Painted Fire is a Korean film biography that traces the life of revered painter Jang "Ohwon" Seung-up, who transformed the country's style of art in the 19th century. Except for its limited production values, it bears a resemblance to American film accounts of art superstars such as Vincent Van Gogh (Lust For Life), Jackson Pollock (Pollock), and Frida Kahlo (the recent Frida). It similarly concentrates on the challenges that face major artists on their way to creating forms of expression that defy accepted standards. "Must learning to paint be so painful?" Ohwon asks.

An orphaned beggar at an early age in a highly class-stratified society, Ohwon can barely afford paper and ink to make drawings. But his need to do so leads to his using whatever materials he can scrape up, which in turn leads to early recognition of his above average talent. As depicted here, the local nobility are all art critics as well as collectors, and they are only too ready to take advantage of a new discovery. This attention to his work develops into a patronage for young Ohwon by Kim Byung-moon that provides him a means to pursue his art free from worries about basic necessities.

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