Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Best Director award, CHIHWASEON is a vivid portrait of the turbulent life and times of Korea's greatest artist. As remarkably embodied by Choi Min-sik (Old Boy), the temperamental, passionate brush master Jang Seung-up paints with a martial artist's fervor while indulging a rock star's single-minded lust for life. Amidst the tumult and destruction of nineteenth century Korea, "Ohwon" as he comes to be called, fights to escape both the rigid artistic boundaries and the social fetters that would deny his low-born, unschooled genius.
Saved from a street gang's fists by a wealthy patron, young Ohwon's raw talent, as demonstrated in a sketch thanking his rescuer, opens the door to a world that would otherwise be forbidden to the dirt-poor outsider. As Ohwon's artistic abilities develop to near supernatural perfection, his carnal appetites grow into self-immolation. But whether imprisoned in a gilded cage as a reluctant Court Artist or painting Kama Sutra pillow book porno for booze money, Ohwon's personal dissolution and political innocence yield artworks that one awestruck admirer says "emanate divine strength as if ghosts were dancing around them."
While Ohwon's brush tugs at paper inside the quiet of Seoul's most privileged homes, out on the street the flames of revolution are fanned by the Japanese and Chinese generals who would claim Korea for their own. In CHIHWASEON, director Im Kwon Taek portrays both the near apocalyptic upheaval of turn of the century Korea and the intimate interior battle between Ohwon's creative and libidinous desires with "the very elegance and mastery of the painter himself."(The Washington Post)
"A breathtaking period film...a vision of the artist at the height of his (reflective) powers. Im Kwon Taek's most fiercely period film to date." - Paul Malcolm, L. A. Weekly
"Im Kwon Taek is the Korean Grandmaster...with artists like him, films from the East will never lack artistry -- or a worldwide audience." - Richard Corliss, Time Magazine
Winner of the Best Director prize, Cannes Film Festival 2002
"Full of passion and perception...one eminent artist''s biography of another." - A.O. Scott, The New York Times
"A superb film bio." - Michael Wilmington, The Chicago Tribune