Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2014

2014 FinalWith the end of the year almost upon us, it’s time to revisit the films released over the past 12 months in order to discern the best offerings from the Korean film industry for 2014.

First, however, a quick review of the year is in order to chart the highs and lows from the peninsula, as it was a tumultuous time for Korean cinema indeed.

For those who cannot wait, please scroll down to find the top ten of 2014.

2014 – In Review

2014 was, by all accounts, a rather lacklustre year for Korean cinema.

Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

The beginning of the year was undoubtedly dominated by Hollywood. While the release of several high profile Korean films including Plan Man, Man in Love, Hot Young Bloods and Venus Talk occurred, none of them performed particularly well, especially when faced with the gargantuan success of Disney’s Frozen. Things changed at the end of January with the release of Miss Granny, thanks largely to positive word of mouth. Starring Shim Eun-kyeong as an elderly woman transformed into twenties, the mild-mannered comedy was a fairly big success scoring over 8.6 million admissions. Controversial independent film Another Promise also performed impressively. Concerned with people stricken with cancer after working at a Samsung factory, the film was all but rejected from multiplexes causing outrage from critics as well as accusations of insider suppression, even prompting an article from UK outlet The Guardian.

For the next few months, Korean cinema continued to stagnate until things went from bad to worse in the wake of the tragic Sewol Ferry disaster on the 16th of April. With the entire nation reeling from the loss of so many lives – mostly high school students – cinemas, understandably, largely remained empty. For the next few months, with the population still in a collective state of mourning, attendance and revenue was considerably down compared to the year prior, with audiences also tending to stay away from violent films such as No Tears For The Dead and Man On High Heels.

Indie success came in the form of Han Gong-ju. Released in April, the film scored over 60,000 admissions during its first four days, and eventually surpassed 160,000 during its box office run to become one of the most successful independent films in the history of Korean cinema. Han Gong-ju was also an enormous hit on the international film festival circuit, achieving several top honours as well as acclaim from cinema maestro Martin Scorsese.

Internationally, good news also came in May as A Girl At My Door, A Hard Day, and The Target all gained invitations to the Cannes Film Festival.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

Things turned around considerably in late July. Upon release, KUNDO: Age of the Rampant broke the record for opening day admissions and helped to breath new life into the industry…until that record, and virtually every achievement in Korean cinema, was decimated by historical naval epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents. Shortly thereafter the final two tentpole summer films – The Pirates and Haemoo – also graced screens to moderate success. Fears that the blockbusters would fail due to narratives that contain deaths at sea, and thus touching on the still sensitive issue of the Sewol tragedy, luckily proved to be unfounded.

The next big news to hit the industry came in the form of controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol. Premiering at the Busan International Film Festival, Sewol depicted the ineptitude of the government in failing to save so many lives during the disaster. Park Geun-hye’s administration responded by demanding the withdrawal of the film from the festival, as well as threats of funding cuts. BIFF refused, and it remains to be seen what ramifications the decision will have on subsequent festivals.

The year ended on a high note, particularly for independent cinema, as positive word of mouth led to documentary My Love, Don’t Cross That River (님아, 그 강을 건너지 마오) attracting over 1 million viewers and knocking Hollywood films Interstellar and Exodus from the top spots at the box office. It currently stands as the second most successful documentary in Korean cinema history.

The Best of 2014

Honourary Mention – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Before beginning the top ten countdown, it would be impossible to exclude any discussion of Han Gong-ju. Rated in joint first place in last year’s ratings (due to its premiere at BIFF), director Lee Su-jin’s directorial debut is bold, powerful, and emotionally resonating. Featuring an outstanding performance by Chun Woo-hee – who won Best Actress at the Blue Dragon Film AwardsHan Gong-ju is based on the true story of a high school girl who is forced to relocate to a new area following an horrific event. As she attempts to rebuild her life, Gong-ju discovers that she cannot outrun her past however much she tries. Appearing at over 15 international film festivals and receiving acclaim from Martin Scorsese himself, Hang Gong-ju is not to be missed.

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2014

No. 10 – Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits is a beautifully stylised, wonderfully constructed documentary that is emblematic of the new artistic approach being employed to genre. Directed by artist/filmmaker Park Chan-kyong, Manshin presents the life and times of renowned shaman Kim Keum-hwa through a startling array of storytelling devices, all in the aesthetic of traditional Korean culture. Periods from shaman Kim’s life are gorgeously reconstructed featuring three prominent actresses – Kim Sae-ron, Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong and Moon So-ri – which, while interesting in itself, is also a story that explores the cultural identity of Korea in the rapid transition from one of the poorest nations in Asia to the economic powerhouse it is today.

No. 9 – Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Amalgamating several real life stories that have transpired over the years, Korea’s most prominent queer director, Lee Song Hee-il, released arguably his most compelling film to date in the form of Night Flight. Poignantly depicting the relationship of two teenage gay Seoulites and their desire to escape their oppressive environment, director Lee Song goes beyond focusing primarily on the romance by profoundly developing the world they inhabit. The harsh education system, the class divide, single parent families and social injustice all feature, and as such homosexuality is naturalized as simply another facet of identity that youths struggle with, resulting in an insightful and compelling drama.

No. 8 – Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Let's Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Documentary Let’s Dance is concerned with the topic of abortion in Korea. Director Jo Se-young brilliantly interviews a variety a women who have undergone the procedure, inquiring about their thoughts, reasons and feelings about the controversial subject matter. Yet the film is far from bleak; in fact it’s quite the opposite. During the refreshingly frank conversations the women laugh, joke and cry about their experiences, while dramatic recreations of comical events are interlaced within, making the documentary a genuinely funny, enlightening, and empowering film. The film also hilariously pokes fun at male ignorance on the subject, including lack of awareness regarding contraception and even the length of pregnancy. Inspirational viewing.

No. 7 – Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Director Boo Ji-young’s insightful second feature film Cart premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim, and for good reason. Based on the true story of unfairly dismissed supermarket employees who began strike action to be reinstated, Cart is a consistently impressive exploration of worker’s rights, women’s issues, and single parent families in contemporary Korea. The provocative drama explores each facet from several distinct perspectives and never fails to be engaging. It also has the distinction of being almost entirely female-centered to great effect, with acting duties from a host of incredibly talented actresses of all ages, combining to produce a moving, courageous and provocative socially-conscious drama.

No. 6 – Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

South Korea has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD. Thread of Lies tackles such difficult subject matter by exploring the lives of those effected in the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide, and is a powerfully provocative film in that the story not only depicts bullying and depression, but also delves into the problematic realm of accountability. Driven by the need for answers, Man-ji begins investigating her younger sister’s suicide, with the conclusions proving to be a painful experience. Thread of Lies is also notable for having a stellar all-female cast, a real rarity these days, with the array of talent combining to produce an understated yet deeply resonating examination of an important social issue.

No. 5 – The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Easily the most controversial Korean film of the year, documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol premiered at the Busan International Film Festival to uproar. Under pressure from government officials and the mayor of Busan/Festival Chairman Seo Byung-soo himself to remove it from the schedule, BIFF ultimately refused and screened it anyway to reveal a highly emotional and courageously critical exploration of the administration’s disastrous rescue efforts following the Sewol tragedy. Through the investigative approach of director Ahn Hye-ryong and journalist/director Lee Sang-ho, the documentary is a powerful tribute to not only the victims of the event but also the ongoing debate of accountability, and the collusion between the state and mass media.

No. 4 – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

If there’s one genre synonymous with Korea cinema, it’s the thriller. Yet over recent years thriller films have tended to fall a little flat, a result of over-saturation combined with a lack of ingenuity. Not so with director Kim Seong-hoon’s A Hard Day. Premiering at Cannes Film Festival, the action extravaganza is perpetually riveting entertainment and a wonderful example of great popcorn cinema, so much so that the 2 hour 30 minute running time simply flies by. Featuring an exciting array of set pieces throughout, A Hard Day is a constant mix of excitement and tension that serves to keep the audience guessing – due in no small part to the phenomenal editing – while the ironic dark humour laced within the story always hits the mark.

No. 3 – Haemoo (해무)

Haemoo (해무)

Haemoo (해무)

Nominated as Korea’s official entry for the Academy Awards, Haemoo – or Sea Fog – is based on the horrific true story of illegal immigration gone wrong. Director Shim Seong-bo’s directorial debut is a thrilling visual tour de force, expertly capturing the fraught claustrophobia of life on a small fishing vessel and the abject horrors that occur. Produced by Bong Joon-ho and featuring cinematography from Hong Kyeong-pyo (Snowpiercer), the drama expresses a profound and distinctive aesthetic throughout, as well as great performances from the stellar cast and particularly from up-and-comers Han Ye-ri and Kpop star Park Yoochun. As such, Haemoo is certainly one of the best Korean thrillers in recent years.

No. 2 – Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

After seemingly years of performing authoritarian cameo-esque roles, Ahn Sung-gi once again revealed why he’s considered one of the best in the business with an outstanding return to form in Revivre. Veteran director Im Kwon-taek‘s 102nd film, Revivre explores the life of a middle-aged vice president whose wife is stricken by a terminal illness, yet while he struggles to balance his responsibilities a beautiful new deputy manager begins working in the office who captivates him. What could easily be yet another typical male fantasy is given extraordinary emotional depth due to director Im’s and Ahn Sung-gi’s seasoned hands, both of whom combine to depict a man torn between duty and desire with striking sincerity.

No. 1 – A Girl At My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

Director July Jung’s directorial debut A Girl At My Door premiered to a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, which in itself states the incredible power of the film. Produced by famed brothers Lee Chang-dong and Lee Jun-dong, the drama beautifully explores the themes of alienation and discrimination in contemporary Korea, featuring phenomenally understated performances by Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, as well as accompanied by some of the most exquisite cinematography seen all year. The sensitive and poignant story wonderfully captures the issues faced by those on the fringes of Korean society with incredible sincerity, and as such occupies the top spot in the list. Highly recommended and essential viewing.

The 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards

The 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards (청룡영화제)

The 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards (청룡영화제)

The 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards (청룡영화제) were held on a chilly 17th of December in Seoul.

Celebrating the best of Korean cinema over the past 12 months, the ceremony is one of the most prestigious events on the film calendar. Interestingly, the awards bestowed stood in quite stark contrast to the 51st Daejong (Grand Bell) Awards that took place in late November.

Best Film was awarded to politically charged drama The Attorney which also saw Song Kang-ho win for Best Actor and Kim Hee-ae for Best Supporting Actress.

Best Actress went to Chun Woo-hee for her performance in independent drama Han Gong-ju and appeared genuinely surprised by her victory, so much so that she cried upon receiving the award. Her tearful acceptance speech can be seen below. Han Gong-ju also picked up another award, this time for Lee Su-jin for Best New Director.

The award for Best Director went to Kim Han-min for helming The Admiral: Roaring Currents, which also scooped the Audience Award for Most Popular Film.

Meanwhile action thriller A Hard Day scored Best Supporting Actor for Cho Jin-woong, Best Screenplay for Kim Seong-hoon, and Best Editing for Kim Chang-joo.

Best New Actress went to Kim Sae-ron for her role in A Girl At My Door, while Park Yoo-chun scored his 4th Best New Actor victory for Haemoo.

The winners of the best actor and actress categories from the night

The winners of the best actor and actress categories from the night

For the full list of nominees and victors from the ceremony, head to Asian Wiki here.

Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕) – ★★★☆☆

Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕)

Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕)

Due to a scandalous issue at university, literature professor Hak-gyu (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) is forced to relocate to the countryside while an investigation transpires. Arriving at a small village, he begins reluctantly teaching the elderly residents, and in becoming acquainted with his new surroundings Hak-gyu meets young and innocent fairground operator Deokee (Esom (이솜). Although married and a father, Hak-gyu begins a steamy, passionate affair with Deokee, yet when a surprise phone call alerts him that the scandal has ended he returns home, abandoning his new mistress. Years later, as his sight begins to dissipate, the ramifications of Hak-gyu’s selfish past deeds come back to haunt him.

While in exile, literature professor Hak-gyu meets innocent Deokee

While in exile, literature professor Hak-gyu meets innocent Deokee

Scarlet Innocence is a reimagining of the classic Korean folk fable Shim-cheong, in which a daughter sacrifices herself at sea in order for her blind father to regain his sight. Director Lim Pil-seong (임필성) and screenwriter Jang Yoon-mi (장윤미) update the tragic filial piety story into a modern tale of lust and revenge, spurred by questions about how the motivations of the original characters developed. The revised story, with the addition of sexual promiscuity, themes of revenge and the gangster underworld, bares little more than a passing metaphoric resemblance to the original tale to the point where it’s surprising Shim-cheong is referenced as inspiration at all. Yet that aside, while Scarlet Innocence is competently produced and sports fine performances from leads Jeong Woo-seong and Esom, the erotic thriller consistently feels rushed and unfinished both narratively and directorially.

The film opens with Hak-gyu journeying to the countryside to endure his time in exile. The cinematography is a visual treat through the recurring motif of blooming cherry blossom trees and quaint rural landscapes, yet rather than employing additional cinematic cues to convey the professor’s angst a voice-over is incorporated to explain the premise. The unnecessary device is utilised at several junctures throughout the film to clarify certain situations yet rather than illuminate, it serves merely to draw audiences out of the story. Scarlet Innocence improves greatly however upon Hak-gyu’s arrival, where his frustrations and dispute with the university are articulate well through tantalizing hints that allude to his precarious situation. The development of Hak-gyu’s relationship with Deokee also begins well, largely due to Esom’s wonderfully charismatic performance as an innocent girl enamored with an older sophisticated gentleman. A scene in which she is almost hypnotised by Hak-gyu’s hand as it moves over a desk is impressively constructed, conveying intense, palpable sexual desire.

Hak-gyu and Deaokee begin a passionate affair

Hak-gyu and Deokee begin a passionate affair, arousing gossip in the village

Unfortunately however the development from such moments to explicit sexual scenes lacks the impetus to make the affair compelling, as the relationship jumps from a stolen kiss to impersonal sex on a ferris wheel, and beyond. Much has been made of the intimate sequences, so much so that the film has rather unfairly acquired a reputation for it, yet the erotic moments, while featuring plenty of exposure, contain a shortage of both sincerity and passion particularly when contrasted with the year’s other erotic drama Obsessed. This is not so much due to the actors, both of whom are impressive in conveying their psychology through their bodies, but rather the need for greater prior development and intensity between them which another script rewrite would ultimately correct. That said, the issues that later lead to Hak-gyu and Deokee’s separation are dramatic and effective, culminating in an absorbing climax.

Yet from such engaging material the narrative jumps eight years into the future, not only undermining the previous tension but also generating the sense that Scarlet Innocence is actually two shorter films tenuously stitched together. This is achieved through the focus on Hak-gyu’s descent into drink, gambling and debauchery, as well as the return of Deokee as a cliched femme fatale and her highly implausible plans to exact revenge. The inclusion of Hak-gyu’s daughter Cheong-ee (Park So-yeong (박소영) to the proceedings is also a misstep due to her woeful underdevelopment, despite the original fable primarily based on her character. The sexual politics are also frankly awful throughout, notably the fixation on high heels as empowering yet inherently evil, while the inclusion of the criminal underworld is at odds with everything that came before. As such Scarlet Innocence evolves from a mild-mannered erotic drama to a cliched crime thriller, resulting in a film that, despite its potential, is entertaining yet quite underwhelming.

Years after their affair, Deokee returns for revenge

Years after their affair, Deokee returns to exact a unique brand of revenge

Verdict:

Based loosely on the classic fable Shim-cheong, Scarlet Innocence is an updated version featuring erotically charged scenes and themes of revenge. Director Lim Pil-seong competently helms the drama, particularly in the early stages, while actors Jeong Woo-seong and Esom provide fine performances. Yet the film consistently feels rushed and unfinished both narratively and directorially while the second half of the drama descends into implausible cliched territory. As such Scarlet Innocence is entertaining, yet quite underwhelming.

★★★☆☆

Q & A: Director Lee Sang-ho discusses ‘The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol’ – (다이빙벨)

Directors Lee Sang-ho (left) and Ahn Hye-ryong (right) field questions from the audience at the BIFF premiere - picture AFP

Directors Lee Sang-ho (left) and Ahn Hye-ryong (right) field questions from the audience at the BIFF premiere – AFP

N.B. The following Q&A took place at the premiere of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) at the 19th Busan Film Festival (BIFF), on October 6th, 2014.

For the review of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, please click here

Please note – the opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the people articulating them. What follows has been transcribed from the translation given by the BIFF translator at the event.

Translator: “the festival people are tense because the mayor threatened to cut off funding if the festival shows this film, and of course the people who made this documentary are also tense because there might be ultra-conservative people who would come and try to mess up this conference.”

The directors come on to the stage to applause.

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Moderator: “How do you feel about your film being screened here at the Busan Film Festival?”

Director Lee: “There was a lot of controversy over this case, so I will answer frankly and honestly to any questions you might have. Because of the time constraints, I was not able to make the film as ‘complete’ as I had wanted. It’s only God who can take us back to April 16th, the day of the tragedy, but the least we can do is to go back and investigate and find the facts surrounding the incident. I hope that as many people as possible can get to see this film, and I hope that this interest in this film will translate to continued interest in the Sewol tragedy.”

Question: “I’d like to ask, when did you start planning this film? There are some cuts of news footage, so when you were covering this incident, was that when you started planning this film? Or maybe after the uproar had died down? Is that when you started planning this film?”

Director Lee: “Simply put, just like all of you, I was there at Paengmok Harbor and it was there that I realised that the truth was sinking with the ferry and with the children. Most of the mainstream media, whatever they were reporting, was not true, they were lies. And behind the scenes were the power, those in power who wanted to cover up their mistakes, cover their ass. So for three or four days it was a very critical time when the truth was in danger of being covered up forever, so that’s why we kept as much footage as possible, and we tried to film everything. We concentrated back then on the diving bell because we thought the diving bell would be critical in revealing the lies that the government was telling through the coast guard. And there was this sense of urgency because it seemed that people were starting to forget, trying to put the tragedy behind them already, when nothing had been found and discovered. So that’s why we wanted to make this film, in order to keep the memory alive. And we wanted to get it screened at the Busan International Film Festival where there would be a lot of global attention as well, so we were pressed for time, so we were running up against a very tight deadline in making this film.”

Lee Jong-in (left) is at the center of the diving bell controversy

Lee Jong-in (left) is at the center of the diving bell controversy

Question: “You’re here not as a journalist, but as a director. If you have anything that you were not able to say through this film, would you like to share that with us? And Mr Lee Jong-in, the owner of the diving bell, was there a message that he wants to convey? As a member of the audience and as a Korean citizen, I would like to send my encouragement and support for all the people who made this film possible.”

Director Lee: “I’d like to answer both questions. Mr Lee Jong-in, CEO of the diving technology, he did not have a lot of deep thoughts, he was of the same heart and mind as the rest of the citizens. He didn’t make any calculations, he just rushed to the scene because he thought that he could help, because he did have the technology, and he had technology and equipment that the coast guard and the navy did not have and so he offered his help. But during the time when the film was being made, he realised that he was up against something that he could not overcome. And he knew that once the film was made he would be at the center of another controversy yet again, so there were people who asked him to lie low, but he cooperated with the film making because he wanted the truth to be uncovered. I’m a little nervous, so I forgot the other question. Oh yes, as a journalist. I’ve been working as a journalist for 20 years. I was there on the scene as a journalist but as a filmmaker, what disheartened me the most, what broke my heart the most, was leaving out footage that I thought was appropriate for the film. For example, Lee Jong-in was kicked out after the first attempt, and then the journalists found out that the coast guard and the rescue team from the government had attempted to put in a diving bell, their own diving bell, which was a fake diving bell. And that was not in the film. And as you know, there was a lot of online manipulation of public opinion during the presidential elections, and that kind of public opinion manipulation went on during and surrounding the Sewol tragedy, and I was unable to touch on that during the film. So I found that quite regretful. And what really broke my heart was that this diving bell, that was cutting edge technology, there was huge potential for it to save lives, and it had been in operation for 2 hours, compared to the few minutes of the other divers, but then we were threatened, there was even a murder attempt on us, and they were cubing the press. And so I found [not including] that most regretful. We even have legal charges being pressed against us right now.”

There were chaotic scenes at the BIFF premiere

There were chaotic scenes at the BIFF premiere

Question: “There’s controversy over whether this film will eventually be shown or not, so I’m quite taken aback by this press attention. I think it’s this press attention and media attention that gathered so many people here today. And personally I think there are a lot of people in Korea who are starting to forget, they’re trying to erase this whole tragedy from their memories, and so I’m worried about that because we’ve not achieved anything and there’s 10 people who are still missing, and the families of these missing people as well as those who have passed away, they’re all still grieving and in great suffering. Do you have a message for the Korean public?”

Director Lee: “I believed in fair journalism, and that’s why I was working as a reporter for a television station, but I got kicked out, I was dismissed, but I want to continue to try to pursue the truth now this time through film, and I’d like to thank all of you for coming. As you know there was a New York Times article today that after the Sewol tragedy, right afterwards the public was one, they were united in praying for the safe rescue, but then they’ve become divided these days. The bereaved families, they’re getting stoned in public on the streets. I hope that we can go back to, at least mentally and emotionally, to right after the incident and become one again in pursuing the truth. And I hope that through this film [I] will contribute in whatever way to protecting this film as well as protecting the bereaved families.”

Question: “As a college student I really wanted to check out this film and one of the messages is that there was some force, some hidden forces, that were interfering with the diving bell rescue operation. Who do you think would be the people behind it?”

Director Lee claims unanswered questions still remain regarding the rescue efforts

Director Lee claims unanswered questions still remain regarding the rescue efforts

Director Lee: “I will give it to you simply. Since April 16th, what I wanted to know was, why did the children have to die? Why weren’t they rescued? Why didn’t the state protect these children? And as you saw through this diving bell fiasco, survivors who were 30-40 meters underwater, if you just drag them up out of the water, they will die anyway. As you saw in the film, if you go down 75 meters and you dive for a few minutes you still have to decompress for about 30 minutes. So these kids, they were in the ship, and they were trapped inside for a few days, so they have to come up above the water very very slowly, or else they’ll die anyway. But not having such measures at hand, and not coming up with a concrete plan for rescuing them is murder. It’s just murder. The coast guard, not even once, they have never been trained for underwater rescue at all. All they did was float around and circle around the capsized [ship]. And then there was the navy, who were trained. They attempted to go into the scene and start rescue work twice, but they were refused. So it would be the coast guard, the navy and everyone else. Who controls the coast guard as well as the navy? Who has the power? It’s just the president. The president is the only one who can control everyone, or give commands to everyone who was involved in the rescue.”

A young man protests in regard to the special Sewol law outside of the screening

A young man protests in regard to the special Sewol law outside of the screening

Question: “It was very difficult for me to get a ticket to come to see this film and I was shocked. I was not there at the scene, and the only thing I got was the media reports about the diving bell, so I myself thought that it was a failure. And now that I’ve seen this film, I’m truly shocked. And [there’s] so much unfairness. Lee Jong-in is also a victim and I think that everyone in Korea should see this film and I was in tears most of the time. [Audience member begins crying] There’s a limit to how many people can see this film here at the festival, we only have journalists and film festival goers, so I’m lucky that I was able to be one of the few to see this film, and I hope this film will be shown to the wider public in the future. There are people here, and also a lot of journalists so I hope that we will all work together to get this film shown to many people. So my question is, do you think that would be a possibility? Will you be making that effort to get this film shown to more people? And if you have the citizen’s support, the public’s support, I’m sure that this will be released in theaters so that more people can get to see it, more people from the ordinary public. Are you making that effort? Do you have such plans?”

Director Lee: “Well thank you for being moved to tears, first of all. I think getting this shown in public, public screenings for this film will be very very difficult, it will be tough. Facing the uncomfortable truth, in a theater like this, in a public setting like this, this may be the last chance. But we are making that attempt to get this released in theaters and we are working with a deadline of the end of October, so we are making such efforts. I hope that you will all work together to protect this film.”

Question by Oscar-nominated director Joshua Oppenheimer (Act of Killing, The Look of Silence): “We see in your film this incredibly incompetent…or [rather] a rescue effort that’s undertaken in bad faith. And I guess I have two questions. First of all, is it merely incompetence or do you believe that there’s something more going on? And secondly, can you talk a little bit about why the media in Korea, and I don’t think Korea’s alone in this, but why do the feel the media and the mainstream media is so…appears to be so uncritical, so they are placed [into a] terrible stenographers function?”

Footage of the media frenzy at the site convey the chaos and demand for answers

Footage of the media frenzy at the site convey the chaos and demand for answers

Director Lee: “There was the Indonesian version of The Killing Fields recently where there were ordinary and innocent citizens killed [referring to director Oppenheimer’s work] and I’d like to thank you [director Oppenheimer] for deliberately coming to watch this film. Ineptitude or incompetence is the government’s excuse, it’s their main excuse. And yes the government right now is so incompetent that they want to get rid of their incompetent officials, but then they don’t have substitutes, because everyone else is also incompetent. When such a huge tragedy happened, the government did not have in place a system to deal with this tragedy. It means that the state was absent in this case. If the coast guard was incompetent, then they should be taken away and should be replaced by someone more competent, but such decisions, such common sense decisions were not made. It shows how lacking the government is right now in communication skills, and this lack of communication skills has led to this tragedy, led to expanding this tragedy, and I hope that this film will contribute to revealing the incompetence of the government. And the media, the Korean media in this case, they were not just serving the state, but the current government. The media has a say in the government, they are part of the government, and have a stake in the current government. That is why the media are the people who are the most afraid of the president being criticized, because this will reflect on them as well, because they are on the same side. That is why they sent out garbage instead of the truth and this is proof that they are stake holders in this current government. They are not just stenographers, they are stake holders in this government.”

Question: “On the internet I heard yesterday that some members of the grieving families were opposed to this film being shown and of course the Busan city government is saying that they don’t want this film to be screened. So have any of the bereaved families watched this film? And if so, what was their response? And what are your values as a journalist? You must have some value system that you adhere to as a journalist, but in the process of reporting [the incident] the journalists in action went overboard in interviewing students who had just come up, just been rescued.”

Scenes outside of cinema also drew attention

Scenes outside of cinema also drew attention

Director Lee: “I think I’m the journalist who was most critised after the tragedy, because on the scene I was an actor in this whole incident, not just a journalist [with an] objective point of view. Didn’t the president say, before she was president, she critised the then president Roh Moo-hyun saying that if you can’t rescue just one person from Iraq, then you don’t deserve to be called a government. But now that she is in office, there were more than three hundred passengers, young passengers, on board the ship and they were left there, trapped there, for days, and not a single one of them was rescued. And in this kind of situation, objectivity is not the value that I should be pursuing, in this kind of case. For example, I clung to the diving bell in trying to attach it to the weight, so yes I was intervening, I was in the scene, but I would continue to do that even if I were to do it again. And the bereaved families, unfortunately they are not diving experts. What I’m saying when I say that the state was absent on the scene, is that there was no control tower. There were many demands made by the grieving families, of course, and it’s only natural. But then the rescue work, and the pursuit of truth right now, it’s all being led by the bereaved families despite their lack of expertise, and the state is not helping them out at all. And the few who were rescued, were rescued by civilian fishermen who just happened to be passing by. And of course it’s only natural that the families don’t have any knowledge about rescue work. And as you saw they hated the journalists, they hated the press, they had to lean on the press and whatever pieces of information that the press gave them, they would cling onto that. In that kind of situation, where was the state in marshaling this confusion?”

The controversial diving bell technology still divides public opinion

The controversial diving bell technology still divides public opinion

Question: “I see this film as kind of a defense for Mr. Lee Jong-in. So in this whole tragedy, what position does this diving bell have? And do you really think that the rescue attempt using diving bell technology was not a failure?”

Director Lee: “Thank you for those short questions. We are all sinners because we were not able to rescue a single person. I came here dressed in black. And the completeness of the film, I don’t have any pride in the quality of the film itself, but it’s the only film that has come out now that deals head on with the Sewol tragedy, and I hope that there will be many more films to follow that can shed more light and maintain interest in this incident.”

Moderator: “Unfortunately we don’t have enough time [for more questions]. Actually I spent a sleepless night, last night. I’ve been with the festival for about 10 years now, working as a moderator whenever the festival has come, and I’ve never stepped on to the red carpet myself. Whenever I moderate for these GVs in the Wide Angle [category] I get to meet so many faces, dark faces and gloomy faces of Korean society from hospices, from women workers in the labour movement, and environment[al] issues. Documentaries are a means of holding on to things we should not forget in order for society to progress. So I hope that these kinds of documentaries will continue to be made in the future, for the benefit of Korean society.”

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다) – ★★★★☆

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

When internal affairs unexpectedly show up at the precinct and begin to investigate, corrupt detective Go Geun-soo (Lee Seon-gyoon (이선균) is forced to make excuses at his late mother’s funeral and race back to prevent his guilt from being unearthed. Driving fast and stressed from his predicament, Go accidently hits and kills a passerby. Secretly disposing of the body and cunningly destroying evidence of his involvement, Go believes he’s in the clear…until he receives an anonymous phone call from a witness (Jo Jin-woong (조진웅) threatening to reveal his sordid crime. Unless Go complies with the demands his world will be over, beginning a frantic game of suspense as they battle to emerge victorious and unscathed.

Already under investigation, detective Go accidently kills a pedestrian and must hide his involvement

Already under investigation, detective Go accidently kills a pedestrian and must hide his involvement

From the moment it begins, A Hard Day is an exciting, captivating, and down right thrilling cinematic joyride. Writer/director Kim Seong-hoon (김성훈) has crafted an enthralling and suspense fuelled tale that constantly keeps the audience guessing, through the incorporation of a variety of inspired set-pieces that takes staples of the genre yet reinvents them enough to keep them fresh and appealing. Whether it be the initial hit-and-run incident, the disposal of the body, car chases or physical combat, director Kim builds tension brilliantly to consistently excite and entertain. Alongside editor Kim Chang-ju, who sutures the scenes to incredible effect, the duo have combined to create some of the most gratifying and well made action-thriller sequences in recent memory. Yet despite all the conflict and terrifying situations that arise, the film is never morbid due to the dark ironic humour laced throughout that adds genuine laugh-out-loud moments to the proceedings, a real rarity that serves to both inspire and rejuvenate a genre that has, of late, become quite stagnant. As such the 2 hour and 30 minute running time simply flies by, making A Hard Day one of the most entertaining filmic experiences of the year, and well deserving of its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Detective Go confronts his nemesis to surprising results

Detective Go confronts his nemesis to surprising results

Central to the enjoyment of A Hard Day are the wonderfully charismatic performances of Lee Seon-gyoon and Jo Jin-woong. Lee is great as corrupt detective Go, effectively conveying the anti-hero as selfish and unethical but also quite likable and ultimately sympathetic given the fraught circumstances that arise. Lee has an ‘everyman’ quality that he employs effortlessly throughout the film that generates an acute connection with the audience, so much so that it’s entirely possible to forgive Go for his dishonesty and actually root for him as the underdog victim. Jo, meanwhile, appears to absolutely relish the opportunity portraying the villainous blackmailer, to the point where despite his supporting actor status, he threatens to steal the film every time he appears on screen. He is a hulking pillar of evil, yet his comic timing and delivery are so comically entertaining that he’s impossible to dislike, adding a wonderfully fresh dimension to the relationship between the antagonists that is consistently fascinating to watch unfold.

The situation reaches breaking point as the two clash

The situation reaches breaking point as the two clash

Verdict:

A Hard Day is one of the most exciting and entertaining action-thrillers of the year. Director Kim Seong-hoon has crafted a thoroughly engaging, suspenseful and darkly humourous tale of corruption that consistently feels fresh through the reinvention of genre traits. Featuring highly charismatic performances from leads Lee Seon-gyoon and Jo Jin-woong, A Hard Day is a thrilling cinematic joyride from start to finish.

★★★★☆

Sexy comedy ‘Working Girl’ gets a trailer

Working Girl (워킹걸)

Working Girl (워킹걸)

Working Girl – also known as Casa Amor: Exclusive for Ladies – has released a series of promotional posters and a trailer.

The sexy comedy stars Jo Yeo-jeong who, following a mistake in the work place, joins forces with neighbour Clara to open a store that sells adult toys and other paraphernalia exclusively for women.

Jo Yeo-jeong is no stranger to films with sexual content, baring all in erotic period dramas The Servant and The Concubine. Model Clara, meanwhile, has acted largely in cameos yet captured the attention of the Korean public following a baseball pitch wearing skin tight clothing, and has since gone on maintain a presence in the spotlight.

Check out the trailer, character trailer and posters below:

Working Girl - Jo Yeo-jeongWhile the film looks to be a light-hearted sexy comedy, it remains to be seen whether Working Girl will be an empowering film about female sexuality, or simply exploitative. 2014 has not been a particular good year for Korean actresses due to the predominately male-centered narratives, with many female performers ultimately forced to occupy explicit sexual roles. Due to the incredibly limited roles for women, even up and coming actresses Lim Ji-yeon (Obsessed), Lee Tae-im (For the Emperor) and Esom (Scarlet Innocence), despite being considered rookies in the industry, have all performed in graphic sexual scenes, scenes which often border on rape.

Working Girl - ClaraHopefully director Jeong Beom-sik – who has previously helmed mostly horror fare including Horror Stories 1 and 2, as well as Epitaph – will construct a comedy where the heroines of the story take charge of their sexuality, and will usher in a brighter and more diversified year for Korean actresses.

Working Girl will hit Korean cinemas on January 8th, 2015.

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.

★★★☆☆

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