90s Far East Bracket: Nae Maeumui Punggeum (The Harmonium In My Memory, 1999)

The first film in my second match-up in the second round of the 90s Far East Bracket is lovely at times and juvenile at others, a lot like me!

Written By: Young-jae Lee
Directed By: Young-jae Lee

Can a fart joke exist in the same realm as a story about love, childhood desires and crushed dreams? That’s the question that Nae Maeumui Punggeum wants you to ponder, and after a lot of pondering I’m of the mind that they may be able to coexist, but this isn’t the picture to do it. That’s not me calling out Nae Maeumui Punggeum, I’m not labeling it a failure or anything like that. But, I never quite bought into the more farcical moments, I came close, but something about the vulgarity of certain jokes and moments rang hollow next to the musings on love and infatuation delivered throughout the rest of the film.

Nae Maeumui Punggeum certainly fits the slight billing (unless you really want to delve into the part of my brain that is convinced this movie is a giant allegory for USA/South Korean relations, with Hong-yeon representing South Korea and Mr. Kang representing America), it’s bubbly to the core and doesn’t really say anything about anything. It’s very much what I would call a snapshot film. Nae Maeumui Punggeum isn’t about what came before or what will come after, it is about this moment in time with these characters. Viewing it through that snapshot lens I found Nae Maeumui Punggeum to be an enjoyable little ride. It didn’t wow me, it didn’t floor me in any way or cause any moments of profundity, although let’s be honest I’m not exactly the profound type. But, I did enjoy my time spent with Nae Maeumui Punggeum, I had a smile on my face for the most part and I was interested in seeing this snapshot in time come to its conclusion, and I fail to see how that is a bad thing.

A major reason for my interest was Byung-hun Lee, who up until recently I had never been exposed to. But, after seeing him in Chan-wook Park’s segment of Sam Gang Yi and now this, I find him to be a very charismatic actor. Lee does all these interesting things with his face, I can’t stress enough just how wide his smile is and how easily he is able to display emotions with that smile, or a lack of a smile. Lee took what was a very modest role and makes it into a character that I really liked. I’m not sure that the rest of the cast around him were all that great, they were certainly capable, but Lee brought out a better side in them as well through his charisma. Nae Maeumui Punggeum is Lee’s picture, and having now been exposed to him I’s like to explore his work some more.

Being as slight as it is there isn’t much more I can say about Nae Maeumui Punggeum. It’s only great detriment is in its attempts to work in vulgar moments of humor with the rest of the story. Outside of that it never goes for too much, but it never falls into any deep crevasses either. It is an amusing little jaunt, and while I’m sure it won’t rock the socks off your movie world, Nae Maeumui Punggeum is a pleasurable journey, albeit probably a very forgettable one. And yes, I realize that’s a very backhanded recommendation, but snapshots in time are like that sometimes.




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