Rich portrait of a rebel artist

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Veteran South Korean master Im Kwon-taek shared the best director award at Cannes last year with Paul Thomas Anderson for this opulent and often bawdy biopic of an artist unlikely to be familiar to Western audiences. Jang Seung-ub (known as Ohwon) was a lowly commoner and artistic prodigy who, having been adopted by aristocratic patrons, became a cherished national figure in the latter half of the 19th century. But he proved tough to control; his vagabond lifestyle, talent for pissing off authority and appetite for drink and women make him a prototype rock star. Ohwon veers between being entertaining company and a bit of a pain, although Choi Min-sik’s full-bodied performance ensures that he remains compelling and unpredictable. Im covers a lot of ground quickly, and keeping up with the political turmoil in the background isn’t easy. Still, any clarity lost in the broad sweep is made up for by the film-making, which brings Ohwon’s art to life in stunning fashion.


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