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World Cinema Series: MANDALA

What The World Cinema Series of MANDALA has been rescheduled for 9 July, 7:30pm. Free admission for SFS Members and Reel Card holders. As usual, membership signups are available at the door.
When 9 July 2013 (Tuesday), 7.30pm
Where National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
93 Stamford Road Singapore 178897

FREE for SFS Members or Reel Card holders. Get your free ticket by flashing your membership card at the SFS desk at the theatre entrance. You may ask for up to 2 more tickets for your guests if you hold a SFS Reel membership card. Non-members may sign up at the SFS desk -- we will issue membership on the spot. Free seating.



Director: Im Kwon-taek
1981 / South Korea / 112 min / 35mm / Rating M18 (Religious themes)
In Korean with English subtitles

Arguably the greatest film ever made about Buddhism, Mandala is also a personal milestone in director Im Kwon-taek's prodigious filmmaking career. Although Mandala is widely regarded as Im's first notable film, faint auteuristic tendencies were already percolating in his 1976 film, Wangsimni / My Hometown. Even so, the artistic leap from his earlier features to Mandala (his 76th feature-length film) is nothing short of astounding. 

Mandala charts the journey of a young Buddhist monk, Beob-wun, and an older, world-weary itinerant monk, Ji-san, as they serendipitously meet and part over the course of one year while roaming the Korean landscape in their quest toward enlightenment. Ji-san, who always has a bottle of booze on hand and even carries around a suicide pill, is a cross between an enlightened saint and a reprobate infected by secular life. At first, Beob-wun regards Ji-san's eccentricities as mere outward show and despises him for it, but increasingly, he finds himself strangely drawn to his travelling companion. After repeated meetings and partings, the two monks settle down at a small temple deep in the mountains. One day, while Ji-san is climbing up to the temple in an inebriated state, he falls asleep in the snow and freezes to death. Beob-wun burns Ji-san's remains and seeks out his own mother. He also meets Ok-sun, an old flame of Ji-san's. His meetings reaffirm the futility of all secular relationships, and young Beob-wun sets off on his ascetic path once more. 

The film essentially unfolds as a series of metaphysical conversations between the two monks. The only discernible trace of conventional drama is found in flashback scenes detailing Ji-san's and Beob-wun's past. In essence, there are two different worlds presented in Mandala: the present in which the monks struggle to attain enlightenment with much pain and hardship, and the other more ephemeral world of human drama, of desire, and of their ties to their past and relationships. The two worlds are in constant conflict with each other, with the monks' worldly past threatening to devour their present struggle to attain enlightenment, often at the turn of the next shot within a scene. In a sense, the monks' battle against the encroachment of their past desires posits that immersion in crime, sex and gluttony is not a barrier to enlightenment but may in fact offer a path to the Buddha.  

Im's portrayal of the different paths undertaken by the two monks in their spiritual discipline—though separate in philosophy—reveals their fierce dedication to spiritual training. Mandala transcends its Buddhist origins to encompass life itself and what it takes to live it fully and completely, and how beautiful it is to live one’s life fiercely. With Mandala, Im captured that beauty on film for the ages. 


Im Kwon-taek 

With a body of work that spans the past 50 years, Im Kwon-taek is internationally recognised as a leading force in Korean Cinema. Im began his filmmaking career in the lower rung of the Korean film industry as a prop assistant to the lighting assistant. He climbed up the industrial hierarchy through the traditional apprenticeship system to become a director, and in 1962, Im made his directorial debut with Farewell Tumen River, an action film about the plight of the Independence Army of Manchuria. Im worked in a variety of genres throughout the 60s and 70s. The key films he made during this period include Wangsimni / My Hometown (1976), Jokbo / Genealogy (1979) and Jagko / Pursuit of Death (1980), in which he built a reputation for his artistry and craftsmanship. With Mandala (1981), Im became internationally distinguished as a master filmmaker. In 1989, he made Aje Aje Bara Aje / Come Come Come Upward with Taeheung Film Studios, and has been working consistently with the studio to this day. Throughout the 90s, Im's films continue to enjoy unprecedented box-office successes such as The General’s Son series (1990 – 1992) and Seopyeonje (1993). In 2002, he won the best director prize in the Cannes Film Festival for the film Chihwaseon, and in 2005, Im was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Berlin Film Festival for his life’s work in film.