The film as a whole has been warmly received by local critics, but it has generated some negative reviews abroad, and its festival career has not matched that of its predecessor The President's Last Bang.
Im admits to embracing a more mainstream archetype in this film, which may partly account for its mis-matched reception, but there are other issues here as well.
Reviewed below: The Old Garden (Jan 4) -- Before the Summer Passes Away (Jan 18) -- Pruning the Grapevine (Feb 22) -- Beautiful Sunday (Mar 29) -- The Show Must Go On (Apr 5) -- Paradise Murdered (Apr 12) -- Driving With My Wife's Lover (Apr 26) -- Bunt (Apr 26) -- Secret Sunshine (May 23) -- The Evil Twin (May 23) -- Hwang Jin-yi (Jun 6) -- The Wonder Years (Jun 14) -- Never Forever (Jun 21) -- Black House (Jun 21) -- The Cut (Jul 11) -- Muoi (Jul 25) -- D-War (Aug 1) -- Epitaph (Aug 1) -- HERs (Aug 2) -- Wide Awake (Aug 8) -- Someone Behind You (Aug 22) -- The Happy Life (Sep 12) -- Happiness (Oct 3) -- Resurrection of the Butterfly (Oct 11) -- Going by the Book (Oct 18) -- Shadows in the Palace (Oct 18) -- M (Oct 25) -- Desert Dream (Nov 8) -- Fantastic Parasuicides (Nov 8) -- Seven Days (Nov 14) -- Our Town (Nov 29) -- Rainbow Eyes (Dec 27) -- Hansel and Gretel (Dec 27). Showing themselves in Seoul would surely result in their capture and arbitrary prosecution on some trumped-up charge, so they split up and go into hiding, with Hyun-woo being put up in a remote cabin by a woman named Yoon-hee.
Im's adaptation of Hwang's novel of the same name boasts some very strong casting, with Ji Jin-hee maintaining a nice air of unpredictability around the character of Hyun-woo, and Yeom Jung-ah being given the best opportunity to showcase her acting abilities since A Tale of Two Sisters.
The depth of talent in the large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are Im regulars, is also impressive.
Its refusal to provide cathartic release is also admirable, given that the film bills itself as a melodrama.
But there is a magic in the first half -- a sense of everything clicking together in harmony -- that evaporates in the latter reels, and I don't think this was the filmmaker's intention.
Every character in the film speaks with his or her own, absolutely unique rhythms and inflections, and so there's a pleasure in hearing characters interact that goes beyond the words themselves.
In terms of the narrative, Im is also quite graceful in the way he leaps forward and backward in time, only touching down on what is essential to the characters' memories.
Yet despite all its strengths, the film began to lose me as it moved towards its conclusion.
As it progresses, The Old Garden becomes steadily more self-conscious and obvious about its own creativity.
sense of gloom covered Korean cinema in the year 2007, with fewer strong films than in previous years, local audiences beginning to cool on Korean film, exports showing a continued decline, and the film industry suffering through a recession of sorts.
The first half of the year was particularly tough, with hardly any Korean films stirring up any excitement among viewers.
Director Im's rebel streak -- which has given us bold sexual talk in Girls Night Out, teenage delinquency in Tears, family scandal in A Good Lawyer's Wife and political intrigue in The President's Last Bang -- manifests itself here in quieter ways: in the cat-who's-eaten-the-goldfish sparkle of Hyun-woo's eyes, or in the way the director toys with viewer expectations and sets up striking but awkward contrasts in mood.