood out for his excellent combination of humor and toughness was Moon Jong-won (Angry Painter), who plays Jae-bum’s loyal right hand man. The overall clash between Jae-bum and Gisele doesn’t quite find the sweet spot, but their conflict of interests are interesting enough to maintain a healthy pace for the film.
The Artist: Reborn makes for an overall charming albeit somewhat confusing in tone indie film that doesn’t require you to be super into art to appreciate all that it has to offer, although it might help. You may even come out of the film with a new or refreshed perspective into the modern art world that will have you itching to check out a local gallery or to explore your creative side, and for that it earns a solid recommendation.
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