The UCLA Film Archive's presentation of "New Korean Cinema," which is keyed to the Olympics in Seoul, begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Theater with Bae Chang-ho's "Our Sweet Days of Youth" (1987).
That film is an unfortunate introduction to a national cinema little known outside the Korean community, but Sunday's "Pong" (1985) by Lee Doo-yong is a knockout from a world-class film maker. (Lee's "The Spinning Wheel"--which screens Oct. 9--and his "Eunuchs" have won acclaim on the film festival circuit.) The extremes these two films represent suggests that an unpredictable 13-picture retrospective is in the offing.
"Our Sweet Days of Youth" would seem to be South Korea's belated variation on "Love Story." A pathologically shy, terminally klutzy Seoul college student (Ahn Sung-ki), who's an aspiring playwright, becomes infatuated from afar with a beautiful young actress (Hwang Shin-hae). Many reels later, the story becomes one of unrequited love unexpectedly but only fleetingly fulfilled.
Those of us who've survived such an experience know how wrenching that can be, but while Bae's emotions are rightly intense, he's a shameless heart-tugger with an unforgivably heavy hand and a leaden pace.