KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대) – ★★★☆☆

KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대)

KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대)

Upon release, summer blockbuster KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대) broke the record for opening day admissions and helped to breath new life into what was a flagging year for Korean cinema…until it was soundly beaten a week later by maritime epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents.

It’s particularly ironic that both tentpole films achieved such a feat, given that they contain such strikingly oppositional philosophies and content. While The Admiral focused on generating hyper-nationalism to achieve success, KUNDO opted for an anti-establishment sensibility, as a group of Robin Hood-esque outlaws band together to fight against the tyrannical Prince.

Curiously, while the ideological leanings of each film differ, both suffer from a similar set of issues. KUNDO, while boasting impressive production values, competent directing and an array of popular stars, ultimately feels rushed and unfinished due to the poorly structured and conceived narrative.

A band of outlaws band together to fight against the vicious prince Jo

A band of outlaws band together to fight against the vicious prince Jo

Centuries ago, Korea was a land in turmoil. With starvation and death commonplace, corruption in society was rampant, particularly amongst the ruling classes. In the face of so much injustice a group of working class heroes band together to rob from the rich and give to the poor, attempting to appease the suffering of the people.  Yet in a nearby city, a greater villainy is brewing. Born to a nobleman and courtesan, Prince Jo (Kang Dong-won (강동원) seeks to usurp his father and reign over the land. Only one challenge to his rule remains – his sister-in-law and her son, the rightful heir. Butcher Dochi (Ha Jeong-woo (하정우) is hired to kill the pair, yet when he cannot, he is viciously betrayed and punished. Furious, Dochi finds a place with the band of thieves and begin their revenge as they plan to halt the Prince’s machinations.

From the moment KUNDO opens, it’s clear that the production values are some of the highest in recent memory and are particularly outstanding. Director Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) and his team have noticeably worked hard to put striking visual detail in every shot, from the incredible costumes of the cast through to the great variety of landscapes and arenas in which the action takes place. The attention to detail generates a sense of sincerity and wonder, and is in itself an phenomenal achievement. In regards to each member of the cast, their histories and occupations are wonderfully captured in their costumes whether it be a Buddhist monk, a butcher, or a wealthy prince and significantly contributes to the power of the film, an acute attention to detail that earned designer Jo Sang-gyeong the award for Best Costume Design at the 51st Daejong Film Awards.

The prodction values in KUNDO are outstanding

The prodction values in KUNDO are outstanding

Yet where KUNDO falters is in the narrative structure, which is consistently haphazard. The story jumps between time lines and characters to confusing effect, and to compensate a random and quite sporadic voice-over attempts to help allay by filling in back stories and histories yet serves to provide only a further sense of disorganization. The poor structure is impossible to miss and insinuates even to the casual cinema-goer that several more drafts of the screenplay were needed before cameras started rolling.

Screenwriter Jeon Cheol-bin is further hampered by an overly – and insanely – large cast which is a huge challenge for any scribe to make each character relevant. While Jeon has clearly worked hard to do so, the sheer amount of protagonists weighs down the film due to the attempt at giving everyone screen time, resulting in a story that lacks conviction or indeed compulsion, and one that is particularly hard to invest in.

Such issues also afflict the actors. As KUNDO focuses primarily on Prince Jo-yoon and butcher Dochi, Kang Dong-won and Ha Jeong-woo have the greater chances to shine. Ha Jeong-woo in particular seems to be having a great time as the butcher-turned-criminal with his cocky and self-assured performance certainly the most enjoyable aspect of the film. Kang Dong-won – in his first film role since completing mandatory military service – also appears to relish portraying the villainous prince. Yet for them and the rest of the enormous supporting cast, the lack of screen time results in highly capable actors providing competent performances, making KUNDO an entertaining but not especially compelling viewing experience.

The villainous prince battles against the uprising

The villainous prince battles against the uprising

Verdict:

KUNDO: Age of the Rampant is a record-breaking tentpole film of 2014 by director Yoon Jong-bin. Boasting hugely impressive production and costume design as well as a host of capable actors including Ha Jeong-woo and Kang Dong-won, KUNDO is ultimately let down by a haphazard narrative structure, an insane amount of supporting characters, and a story that is hard to invest in. As a result KUNDO is an enjoyable, though unchallenging, viewing experience.

★★★☆☆

The 51st Daejong Film Awards – Results

The 51st Daejong Awards

The 51st Daejong Awards

The star-studded extravaganza known as The Daejong Film Awards took place on Friday the 21st of November, and as with most years the results were a mixture of predictable winners, pleasant surprises and ‘what the?!’ moments.

The results went largely as anticipated – you can read our list of predictions here – particularly in regards to the male-centered competitions.

Unsurprisingly, the Best Film award went to the record breaking historical epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량 -회오리바다), which also saw Choi Min-shik win Best Actor for his turn as legendary Admiral Yi Sun-shin. Given the popularity of the film as the highest grossing production in Korean cinematic history, the result was expected although it’s a great shame that The Attorney (변호인) and Song Kang-ho were not recognised.

Best Director went to Kim Seong-hoon for A Hard Day (끝까지 간다), which is a great result considering that Admiral director Kim Han-min was also in contention. Meanwhile the highly – and arguably most – competitive category, Best New Director award went to Yang Woo-seok for The Attorney, who also received the prize for Best Scenario for his collaboration with Yoon Hyeon-ho.

The big shocks were reserved for the female-centered awards. Despite receiving international praise and a host of awards, Cheon Woo-hee was criminally overlooked for her role in Han Gong-ju (한공주) in favor of Son Ye-jin for The Pirates (해적: 바다로 간 산적) for Best Actress. Furthermore in the Best New Actress category Lim Ji-yeon won for her role in Obsessed (인간중독), in spite of the enormous praise heaped upon Kim Sae-ron for A Girl at My Door (도희야). Han Ye-ri (Haemoo (aka Sea Fog (해무) also missed out to Kim Young-ae (The Attorney) for Best Supporting Actress, although Han’s co-star  Park Yoo-chun won Best New Actor.

For the full list of winners, please visit Asianwiki here.

The 51st Daejong Film Awards – Predictions

The 51st Daejong Awards

The 51st Daejong Awards

Korea’s oldest celebration of film from the pennisula, The Daejong Film Awards, will hold its 51st ceremony on November the 21st at Seoul’s KBS Hall.

As is often the case at the Daejong – often referred to as The Grand Bell – Awards, there are a mixture of overtly obvious winners, strange nominations and even stranger exclusions. The star studded event is always a fascinating tribute to Korean cinema, typically due to the controversy that tends to arise as the popularity of certain films and filmmakers often tend to indicate winners, rather than quality.

This year the issue is again of particular importance. Arguably only two categories – Best Scenario (screenplay) and Best New Director – are competitive, with the latter even more significant as the nominations are debatably better than those in the Best Director category, while the films they have created completely outclass several put forth for Best Film. Furthermore, A Girl Next Door (도희야) only receives 2 nominations, quite shockingly snubbed for Best Actress for Bae Doo-na, Best Scenario and Best Cinematography, despite receiving international acclaim in each regard.

In terms of amount of nominations, The Attorney (변호인) comes out on top with 11 nods, while The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량 -회오리바다) has 10 and A Hard Day (끝까지 간다) and The Pirates (해적: 바다로 간 산적) have 7 each, respectively.

Below are the list of categories and nominations for the 51st Daejong Awards, as well as who we at Hanguk Yeonghwa think should win, and who will most likely be victorious. Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.

Best Film

The Admiral (명량)

The Admiral (명량)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량 -회오리바다)will probably win

The Attorney (변호인) – should win

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

Hope (소원)

Whistle Blower (제보자)

Best Director

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

Kang Hyeong-cheol (강형철) – Tazza 2: The Hidden Card (타짜-신의 손)

Kim Seong-hoon (김성훈) – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다) – should win

Kim Han-min (김한민) – The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량-회오리바다) – will probably win

Lee Joon-ik (이준익) – Hope (소원)

Lim Soon-rye (임순례) – Whistle Blower (제보자)

Best Scenario (screenplay)

The Attorney (변호인)

The Attorney (변호인)

Dong Hee-seon (동희선), Hong Yoon-jeong (홍윤정), Sin Dong-ik (신동익) – Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

Lee Do-yoon (이도윤) – Confession (aka Good Friends (좋은 친구들)

Lee Su-jin (이수진)  – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Kim Seong-hoon (김성훈) – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

Yang Woo-seok (양우석), Yoon Hyeon-ho (윤현호) – The Attorney (변호인) – should win and will probably win

Best Actor

Whistle Blower (제보자)

Whistle Blower (제보자)

Choi Min-sik (최민식) – The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량-회오리바다) – will probably win

Jeong Woo-seong (정우성)The Divine Move (신의 한수)

Kang Dong-won (강동원) – KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대)

Park Hae-il (박해일) – Whistle Blower (제보자)

Song Kang-ho (송강호) – The Attorney (변호인) – should win

 Best Actress

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Cheon Woo-hee (천우희)Han Gong-ju (한공주) – should win

Jeon Do-yeon (전도연)Way Back Home (집으로 가는 길)

Shim Eun-kyoung (심은경)Miss Granny (수상한 그녀) – will probably win

Son Ye-jin (손예진)The Pirates (해적: 바다로 간 산적)

Um Ji-won (엄지원)Hope (소원)

Best Supporting Actor

The Pirates (해적: 바다로 간 산적)

The Pirates (해적)

Lee Kyeong-yeong (이경영) – Whistle Blower (제보자)

Jo Jin-woong (조진웅) – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

Kim In-kwon (김인권) – The Divine Move (신의 한수)

Kwak Do-won (곽도원) – The Attorney (변호인) – should win and will probably win

Yoo Hae-jin (유해진) – The Pirates (해적: 바다로 간 산적)

Best Supporting Actress

Sea Fog (해무)

Sea Fog (해무)

Han Ye-ri (한예리) – Haemoo (aka Sea Fog (해무) – should win

Jo Yeo-jeong (조여정) – Obsessed (인간중독)

Kim Yeong-ae (김영애) – The Attorney (변호인) – will probably win

Ra Mi-ran (라미란) – Hope (소원)

Yoon Ji-hye (윤지혜) – KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대)

Best New Director

Confession (좋은 친구들)

Confession (좋은 친구들)

Lee Do-yoon (이도윤) – Confession (aka Good Friends (좋은 친구들)

Lee Su-jin (이수진)  – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Jeong Joo-ri (정주리) – A Girl at My Door (도희야) – should win

Shim Seong-bo (심성보) – Haemoo (aka Sea Fog) (해무) – will probably win

Yang Woo-seok (양우석) – The Attorney (변호인)

Best New Actor

The Divine Move (신의 한수)

The Divine Move (신의 한수)

Ahn Jae-hong (안재홍) – The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

Choi Jin-hyeok (최진혁) – The Divine Move (신의 한수)

Im Si Wan (임시완) – The Attorney (변호인)

Park Yoochun (박유천) – Haemoo (aka Sea Fog (해무) – should win and will probably win

Yeo Jin-goo (여진구) – Hwayi : A Monster Boy (화이 : 괴물을 삼킨 아이)

Best New Actress

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

Lee Honey (이하늬) – Tazza 2: The Hidden Card (타짜-신의 손)

Esom (이솜) – Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕)

Lim Ji-yeon (임지연) – Obsessed (인간중독)

Kim Hyang-ki (김향기)Elegant Lies (aka Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Kim Sae-ron (김새론) – A Girl at My Door (도희야) – should win and will probably win

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소) – ★★★☆☆

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소)

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소)

After circling the Earth for years transmitting data, satellite Il-ho (Jeong Yu-mi (정유미) intercepts the sound of a beautiful song. Nearly at the end of its lifespan, Il-ho decides to return home and find the source of the song before its power is drained completely. Upon arriving however, Il-ho discovers a walking, talking milk cow being pursued by a giant incinerator, and upon impact with the metal creature Il-ho is transformed into the form of a girl. With the help of magical toilet paper Merlin the wizard, they discover that the milk cow is actually musician Kyeong-cheon (Yoo Ah-in (유아인), and the group try to set him free of the curse while fighting against those who would steal his liver.

Satellitle Il-ho learns that musician Kyeong-cheon has been transformed into a milk cow

Satellitle Il-ho learns that musician Kyeong-cheon has been transformed into a milk cow

Upon release, The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (우리별 일호와 얼룩소) had certain critics comparing it with Japanese animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli output, which is both huge praise as well as a disservice. Writer/director Jang Hyeong-yoon’s (장형윤) feature length is a charming animation that features wonderfully quirky and lovable characters who traverse different realms, which is undoubtedly the source of such comparisons, yet the film is also a uniquely Korean blend of sci-fi and fantasy that ultimately lacks the grace and polish of Miyazaki’s work.

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is certainly one of the most entertaining and wacky family-orientated Korean animations in quite some time. Director Jang has impressively combined the conventions of science-fiction with magical fantasy and the results are consistently enjoyable and fun, particularly due to the wonderfully eccentric cast of characters. Kyeong-cheon is front and center in this regard as the visually comedic milk cow, with the obstacles he endures to become human forming the crux of the narrative. The gags often come at his expense and are often really enjoyable, especially scenes in which he has difficulties with his human ‘suit’ made of toilet paper and his attempts to continue living as he did before his transformation. Other jokes tend to come out of left field, such as literally being milked in order to pay the rent, which are quite odd yet are still amusing. Kyeong-cheon’s melodramatic character works well when playing off robotic satellite girl Il-ho and bizarre tissue magician Merlin. Their conversations and conflicts are by far the most entertaining and engaging feature of the film and drive the story forward.

The conflicts that arise between Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon are charming and fun

The conflicts that arise between Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon are charming and fun

Yet while the animation is fluid and the characters charming, The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow comes undone due to the haphazard narrative. The screenplay really requires several more rewrites as the film is mostly comprised of a series of sketches rather than an overarching story, and while such vignettes are enjoyable there really isn’t a sense of a greater story being told.  As Kyeong-cheon attempts to continue his life as a milk cow and Il-ho seeks to understand her purpose of existence, a variety of tangents enter the fray that stop both of them from exploring such desires, serving as fun yet distracting moments from the greater quests at hand. Such events rarely contribute to the story and often create a greater number of sub-stories that never achieve fruition.

As the story tends to jump between various events further supporting characters are also introduced, including an old witch in the form of a boar as well as a shadow organisation that harvests the livers of citizens-turned-animals. Each inception holds a new and interesting concept yet they are never explored or capitalised on, and have very little impact on the overall story. A prime example is the giant incinerator, which exists solely as a central threat in the film without rhyme or reason, appearing when the story has no other place to maneuver and needs a sense of urgency. There are so many unresolved elements within the film that, combined with the unfocused central story, serve to make The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow an enjoyable but not particularly magical viewing experience.

Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon develop feelings for each other against the odds

Il-ho and Kyeong-cheon develop feelings for each other

Verdict:

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is one of the most entertaining family-orientated animations to come from Korea in quite some time. It’s a charming effort by writer/director Jang Hyeong-yoon who blends the worlds of magic and sci-fi well, but it’s let down by a haphazard script and too many characters and tangents that go unresolved, making the film an enjoyable experience rather than a magical one.

★★★☆☆

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날) – ★★★☆☆

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날)

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날)

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날) - or rather, The Day Min-woo Arrives - is part of an omnibus entitled Beautiful 2014, a series of films that explores moments of beauty helmed by some of the most talented filmmakers throughout Asia. Director Kang Je-gyu (강제규), famous for his action/war films including Taegukgi and My Way, is a surprising choice to step up to the microphone for intimate drama Awaiting, yet he has proven himself more than worthy as Awaiting is a beautifully touching and quite lovely short film.

Yoon-hee (Moon Chae-won (문채원) lives alone in Seoul, waiting for her husband Min-woo (Ko Soo (고수) to return home. Every day she is awoken by a phone conversation from Sarah in America, and fills her day with cleaning, shopping, trips to the community center, and making food. Yet Yoon-hee’s memory is slowly beginning to fade, and of late she has taken to writing notes to help get through the day. One day, two people arrive at her home and inform Yoon-hee of some interesting news regarding Min-woo’s whereabouts.

Awaiting is a wonderfully moving and distinctly Korean examination on the nature of love and loss. Director Kang Je-gyu has impressively evolved during the four years since his last film, wisely moving away from the sweeping epic sensibilities of his prior films to focus on the intimate nature of the story. Yet his indelible vision is still clearly present throughout as he explores the division of the peninsula from a refreshing perspective, while his stunning visual sensibilities and unique sense of melodrama remain in tact, accompanied by a tender musical score.

The drama is also a deviation for director Kang in that Awaiting is female-centered, and he expresses Yoon-hee’s story with a quiet sensitivity. Moon Chae-won provides a restrained yet poignant performance as the lonely woman waiting for her husband’s return, an while she isn’t especially challenged in the role  the actress is quite charismatic and endearing. Yoon-hee’s emotional story is a heartbreaking tale, and one which is elegantly, compassionately, told.

Awaiting 1

Yoon-hee waits for her husband Min-woo to return

Verdict:

Awaiting is a beautifully moving and quite lovely short film by director Kang Je-gyu, who has impressively altered his epic sensibilities to portray the touching story of a woman waiting for her husband’s return. Compassionate, intimate and distinctly Korean, Awaiting is a poignant and endearing tale of love and loss.

★★★☆☆

End of Winter (철원기행) – ★★☆☆☆

End of Winter (철원기행)

End of Winter (철원기행)

Following the retirement ceremony for the father (Moon Chang-gil (문창길) from his teaching position, he and his family gather together for a meal at a Chinese restaurant. In the presence of his two sons (Kim Min-hyeok (김민혁) (Hur Jaewon (허재원) and daughter-in-law (Lee Sang-hee (이상희), and amid frustrating quarreling, the father shockingly announces that he wishes to divorce from his wife (Lee Yeong-ran (이영란). Stunned, the family struggle with the situation and find comfort in the fact they will soon be traveling back home. Yet as the snowfall becomes heavier and the buses are cancelled, the family members are forced to stay in a small country abode and must confront the issues they have with one another.

The family are in good, yet quarelsome spirits until the father's shock announcement

The family are in good, yet quarelsome spirits until the father’s shock announcement

Upon its premiere at the 2014 Busan International Film Festival, End of Winter (철원기행) won the prestigious New Currents Award along with Iranian film 13, an accolade that celebrates new Asian film makers of vision. Director Kim Dae-hwan (김대환) certainly has impressive technical prowess as the film’s great strength lies within the composition of the mise-en-scene and cinematography, constructing a dogme 95-esque realism that lends a great deal of sincerity to the proceedings. The manner in which the family members interact with each other similarly evokes such sensibilities, as they are a group of people bound by blood yet who don’t particularly know or understand one another. The awkward conversations and tensions that arise, as well as the issues that each person is hiding yet which gradually come to light, are interesting to watch unfold and are given weight by director Kim’s cinematic realism, as events slowly transpire to reveal the complicated relationships between each person.

That said, End of Winter is an especially slow-moving drama. The protagonists within the film often refuse to speak or give clear answers during conversations which is a huge source of frustration, stunting plot progression as well as character and relationship development, making the viewing experience quite laborious. While it is clear that each character has an interesting motivation and a desire to express it, the withholding of such dilemmas results in a stifling and repetitive story, and one that would certainly be more engaging were more confrontations allowed to occur in addition to the subtleties and allusions to greater issues. Ultimately, Korean audiences are more likely to appreciate and engage with the film more given the nature of the drama, yet even they may find End of Winter somewhat of a chore given their propensity for more typically entertaining generic fare.

In a rare moment, two protagonists engage each other in open conversation

In a rare moment, two protagonists engage each other in open conversation

Verdict:

End of Winter is a technically impressive film by director Kim Dae-hwan, whose prowess in regards to mise-en-scene and cinematography evokes potent realism and sincerity. Yet the focus on such cinematic realism, while interesting, results in a family drama that is quite a laborious viewing experience due to the particularly slow pacing of the narrative and the highly restricted dialogue and confrontations.

★★☆☆☆

Whistle Blower (제보자) – ★★★☆☆

Whistle Blower (제보자)

Whistle Blower (제보자)

In 2004, Korean doctor Hwang Woo-suk published that he, along with his team of researchers, had successfully cloned a human embryo and were able to remove stem cells from it. The revelation rocked the scientific community as the breakthrough was the first of its kind, yet it was surpassed only a year later when Hwang claimed to have created 11 human embryonic stem cells. As such, Hwang and his team had the ability to work on remedies for diseases previously believed to be incurable, catapulting the doctor into the limelight as a national hero and a savior of the Korean economy. Except that, as an investigation in 2006 by MBC reporters revealed, it was all a lie. Despite the evidence however, many Koreans still believe that doctor Hwang is the ‘pride of Korea’, and that to question his work is unpatriotic.

Whistle Blower (제보자), by director Lim Soon-rye (임순례) and screenwriter Lee Choon-hyeong (이춘형), is based on the scandalous affair that caused international embarrassment for the Korean scientific community. The thriller focuses on investigative journalist Min-cheol (Park Hae-il (박해일) as he is tipped off about the stem cell hoax by whistle blower Min-ho (Yoo Yeon-seok (유연석). Joining forces with intrepid young reporter I-seul (Song Ha-yoon (송하윤), the duo begin digging into the claims of Doctor Lee Jang-hwan (Lee Kyeong-yeong (이경영), and uncover a series of shocking revelations while also contending with angry Korean citizens.

Producer Min-cheol interviews whistle blower Min-ho, who claims to have knowledge of a  national scandal

Producer Min-cheol interviews whistle blower Min-ho, who claims to have knowledge of a national scandal

Given the electrifying and scandalous subject material, the potential for a explosive and culturally resonating conspiracy thriller was high. Yet with Whistle Blower director Lim and screenwriter Lee have crafted a standard effort, one that is competent and ticks all the boxes of the genre yet is uninspired and barely scratches the surface of the core issues with which the film is concerned.

The true-life crime features not only a hoax on an international scale, but the collusion of the then-government and media in both propelling the fraud into the national consciousness as well as stifling the investigation into it, while the zealous nationalistic fervor of the populace offers potent introspective exploration. Such issues are depicted in a very limited capacity or completely omitted altogether which is more than a little disappointing, and while watching Whistle Blower the sense that the filmmakers were censored as much as the characters within the film adds an acute sense of irony.

Where Whistle Blower succeeds is through the journey of producer Min-cheol, as he attempts to uncover evidence to support his case against Dr. Lee. Director Lim does well in representing the variety of obstacles in his path and paces the story well, resulting in a thriller that moves along briskly and is rarely dull. The various tip offs continually spur interest while the back room politics within the station add an additional threat of urgency, as well as hinting at the larger scale corruption of Korean conglomerates.

Producer Min-cheol and intrepid assisstant I-seul uncover the evidence

Producer Min-cheol and intrepid assistant I-seul uncover the evidence

Park Hae-il is in typically good form as the investigative producer, though as there is little in the way of character development the role is far from demanding. He works best when playing off of the supportive cast, particularly his intrepid assistant I-seul and team leader Seong-ho, played by Song Ha-yoon and Park Won-sang (박원상) respectively. Despite their limited presence throughout the film both Song and Park are highly charismatic, endearing protagonists, giving impressive performances and often steal the show whenever they are on screen.

Ironically whistle blower Min-ho is given very little screen-time and development that mostly requires actor Yoo to walk around appearing pitiful, with the narrative largely focusing – repetitively – on his and wife Mi-hyeon’s (Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong (류현경) sick child. This is a great shame and a missed opportunity given that that real whistleblower is still considered something of a traitor by many in contemporary Korea. Luckily however, actress Ryoo provides the best performance in the film despite her extremely limited presence, making the situation one possible to invest in.

Interestingly, the filmmakers have opted to represent the fraudulent Dr. Lee in a rather positive, sympathetic light. The narrative seeks to portray the doctor less as a criminal, and more of a man whose ambition to help both the sick and Korea at large got the better of him. There are occasional hints at his manipulative genius, yet the story doesn’t delve deeper into the illegalities outside of the fabricated stem cell research, which is truly bizarre and a waste of potential.

The reporters must contend with rampant nationalism in their quest to expose the truth

The reporters must contend with rampant nationalism in their quest to expose the truth

Verdict:

Given the scandalous true story on which the film is based, Whistle Blower had the potential to be an explosive thriller and a keen exploration of a variety of facets in contemporary Korean culture. Yet director Lim Soon-rye and screenwriter Lee Choon-hyeong have produced a standard, uninspired example of the genre, one which fulfills the criteria but never delves deeply into the issues of the time. Whistle Blower is competent yet disappointing, and is a real missed opportunity.

★★★☆☆

Cart (카트) – ★★★★☆

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

With only 3 months more service until she becomes a regular employee, supermarket cashier Seon-hee (Yeom Jeong-ah (염정아) works diligently for the position that will enable her to provide greater stability for her family. Despite the difficulties of raising wayward teenage son Tae-yeong (Do Kyeong-soo (도경수) and a young daughter (Kim Soo-an (김수안) alone, Seon-hee strives to make ends meet for them all. Yet when the supermarket officials decide to layoff all the workers in favor of cheaper labor, the mostly female staff – many of whom have worked with the company for years – are outraged. Led by fellow cashier Hye-mi (Moon Jeong-hee (문정희) and cleaner Soon-rye (Kim Yeong-ae (김영애), the women begin to unionize and issue demands for reinstatement. However when their efforts are ultimately ignored, the women decide that more drastic strike action is necessary for their voices to be heard.

Seon-hee witnesses abuse at work, yet her desire for job stability keeps her silent

Seon-hee witnesses abuse at work, yet her desire for job stability keeps her silent

Based on a true story, director Boo Ji-young’s (부지영) Cart (카트) premiered to high acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as later back home in native Korea at Busan. The drama is an incredibly impressive exploration of the issues plaguing the temporary workforce in contemporary Korea. From the very moment Cart begins director Boo effectively portrays the grueling monotony of menial labor, employing a brilliantly washed out colour palette in conjunction with fluid camerawork that depicts workers performing machine-like tasks under the watchful eyes of aggressive management, evoking the same sensibilities as Charlie Chaplin’s classic Modern Times. Rather than individuals, the workers are consistently framed as cogs in a machine hurriedly operating the factory-esque supermarket whilst robotically repeating phrases such as, “We love you, customer!” Director Boo wonderfully juxtaposes such hard work and empty slogans with the awful humiliations dealt by the customers and executives, while the workers themselves tolerate such human rights abuses simply in order to keep their jobs.

The contrast between such scenes and the representation of the characters personal lives offer a powerful, provocative glimpse at class and gender warfare as well as social injustice in modern Korea. As the vast majority of the workers are underprivileged women, the film depicts the daily struggles of the female workforce as they endure abusive employment in order to desperately stave off poverty, emphasising an array of feminist issues with potent insight. Director Boo has crafted an empowering social rights drama, one which is a true rarity in both current Korean and international cinema. The range of characters within the film, each with their own dilemmas, poignantly capture the challenges facing modern women in society. While Seon-hee and Hye-mi struggle to raise their children alone, Soon-rye exposes the plight of the elderly, while the inclusion of married protagonists as well as disaffected graduate Mi-jin (Cheon Woo-hee (천우희) convey the breadth and scale of discourses effecting contemporary women. Cart is a truly refreshing alternative to male-centered narratives, one that unequivocally portrays working class women as heroines in their own right.

The mostly female workers keep in good spirits as they demand reinstatement

The mostly female workers keep in good spirits as they demand reinstatement

The power of Cart lies in the conflict between the mostly female workers and the male executives, as the unfair dismissals result in unionization, and the ignorance of which in turn spurs strike action. Director Boo structures the escalation of hostilities between both sides with skill, as the workers who stage peaceful protests with colourful clothes and slogans are confronted by the dark bullying tactics of the company. In so blatantly portraying the corruption and underhand manner of the corporation, director Boo has produced a challenging and provocative film that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers amongst the conservative upper classes, who are depicted offering bribes, employing gangsters, and hurting innocents in the bid to continue profits and to save face. Yet director Boo also implicates government agencies in the scandal, particularly the police force and their unnecessary brutality, as the women peacefully demonstrate against injustice, making Cart not only an insightful film but a courageous one too.

Cart does however suffer from a case of over ambition as too many protagonists feature, which ultimately makes it difficult to invest in all of the narrative threads that arise. All the characters certainly add a perspective on the discourses through the film, yet as there are so many tangents it’s difficult to invest in every one. Screen time is mostly ascribed to Seon-hee and her family, and an impressive contrast is made between her and her difficult son Tae-yeong, implying the conditioning of the populace as automatons as one that begins from a young age. However Tae-young’s story line, in which he becomes attached to prospective girlfriend Soo-kyeong (Ji Woo (지우), is a little trite and appears to be a device to attract teenage audiences. Scenes such as these, and others that feature the quite cheesy musical score, sometimes threaten to put Cart in TV drama territory, yet director Boo never lets the story stagnate and consistently keeps the drama moving apace.

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

Verdict:

Cart is moving, provocative glimpse at class and gender warfare as well as social injustice in modern Korea. In depicting the unfair working conditions and the incredibly strong women attempting to stave off poverty, director Boo Ji-young has crafted an empowering social rights drama, one that examines the status of human rights and feminist issues with insight and sincerity. A powerful film, Cart is a real rarity in both contemporary Korean and international cinema.

★★★★☆

My Love, My Bride (나의 사랑 나의 신부) – ★★★☆☆

My Love, My Bride (나의 사랑 나의 신부)

My Love, My Bride (나의 사랑 나의 신부)

After four years of dating, Yeong-min (Jo Jeong-seok (조정석) decides it’s finally time for him to propose to girlfriend Mi-yeong (Shin Min-ah (신민아). Despite their constant arguing, Mi-yeong accepts the proposal and for a while the two live in wedded bliss, much to the chagrin of their friends. Yet soon the realities of living with each other sink in and the newlyweds begin to fight with fresh vigor, creating an enormous amount of stress, as well as comical moments, between them. As their relationship becomes increasingly fraught both Mi-yeong and Yeong-min begin to develop their hobbies and lives independently, until issues arise that force them to reconcile their differences.

My Love, My Bride (나의 사랑 나의 신부) is a remake of director Lee Myeong-se’s (이명세) 1990 classic, updated to reflect contemporary relationships by director Lim Chan-sang (임찬상) and screenwriter Kim Ji-hye (김지혜). The result is a romantic-comedy which is very much lighthearted entertainment, one that attempts to derive comedy from the real-life situations newlywed couples face and moderately succeeds, yet is lacking in sufficient depth to make it more than mildly enjoyable.

For a time, married life is blissful for the newlyweds

For a time, married life is blissful for the newlyweds

As the poster and trailer suggest, My Love, My Bride is a fun take on the silly and trivial matters that afflict newlyweds, and the stressful situations that arise from them. From the moment the film begins the playful approach to marriage is quite enjoyable, as the lively text message conversation between Yeong-min and his friends debates the pros and cons of getting hitched, through to the rampant sex life the couple relish in following their nuptials. Director Lim does a great job in conveying frivolity through such sequences, with effective scenes impressively edited to keep the jokes coming. As the pace slows the story begins to become more concerned with the realities of marriage and the fights that arise, seeking to find humour in such moments. It’s a largely hit and miss affair, with scenes such as Yeong-min’s wandering eyes and jealousy at his wife’s interaction with another man comically executed, while others – that are mostly concerned with Mi-yeong’s life – are less effective.

This is primarily due to the fact that My Love, My Bride is a mostly male-centered narrative, which is unfair given the nature of the relationship. Director Lim attempts to generate sympathy for Yeong-min as something of a struggling artist with a nagging wife, but in reality he is quite the man-child. Mi-yeong’s complaints about urinating on the toilet seat and general lack of hygiene are wholly justified, while foreign audiences will certainly take issue with Mi-yeong’s almost slave status as she takes care of her husband dutifully while he merely barks orders. Luckily the film does attempt to address such issues, but due to the nature of the comedy it is not given sufficient depth. Similarly, the contrast between the couple as they start to consider other potential partners suffers from the same fate. Yeong-min’s thought-process and encounters are quite believable and funny, while Mi-yeong’s are far from it, lacking the sincerity of a woman’s true perspective and the realistic examination the film proclaims.

Mi-yeong becomes increasingly frustrated with Yeong-min's selfish, man-child ways

Mi-yeong becomes increasingly frustrated with Yeong-min’s selfish, man-child ways

My Love, My Bride interestingly explores how both Mi-yeong and Yeong-min have subsumed creative aspects of themselves in the relationship by incorporating their hobbies within the story. Again, the device is more apparent and developed for Yeong-min, as his focus on poetry becomes another stressful element in the marriage. His writing has the potential for a deeper perspective on the relationship but it is never explored, again forcing Mi-yeon to suffer in silence. The few scenes in which Mi-yeon’s artistic ability appear are also wasted opportunities to further examine her character, as aside from fleeting moments, her painting has little impact on the story.

In a bid to wrap up all the narrative strands and bring the couple closer, My Love, My Bride unfortunately falls into the same trap as many other Korean rom-coms by employing unnecessary hospital melodrama. Similar to this year’s earlier comedy Venus Talk, the inclusion of the melodramatic device – as well as sickly-sweet flashbacks – comes out of left field and is quite contrived, though has the desired effect of creating nice closure.

Flashbacks to earlier stages in their relationship remind the couple of the importance of their love

Flashbacks to earlier stages in their relationship remind the couple of the importance of their love

Verdict:

A remake of the 1990 classic, the updated version of My Love, My Bride by director Lim Chan-sang and screenwriter Kim Ji-hye is lighthearted and enjoyable fare. The story is largely hit-and-miss on deriving comedy from the realities of newlywed couples, mostly due to the unfair male-centered focus, particularly as the husband in question is quite immature. Yet there are enough fun moments to be had to make the film an entertaining viewing experience.

★★★☆☆

Revivre (화장) – ★★★★☆

Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

As the vice-president of a leading cosmetics company, Oh Sang-moo (Ahn Seong-gi (안성기) is every bit the diligent leader, working hard to ensure the brand is a success. Yet when his wife (Kim Ho-jeong (김호정) is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, Sang-moo dutifully divides his time between taking care of her and fulfilling his role at work, attending the company during the day and sleeping at the hospital at night. Tired and stressed from the routine, Sang-moo’s attentions are suddenly diverted when Choo Eun-joo (Kim Gyu-ri (김규리), a young and beautiful new manager, joins the office. While Sang-moo strives to adhere to his responsibilities his mind begins to drift towards Eun-joo, creating a torrent of conflicting emotions that only seem to become more and more difficult to control.

Sang-moo works hard to fulfill his duties as both a husband and vice-president, yet the toll is great

Sang-moo works hard to fulfill his duties as both a husband and vice-president, yet the toll is great

As his 102nd film, Revivre is director Im Kwon-taek’s finest, most accomplished work in years. Rarely do films manage to capture such fraught emotional complexity as contained within Revivre, conveyed with a subtle, elegant grace that wonderfully displays director Im’s wisdom and prowess. Similarly, Ahn Seong-gi provides a towering performance as the emotionally conflicted VP, whose tempered, poignant portrayal is captivating throughout. In lesser hands Song Yoon-hee’s script would be a standard drama, yet through director Im and Ahn’s collaboration the story delicately unfolds in a classic, dignified fashion that only they, with their combined life and filmic experiences, could possibly accomplish.

Revivre is at once both an incredibly complex and wonderfully simple tale. The story of a middle-aged man whose gaze is diverted by a younger attractive woman is nothing new in cinema, yet the drama is infused with a startling array of poignant nuances that allude to the great psychological and emotional anxieties Sang-moo experiences. Moments that feature Sang-moo’s inability to urinate due to stress, and the emotionless manner in which he takes care of his sick wife, articulate a keen gravitas and so much more than dialogue could possibly hope to achieve. Director Im, celebrated for his reverential portrayal of Korean culture onscreen, further adds weight to the material by introducing such traditional features as traditional Buddhist funeral rites and saunas to make Revivre a truly Korean production that explores the issues from a truly Korean perspective.

The arrival of beautiful new manager Choo Eun-joo rekindles a spark in Sang-moo

The arrival of beautiful new manager Choo Eun-joo rekindles a spark in Sang-moo

The relationship between Sang-moo and attractive new arrival Eun-joo is superbly paced and developed throughout the course of the film. The manner in which she is introduced into Sang-moo’s life, quite literally bursting into it, is a wonderful metaphor that sparks his interest in her and the possibility of a new life away from the stresses of his current one. Sang-moo’s affections for Eun-joo are captured with sincerity, from stolen glances at the office through to the palpable chemistry contained in their direct interactions. Much of the development occurs within Sang-moo’s imagination as he fantasizes about chance encounters that serve to add sweet romantic connotations to his infatuation, while scenes in which he behaves foolishly just in order to see Eun-joo are constructed with genuine care and affection. As Eun-joo, Kim Gyu-ri is perfectly cast. Her natural elegance and stunning beauty are entirely believable as distractions for Sang-moo, even as he desperately tries to be a good, dutiful man, while Kim’s performance as an independent career woman is also impressive.

While Revivre is a powerful emotional drama for much of the running time, the film begins to lose its way  as it attempts to come to a close. After featuring some incredibly powerful and nuanced scenes throughout the film as well as poignantly subtle character development, due to the quite ambiguous finale Revivre ends on a symbolic yet somewhat unsatisfying note. Director Im, however, wisely adds an epilogue of sorts to construct the end as coming full circle through traditional Korean Buddhist culture, conveying the inherent beauty in life, death and cultural forms as a means in which to appreciate the nature of existence.

Scenes featuring Sang-moo and his wife as her health deteriorates are strikingly poignant

Scenes featuring Sang-moo and his wife as her health deteriorates are strikingly poignant

Verdict:

Revivre is director Im Kwon-taek’s finest, most accomplished work in years. His 102nd film, Revivre beautifully captures fraught emotional and psychological complexities with subtle elegance and grace, as a vice-president with a sick wife begins to fall for the charms of a new and quite beautiful manager. As the VP, Ahn Seung-gi provides his best performance in years and his collaboration with director Im produces a powerful film that only they, with their combined experiences, could have possibly achieved.

★★★★☆

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