The past week, Los Angeles hosted the 31st Los Angeles Asian Film Festival. Over seven days, the festival showcases films by Asian international and Asian Pacific American artists. The variety is immense and there is always at least one film that leaves a memorable mark.
My association with the LAAFF comes from being a festival volunteer for the past eight years. Being Asian American and a cinephile, it is has always been important to me to support cinematic artists. Plus, there is just so much more out there than just Hollywood. Asian artists can provide martial arts, anime, and just more. Way more.
Since a good portion of my free time was spent behind the scenes doing little tasks, I had to choose one movie to spend my money and time on. Two words caught my attention: Cats and Super Junior.
I am a pretty avid Kpop fans. Before “Gangname Style,” I loved the sugary sweet song of “Gee Gee” by Girl’s Generation. The love soon spread with “Sorry, Sorry“, my first introduction to Super Junior.
I thought a movie connecting cats and Kpop would mean happy images and an uplifting or comedic movie. This was not such a movie.
The movie Cat Funeral directed by Lee Jong-Hoon, made its international debut at LAAPFF on Sunday, April 26 at the CGV theater. CGV is one of the best and only places in LA to watch a Korean movie with English sub titles, sitting in really comfy theater seats while munching on sour cream popcorn.
A young couple meet at a mutual friends wedding. Even with his awkward pick up lines and her cold demeanor, the two form a strong relationship. In a short time, she moves in with him, and even brings in a stray kitten to raise between them. The movie flashes back between the present and the past moments of their relationship. The kitten is given the name Gureum (it means Cloud).
The present shows that this this once-loving couple has broken up and Gureum has passed away. After a year-long separation, the couple reunites to bury Gureum’s ashes far far away in a destination that requires a bus, a rail, a ferry boat, and some hiking. Past scenes of their time as a couple reveals what fragmented them both.
The quiet but devoted boyfriend/ex-boyfriend, Dong Hoon (played by Super Junior member Kangin) is countered by lively girlfriend/ex-girlfriend Jae Hee (played by Park Se Young). From the first moment they met, Jae Hee was a charmed force that completely took over Dong Hoon’s life. She movis in, makes rules, and brings in a stray cat that he takes responsibility for even after the relationship fractures. He lives a poor lifestyle as he struggles to get his music career off the ground. He compensates for this shortcoming by doing sweet acts of caring (i.e. cooking) for Jae Hee Jae Hee is more focused on her career as a artist and supports him financially. How, I have no idea. It seems that a musician and an artist would live a meager lifestyle. I suppose S. Korea is different.
Cat Funeral is slow paced but beautiful. It is not a movie where the couple is expected to re-unite over re-kindled memories from burying the ashes. This was a movie about growth and loss, of reflecting on events on a time lost and having more appreciation for that other person.
The director, Lee Jong-Hoon, was present for a Q&A after the film (assisted by a translator). The origins for the movie were inspired by a webtoon called “Cat Funeral” by Write Hong. The webtoon is archived and written solely in Korean, so I did not have a chance to read up on it. Lee Jong-Hoom mentioned that it is believed in S. Korea that you will meet your past love at a wedding or a funeral. Tweaking it as a cat funeral gave it it’s own flair. He also sought to show that change can happen not only in ourselves but in our surroundings. A familiar street can change after a year. It’s also the idea that the person can look at and have a different appreciation and love for the other person.
The cat, Gureum, becomes a metaphor for the growth of their relationship. The cat was rescued from the streets on impulse, and is full of possible hidden diseases and problems. This parallels the beginning of Dong Hoon and Jae Hee’s relationship as they both meet as strangers in the middle of the street. Neither knows the other person, has no idea what the hidden issues are, but both take the risk. Just like love, the cat grows to be healthy and full of mischief. Gureum’s health begins to deteriorate just as the couple begins to crumble due to jealousy and miscommunication. The cat ultimately passes way from suffering symptoms of “weak intestines” (a description that bothers me to no end. If it was pancreatitis, there are hospitals). Ultimately raising the cat together and then burying it together despite being broken up is a pretty dense level of emotional meaning.
One of the questions I got to ask the director was how were the conditions with working with a cat. His answer: hard. Cats are not as predictable or trained as dogs. Cats may be in his future movies, but not as a focal character.
The movie isn’t perfect. It jumps back and forth in timelines so frequently that keeping track of the events takes some thought. The best indicators are the clothing and the hair styles. It’s not full of action or gut wrenching comedy. Yet it still had a lot of heart and a great story to tell.
The exact moment the relationship begins to weaken is not very clear. This was most likely a growing jealously towards their goals. Jae Hee was rapidly becoming more successful and happier. She begins to neglect spending time with Dong Hoon and caring for the cat. In the present, both are older and at pretty solid points in their lives and realize that there was more beyond their careers. Another aspect of the film is that everything will keep on moving and changing. Neighborhoods will change, your friends will change. Even memories can change meaning.
For a movie titled Cat Funeral, it appropriately left a feeling of a deep sense of melancholy as memories flooded my mind. Past relationships were viewed under a different light. Even more, I wondered if I myself grown from these experiences. These kind of quiet, slice-of-life movies are so beautiful in that way. Through someone else’s story and vision , we all share the same source of emotions. It can be therapeutic.
This was the first movie I have seen Kangin in. I was floored by the level of quiet maturity he played in his role. Since this wasn’t a role that emphasized his muscled body or amped up his boy band appeal, having him star in this independent film garners much respect from me. Being a member of a famous boy band does have it’s perks for the movie. It features several songs sung by KangIn. Below is a music video with scenes from the movie. I feel that the music video is a bit more closer to the heart of the movie than the trailer is.
I am not sure how this movie can be made available to a Non-Korean speaking audience. I would keep track of other Asian film festivals or streaming websites like Drama Fever for a chance to watch this.