As Korea’s primary showcase for independent cinema, the Jeonju International Film Festival always has a surprise or two waiting for cineastes in the film line-up.
Running from April 28th ~ May 7th, and now in its 17th year, JIFF’s priority in debuting new filmmaking talent from the peninsula is simultaneously exciting as well as difficult to pin down emerging talent, making discoveries of potential break out stars even more thrilling to uncover.
While it’s certainly challenging to select possible highlights at such an early stage, there are a few clues and rumours that point to potentially memorable cinematic works.
Here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s hot picks for JIFF 2016.
Spy Nation (자백) – director Choi Seungho (최승호)
Spy Nation is without a doubt one of the most controversial films to appear at JIFF this year. Directed by former professional journalist Choi Seungho, the documentary explores alleged corruption in the upper echelons of the Korean government and the national spy agency, accusations that the mainstream media has largely ignored. Spy Nation has the potential to cause outcry on a similar scale as the Sewol documentary at Busan Film Festival in 2014, and is a must-see for those with an interest in Korean culture and K-cinema.
Seven Years – Journalism without Journalist (7년-그들이 없는 언론) – director Kim Jinhyuk (김진혁)
JIFF’s other highly controversial documentary, Seven Years examines the situations that have led to the firing of 17 journalists since former President Lee Myung-bak’s time in office began. Director Kim Jinhyuk details their fight to expose the activities of big corporations and press censorship in Korea, as well as the future of investigative journalism in the peninsula.
Worst Woman (최악의 여자) – director Kim Jongkwan (김종관)
It’s always a gamble to select films from the Korean Competition as they are from first time filmmakers, however Worst Woman stands out for one reason – Han Ye-ri. Han Ye-ri is a highly talented actress as her turn in Sea Fog can attest, and her decision to star in this film as a woman in considerable trouble who befriends a sensitive author is reason enough to check it out.
A Stray Goat (눈발) – director Cho Jaemin (조재민)
One of the Jeonju Project films (the other is below), A Stray Goat has already garnered attention in Korea due to Got7’s Junior (real name Park Jinyoung) starring role. Alongside Ji-woo (Cart, Fists of Legend), the duo portray youngsters who form a deep bond due to the verbal and physical abuse they suffer, in a world that shuns them into the margins of society.
Woo-Joo’s Christmas (우주의 크리스마스) – director Kim Kyunghyung (김경형)
Director Kim Kyunghyung, known for his wit in hit films My Tutor Friend (2003) and Liar (2004) returns to the big screen with Woo-joo’s Christmas. The story follows Woo-joo and her daughter who move to a small town to open a cafe, where they experience odd coincidences with the women who already live there. As modern cinema is so dominated by male-centered stories, Woo-joo’s Christmas has the potential to be a genuinely refreshing experience.
Old Days (올드 데이즈) – director Han Sun-hee (한선희)
Another documentary makes the list, this time in the form of celebrating arguably the most internationally recognised Korean film of all time – Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy. Director Han Sun-hee compiles footage of the film’s enormous success alongside interviews with director Park, the cast, and crew, as they recount the phenomenal achievements Old Boy amassed and why the film stands the test of time. A must for Korean film fans.
Great Patrioteers (우리 손자 베스트) – director Kim Soohyun (김수현)
The second K-film in the Jeonju Cinema Project is by director Kim Soohyun, the talent behind queer film Life is Peachy (aka Ashamed) and So Cute. He returns with black comedy Great Patrioteers, about a wayward young ‘keyboard warrior’ and a right-wing senior citizen who form an unlikely relationship under odd circumstances.
Curtain Call (커튼콜) – director Ryu Hoon (류훈)
Curtain Call is another gamble for this list, as it’s a K-competition film from debut director Ryu Hoon. However the premise, in which a once aspiring director who now makes erotic plays gets a second chance to create something of artistic merit, combined with a cast of reliable and experienced Korean actors, could result in a surprisingly entertaining comedy-drama.
Kai (카이: 거울 호수의 전설) – director Lee Sung-gang (이성강)
Korean animation has been making great gains in recent years, and director Lee Sung-gang’s Kai looks set to continue the trend as the stills look absolutely gorgeous. The film follows Kai, a youngster who is tasked with saving his village from Snow Queen Hattan who has covered the area in ice. Parallels to Disney’s Frozen are likely, but the images released indicate that Kai will be a uniquely Korean offering and possibly one of the more popular outdoor screening events.
For more information, please visit the official Jeonju Film Festival website here.