With its much-publicized director and leading actors standing initially amid a crowd of about 50 ticket buyers, the long-awaited “Columbus” movie came into focus at its local premiere Friday at YES Cinema downtown.

Leading man John Cho worked through substantial travel and other hurdles to get to Columbus. He got up at 3 a.m. to catch his flight from Vancouver, Canada, where he has been shooting a project. He didn’t arrive in Columbus until about a half hour before Friday’s planned red-carpet gathering.

“Why is this so important to me?” he asked with a smile. “This place is very special to me. I wanted to be here with everyone, and it certainly didn’t seem right to be absent from the Columbus premiere of ‘Columbus.’”

“Secondly, this is not really a coastal movie. It’s actually for the people of Columbus and people of the Midwest. I’d like people here to really take ownership of this movie.”

More than 3,000 tickets sold to showings, including the busiest day for sales on Thursday, seems like a good start.

Cho’s evening, once he arrived at The Inn at Irwin Gardens after a delayed flight, got off to a touching start. As he got out of an SUV on Fifth Street, costar Haley Lu Richardson spotted him, screamed and jumped out of a vehicle for a long embrace in the rain under a Columbus Indiana souvenir umbrella. Cho then planted a kiss on her cheek.

“I think she kind of likes me,” the married Cho said with a laugh later on the red carpet. “Or she’s a really good actress.”

Cho was decked sharply in a dark suit while Richardson glowed in a red-and-orange dress and heels — much more semi-formal than they have appeared for other showings.

“Well,” Richardson said simply, “this is the premiere.”

Viewers offered their share of love for the stylish, independent flick.

Ticket buyer Terry Maloney, who has been an extra in movies in Chicago, moved to Columbus from the Windy City two years ago partly because of the Indiana city’s architecture. He sat through the first public, nearly sold-out show Friday afternoon and marveled.

“It showed off Columbus in a great way,” Maloney said. “I thought it was a very thoughtful movie that concentrated on characters — and the town as a character.”

The film, rich with elongated scenes that allow silence to speak, earned a standing ovation at a private screening Wednesday.

The movie focuses on a 19-year-old Columbus resident (played by Richardson) trying to decide whether to leave home and pursue her dreams as she cares for her mother, a recovering meth addict. She strikes up a friendship with a 29-year-old man (John Cho) visiting the city from Korea to be with his suddenly seriously ill architect father — a man who came to town to present an architectural-related talk.

The picture, shot in 18 days from July 31 to Aug. 20 last year, does indeed portray local architecture nearly as one of the characters, as producers told The Republic last summer.

Amid the city’s celebrated Modernist structures, the 1864 Edwardian edifice known as Inn at Irwin Gardens takes a understated star turn as Jin’s residence during his stay. The phone number on the place’s front-gate sign even gets prominent play on a close-up shot.

Jin humorously frets over the place “like I might break something.”

The line drew laughter at the private screening.

To the truth-telling credit of video essayist and debut director Kogonada, nervous laughter also surfaced on Casey’s no-holds-barred thought on how some local residents view the structures that have made Casey a curious “architecture nerd,” as Jin labels her.

Kogonada lives up to praise from national movie reviewers with generous symbolism and contrasts, even using cigarette smoke as food for thought at one point.

“I knew that Casey was wearily carrying the whole world on her shoulders,” Kogonada said. “So smoking is kind of her catharsis.”

Yet, Kogonada said Wednesday during a question-and-answer session that he primarily wanted to use Columbus’ architectural story and scenery to focus on how of how children view and wrestle with topics such as the death of a parent.

“I knew I wanted to explore that,” said the director, who used the “architecture nerd” label for himself. “But it really was the town (during an architectural visit) that made the story come alive for me.”

Kogonada’s script considerably covers the topic of death and departure and plenty of other realms, including how people can take for granted whatever surrounds them.

One line from Jin to Casey might be especially telling to some longtime Columbus residents who walk and drive by world-renowned structures nearly every day: “You grow up around something. And it feels like nothing.”

But some viewers focused elsewhere.

“It’s just so refreshing to see a movie about real people,” said Rebecca Booth at Wednesday’s screening.

Catching 'Columbus'

Plot: A Korean man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. The man meets a young woman who wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering alcoholic, instead of pursuing her own dreams.
Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Shani Salyers Stiles
Director: Kogonada
Running time: 104 minutes
Rating: Not rated
Tickets: Eight screenings a day for opening weekend at YES Cinema, 328 Jackson St.  (12:30, 1:30, 3:01, 4:01, 5:30, 6:30, 8:01 and 9:01 p.m.). Depending on show times, tickets cost either $4 or $6, plus $1 fee when ordered online.
Information: 812-378-4937 or yescinema.org.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.