Despite their high profile on A-list festivals in Europe and Canada, South Korean films are conspicuous by their absence from the diet of U.S. moviegoers. It's difficult, if not impossible, to recall the last time a South Korean-produced feature received any sort of commercial distribution in this country.

For that reason alone, Aum Jong Sun's Two Flags is worth two hours of your time. But there's an even better reason to catch this beautifully photographed wartime drama: it qualifies as a genuine festival sleeper.

Two Flags has the narrative simplicity and tragic inevitability of a peasant folk tale. Better still, it features first-rate performances across the board, with especially impressive work coming from Yun Chong Hee. Yun plays a widow whose cottage is situated perilously on the front lines of the Korean War. In order to survive, she carefully monitors the movements of the opposing armies, and always flies the flag of whichever side has troops in her area.

An elderly farmer appears on her doorstep and blusters his way into her bed. But he's exiled to the unheated guest house when another stranger -- a younger, heartier war survivor -- shows up. Then another refugee, a young woman, arrives and takes up with the old farmer. One thing leads to another, and the four characters find themselves at cross purposes in a small-scale version of the war that's raging around them.

In synopsis, Two Flags may sound too contrived by half. On the screen, however, it's immensely satisfying. By being scrupulously specific about its period, setting and characters, it achieves a universal resonance. -- Joe Leydon


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