All about ideas…

Budapest Diary ~ A Review

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The first time I watched Budapest Diary I fell in love with it. I lost count of how many times I’ve seen it since and each time it captivates me. I wrote this review about a year ago and watching the film again last night reminded me of it. My views about this short film haven’t changed since I originally wrote this review.

Made in 2011, the plot is a romantic story of lost love. Jang Geun Seok’s emotions range from initial anger to acceptance to a return to living to, finally, redemption. In 40 minutes, Jang, under the direction of Director Chang, presents the entire range of emotions that accompany the loss of love. An amazing feat in a Korean industry that takes multiple hours upon hours to tell the same or similar story. In that sense, Budapest Diary has a very American feel to it. It gets to the heart of the story quickly and shows the character’s emotions without lengthy discussion or display. The film moves quickly, but yet it’s the many little details, such as a shot of left over food littered on the coffee table in his hotel room or Jang suddenly staring staring at at a tulip on his table in the restaurant scene, that enable the viewer’s imagination to fill in – or color – all of the character’s emotions without explicit explanation.

It’s like the difference between Dickens’ explicit, detailed scenes and Hemingway’s highly descriptive short use of words to show a scene. Dickens provides every detail, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. Hemingway, on the other hand, does the opposite by providing just enough detail for the reader to use his vivid imagination to fill in details of the scene.

I believe it was famed acting coach Strasberg who taught that, when acting, the emotions should be honest; otherwise the audience won’t believe them. It’s clearly apparent that Jang displays honest emotions in this short film. In viewing Budapest Diary yet again, it’s obvious that anyone who denigrates this actor’s acting abilities hasn’t watched this film. The range of honest emotions he displays takes the viewer from lows to highs, from ddep anger to desperate sadness to free-wheeling joy to calm acceptance and everything in between. We partake in his emotional journey because we believe in it. It’s real to the viewer.

That ability to create desired emotional sensations in the viewer is the essence of good acting. Anyone within the industry –  or out –  who claims he’s not a great actor has not studied this short film. As that Korean/Canadian director recently tweeted, Jang is highly under rated by his Korean industry. Personally, given the broad stretch of emotions required in this film as well as in his other films (specifically, The Case of Itaewon Homicide), I believe Jang has the acting talent to become far more than an Asian actor. As yet, I’m not convinced that Tree J, which is his company, understands that potential.

Nevertheless, if I were still in school, I’d choose Budapest Diary for a thesis paper. It’s like a John Donne poem or late Shakespearean play: tightly woven and full of imagery that not only sets the mood but describes emotions, thoughts, settings and ideas without elaborate descriptions and words. Each scene is a painting, full of details that only the subconscious registers, creating a specific mood in the viewer’s mind.

Every time I watch it, I see different aspects of the film. I don’t think any film has so intrigued me. Maybe because it is so short that it’s easy to watch over and over again. The overall picture, like a masterpiece at the Louvre, is condensed; thus, each detail stands out waiting to be discovered. Director Chang and film editor did a masterful job. Interestingly, Chang is also the director for CAMP. Thus, I suspect the same attention to artistic details – metaphors, similes, and symbols – all designed to elicit an emotional response, without the viewer even realizing it. It’s highly possible that CAMP could well be extraordinary, given how much both have grown both in life and in the industry.

Moreover, even the music, from the initial song to the harmonica solo to the final orchestration, draws the viewers’ emotions along on the character’s journey: solitude to sadness to joy to, finally, grandeur…or hope. If you listen closely, you can hear the horn instruments softly holding up (or lifting up) the stringed instruments. Again, every detail of the film is as finely honed as a masterpiece…which makes me wonder why Tree J did not treat it as such?


Written by Valerie Curl

May 1, 2016 at 5:27 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Spectacular review! Thank you for so eloquently putting into words the feelings that this lovely film evokes. JKS’ ability to convey emotions is for me his greatest strength as an actor. He does this very effectively with overt physical behavior, like when he throws the bouquet on the ground. But I most look forward to his subtle ways of communicating with us, particularly with his eyes – a sideways glance, a flick of his brow. It”s a cliche to say the eyes are the window to the soul, but for this actor it’s the eyes that I look to for the story.


    May 1, 2016 at 7:20 PM

  2. I’ve not yet seen this short film. I’m looking forward to it after this review. I became interested in it because of watching Jang Keun Suk in the K Drama LOVE RAIN! I was completely captivated by the drama and the actor. I agree, I don’t think his company realizes his international star potential. I wish an American agency of director would realize it and cast him in an American production. Mesmerizing actor that has the charisma and presence I haven’t seen since J Depp.

    Rebecca Goold

    March 27, 2017 at 5:01 PM

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