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Lee Kwang-kuk faces fears in his ‘A Tiger in Winter’ at French film festival

: Still from 'A Tiger in Winter', directed by Lee Kwang-kuk. Gyeong-yu (Lee Jin-wook) (L) and ex-ex girlfriend Yoo-jung (Ko-Hyun-jung) (R) meet up by chance. Producer Beyokdol Film

Tigers roaming around the city at any time of the year make people nervous and scared. The title of South Korean film director Lee Kwang-kuk’s third feature film is a metaphor for learning to overcome one’s fears by facing them. Classical form leaves space for poetic handling of love stories in an artists’ milieu.

One of the nine films representing facets of contemporary Asia competing for a Cyclo d’Or – Golden Rickshaw - award at the International Festival of Asian Cinema in Vesoul, in eastern France, ‘A Tiger in Winter’, is one of two from South Korea. It begins with the news that a tiger has escaped from the city zoo.

The hero of the film is a  man called Gyeong-yu (Lee Jin-wook) who seems never to quit the screen although he quits people, or they quit him. In the first fifteen minutes of the film he has rolled out of bed and demonstrated approximately zero enthusiasm for life, or for his girlfriend. He’s confused when she leaves him.

The occasional driver for drunk people comes into contact with a dismal section of society. The clients all take advantage one way or another treating him as if he were a loser.

Gyeong-yu had had dreams of being a writer, even written a novel, but like smoking, he gave it up and has been floundering ever since.

Shelves full of books line many walls in the film. Lee explains: “Even though I chose a novelist as the main character, I am talking about the difficulties and anxiety faced by all artists, all creative people, in cinema also. Today, it’s very difficult to write a book because there’s so little money, and the South Korean system doesn’t defend or encourage the artistic creation.”

The director worked with an experienced South Korean director of photography, Kim Hyung-koo. “From the outset he had my trust, and we agreed that the camera would be fixed much of the time to create distance, and give the impression of being an observer”, which also sets a slower pace in the film. The bright, clear, lighting, “would be as often as possible natural.”

As the film moves on, and Gyoeng-yu gradually, almost imperceptibly rediscovers how to be at ease with himself, the camera gets closer and closer, until the tiger is not real, not scary, but made of paper.