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2009/12/03 09:55 KST
(Movie Review) 'Potato' the latest 'commercial indie' hit

By Shin Hae-in
SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- Known as the "toughest guy" back in high school, Baek-i (Lee Gyu-hoe) returns to his hometown in the northeastern Gangwon region, reuniting with friends who are still hung up on a fight they lost to a rival gang 20 years earlier.

   Jin-han (Yoo Oh-sung), who once led the rival gang, has now become one of the richest men in the small countryside town, making headlines after donating a scholarship fund to the high school that he was expelled from.

Nearing 40, Baek-i finds himself entangled in a plot to avenge his friends -- all of whom are still brimming with "teenage spirit" -- after they get beaten up by members of Jin-han's gang.

   Some men just never grow up.

   A feature debut by commercial advertising producer Jeon Yong-taek, "Potato Symphony" comes across as an autobiographical tale involving the director's own friends, his hometown and all its intertwined agonies.

   "I wanted to talk about men who are still lost about what to do with their lives as they are reaching middle-age," the director said after the movie's preview Wednesday. "To them, winning a fight they lost back in high school could be like a search for a new goal and hope in life."

   Male-centered and at times bordering on childish, "Potato…" is likely to have a hard time attracting female audiences.

Still, the film's humor and warmth manage to hold audiences' attention and keep them laughing from the opening scene, proving itself to be another potentially successful indie film.

   Several low-budget independent movies, including "Old Partner," "Breathless" and "Daytime Drinking," have achieved commercial success this year, proving that new genres and a strong story can attract larger audiences than big name directors and money.

   "Potato's" characters treat their teenage dream of vengeance with utmost solemnity, but their serious demeanors coupled with thick regional accents provoke uproarious laughter from audiences.

   Jeon and the entire cast and crew of "Potato" all hail from the mountainous Gangwon Province, where the film is set, lending a unique and authentic regional ambiance that is the movie's strongest merit.

   The title of the film symbolizes Gangwon, the director explained, a province famous for its potatoes and sweet potatoes cultivated throughout the region.

   "Potato…" received the highest honor at the 4th French-Korean Film Festival, held in Paris last month, lauded for its "humorous inspection into the lingering childish aspirations of men."

   Director Jeon, who studied cinema at the University of Paris VIII, wrote the scenario for "Potato…" in 2001, which was selected by the Korea Film Council in 2006. The council supported filming of the movie with 500 million won ($430,000).

   The movie, with a running time of 107 minutes, will hit the local theaters Dec. 10.