Hong Sang-soo Brings ‘The Day After’ and ‘Claire’s Camera’ to Cannes

Having a film selected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival is an incredible achievement – having two is quite extraordinary. Yet that is precisely what director Hong Sang-soo has done, as The Day After (그 후) and Claire’s Camera (클레어의 카메라) are due to be screened, with both films starring actress Kim Min-hee.

Selected for the ‘In Competition’ category, The Day After will premiere on May 22nd.

Synopsis: “It is Areum’s first day of work at a small publisher. Her boss Bongwan loved and recently broke up with the woman who previously worked there. Today too, the married Bongwan leaves home in the dark morning and sets off to work. That day Bongwan’s wife finds a love note, bursts into the office, and mistakes Areum for the woman who left.”

Claire’s Camera is located within the ‘Special Screenings’ section, and will premiere on May 21st. The film was shot last year while the Cannes Film Festival was operating, and stars celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert. This is the duo’s second film together following In Another Country (다른 나라에서) in 2012.

Synopsis: “On a business trip to the Cannes Film Festival, Manhee is accused of being dishonest, and fired. A teacher named Claire goes around taking photos with a Polaroid camera. She gets to know Manhee and sympathizes with her. Claire is like a person who can see Manhee’s possible future or past selves, through the mysterious power of the beach tunnel. Through taking photos, Claire has acquired the ability to look slowly at things, and to transform objects. Now, Claire goes with Manhee to the café where she was fired.”

Film News

‘The Villainess’ Receives Action-Packed Trailer Ahead of Cannes Debut

The Villainess (악녀) has received an explosive trailer in the run-up to its debut at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21st.

Appearing in the ‘Out of Competition – Midnight Projections’ program, writer/director Jung Byung-gil’s latest features Kim Ok-vin as ruthless assassin Sook-hee. When an assignment goes horribly wrong, Sook-hee finds herself at the mercy of Korea’s National Intelligence Service and is given a sadistic choice – work for the NIS for 10 years, or die.

Director Jung has experience with the genre having previously helmed action-orientated Confession of Murder and Action Boys, while Kim Ok-vin is a black belt in both hapkido and taekwondo. Their combined skill is clearly on display in the adrenaline-inducing trailer (below).

The Villainess screens nationwide in Korea from June 8.

Film News

The Countdown to Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Okja’ Begins

Director Bong Joon-ho‘s Okja (옥자) is almost upon us. The highly anticipated science-fiction/drama is set to premiere In Competition at the Cannes Int. Film Festival on May 19th, before appearing on Korean cinema screens around June 28th – and across the world, thanks to Netflix.

The film tells the story of Korean youngster Mija and her best friend, the enormous hippo-esque animal Okja, who have lived peacefully in the mountains for the last 10 years. Yet when the Mirando Corporation abducts Okja to New York for their own nefarious schemes, Mija embarks on a quest to save her friend and bring her home.

Director Bong is no stranger to films of this nature, having helmed monster movie The Host and exploring the dark side of capitalism in Snowpiercer, however Okja looks set to be an altogether new animal. In recent interviews, director Bong has stated that, “Netflix guaranteed my complete freedom in terms of putting together my team and the final cut privilege, which only godlike filmmakers such as Spielberg get” (Sonia GilVariety). Such a statement is a cause for celebration, as well as – perhaps unintentionally – eluding to the difficulties director Bong had with The Weinstein Company for the final cut of Snowpiercer.

Okja has also courted controversy due to the Cannes Film Festival rules regarding theatrical distribution. French exhibitors are angry that certain films, particularly those from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, are not bound by the strict theatrical release rules that exits in France, prompting the festival to alter requirements for selected works from 2018. However at a press conference in Seoul director Bong and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarados did not seem to mind the controversy, with director Bong stating, “I anticipate even more explosive talk about the film’s story itself,” he said, noting it could be seen as political satire, but also “my first love story – between a girl and an animal” and how we live with animals “as friends and family, and as food.” (Jean Noh; Screen Daily).

Film News

Top 10 Korean Films of 2016

Slightly later than originally intended (!), Hanguk Yeonghwa’s analysis of Korean cinema in 2016 is finally here.

2016 was quite a year for K-cinema, and a noticeable improvement over 2015 in terms of consistency and quality. This was largely due to the return of celebrated auteurs Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon and Na Hong-jin in the mainstream, while in the ever-reliable independent realm a selection of poignant and lovingly crafted films were released to much acclaim.

The release of such tentpole genre offerings meant that, ‘South Korean film industry exports increased by 82% to total $101m in 2016, according to an analysis report from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC)’ (Jean Noh; Screen Daily).

However while there were certainly events to celebrate, the K-film industry still suffered from the same criticisms that have been circulating for the past few years. Despite the increase in production values, the narratives are often formulaic and repetitive, resulting in, ‘Movie audiences have dwindled for the first time in seven years […] [o]nly one Korean film, the zombie extravaganza “Train to Busan,” managed to draw more than 10 million viewers’ (Lee Tae-hoon; The Chosun Ilbo).

From the Korean Film Council’s ‘Korean Film Report 2016’

The Korean film industry was also rocked by the news, ‘over allegations that [former] president Park Geun-hye’s office created a blacklist of artists to be denied government support’ (Jean Noh; Screen Daily), which ‘contained some of South Korea’s most beloved filmmakers, actors and writers, including the director of “Oldboy,” Park Chan-wook, and the “Snowpiercer” actor Song Kang-ho’ (Choe Sang-hun; The New York Times).

As such, 2016 has been a particularly tumultuous year for the Korean cinema industry, yet for film fans there was much to enjoy. Here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten Korean Films of 2016 – click on the link to begin.

Top 10 Films of 2016 – IntroNo. 10~6No. 5~2No. 1

___________________________________________________________________

Top 10 Korean Films of 2015

Top 10 Korean Films of 2014 – Most Memorable Moments of 2014

Top 10 Korean Films of 2013 – Most Memorable Moments of 2013

Film News

Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival 2016 – Hot Picks

BiFan 2016The Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) is preparing for a spectacular 20th anniversary edition. Running for 10 days from July 21st ~31st, and under new management in the form of newly appointment festival director Choi Yongbae (producer of The Host, 26 Years, and more), BiFan’s lineup looks stronger than ever. With a host of new programs alongside the mainstay Bucheon Choice competition category, including tributes to the late David Bowie and Japanese film maestro Nakashoma Tetsuya, as well as 20 Years, 20 Favorites (popular genre films) and Best of Asia (3 recently acclaimed films from East Asian countries), BiFan 2016 looks set to be an incredible filmic extravaganza.

Amongst the score of great international titles to be screened are some quality Korean films that are sure to delight cineastes and casual cinema-goers alike. Here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s top 5 Korean picks for BiFan 2016.

Seoul Station (서울역)

Seoul Station

Seoul Station

Closing BiFan will be director Yeon Sang-ho’s animated horror Seoul Station. The prequel to the acclaimed Train To Busan (which premiered at Cannes and is also released on July 20th in Korea), Seoul Station depicts a zombie outbreak that occurs in the Korean capital and the horrific fallout as the locals try to survive. Director Yeon previously helmed The Fake and King of Pigs, both of which contained dark social critiques of contemporary Korean culture laced throughout their respective narratives, and Seoul Station looks set to do the same with the themes of zombification and fear.

 The Wailing (곡성)

The Wailing

The Wailing

Director Na Hong-jin’s return to cinema screens has been heralded by many as the best Korean film in years and a return to form for the thriller genre. Such mighty praise is supported by the rapturous reception the film received at its premiere in Cannes as well as grossing over $48 million at the Korean box office. The film centres around the bizarre goings-on in a remote village in Gokseong, where a series of macabre events stun the local populace. This will be the first time The Wailing will play with English subtitles in Korea, and is an absolute must-see.

Inside Men (내부자들)

Inside Men

Inside Men

Gangster noir Inside Men was a surprise sleeper hit last year at the Korean box office, so much so that a 3 hour director’s cut was released around the same time to much acclaim. The film is also a welcome return to form for superstar Lee Byung-hun, who plays a criminal enforcing the will of media moguls and politicians – until he is ruthlessly betrayed and returns seeking revenge.

Karaoke Crazies (중독노래방)

Karaoke Crazies

Karaoke Crazies

Director Kim Sang-chan’s zany genre miss-mash about a karaoke bar striving for success has already been quite prolific on the international festival circuit, having premiered at SXSW before screening at Toronto, Edinburgh, and many more. Wacky, eccentric and colourful, Karaoke Crazies is one of those rare offerings that is guaranteed to have audiences talking.

Who Killed Kim Kwang-seok? (일어나, 김광석)

Who Killed Kim Kwang-seok?

Who Killed Kim Kwang-seok?

Legendary folk singer and activist Kim Kwang-seok tragically committed suicide in 1996…or did he? Director Lee Sang-ho (The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol) explores the controversies and conspiracies surrounding the great musician in his latest documentary.

Best of the Rest

Veteran (베테랑)

Veteran (베테랑)

Assassination (암살)

Assassination (암살)

Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말)

Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말)

Save the Green Planet (지구를 지켜라!)

Save the Green Planet (지구를 지켜라!)

The Chaser (추격자)

The Chaser (추격자)

Insane (날,보러와요)

Insane (날,보러와요)

Thanks to new program Best of Asia, audiences will have a chance to see recent Korean hits Veteran and Assassination, both of which featured in our Top Ten of 2015. Meanwhile 20 Years, 20 Favourites presents 3 classic Korean films in the form of Bedevilled, Save the Green Planet, and The Chaser, all of which are highly recommended. Rounding out the selection here is thriller Insane which performed well upon release earlier this year.

For more information, including screening schedules and the full line-up of titles to be screened, please head over to the official BiFan website here.

Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2016

4th Place (4등) – ★★☆☆☆

4th Place (4등)

4th Place (4등)

Youngster Joon-ho (Yoo Jae-sang (유재상) loves to be in the water and has a real talent for swimming, yet for some reason he always places fourth in competitions. Furious at her son’s lack of improvement despite her constant scolding, Joon-ho’s mother (Lee Hang-na (이항나) seeks out a renowned swimming coach with terrible reputation – former olympic hopeful Gwang-soo (Park Hae-joon (박해준). As Joon-ho’s training commences, coach Gwang-soo’s methods become increasingly violent, revealing the extremes taken and endured in such a competitive culture.

Joon-ho adores swimming and is mesmirised by the nature of light and water

Joon-ho adores swimming and is mesmirised by the nature of light and water

Produced in conjunction with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 4th Place is a potent exploration of the extremely competitive education culture that exists within Asia. Studies routinely reveal that Korean children are amongst the unhappiest in the world with shocking levels of suicide, due the incredible stress heaped upon them by strict parents and teachers, and as such director Jeong Ji-woo deserves respect merely for broaching the issue on film.

Director Jeong examines the issue through Joon-ho, a youngster who deeply enjoys swimming yet is incessantly berated and belittled by his shrill mother for not taking the sport more competitively. The manner in which she psychologically torments her son is equal parts horrifying and infuriating to behold, as she manipulates Joon-ho into equating his lack of success as a lack of love for her, initiating deep internalised guilt. Through her machinations at church – which director Jeong subtly insinuates as a place of corruption – she finds a coach for Joon-ho, one who verbally and physically abuses the youngster. Parallels are clear with the exceptional drama Whiplash, and while 4th Place never reaches those heights it deserves commendation for tackling such a vital societal issue.

Joon-ho's training often includes bouts of violence and verbal abuse by the coach

Joon-ho’s training often includes bouts of violence and verbal abuse by the coach

Visually, 4th Place is beautifully shot during the swimming scenes. The lighting and lenses used serve to create a world of majesty and elegance under the water, a place where Joon-ho can escape and find enjoyment in solitude. Such sequences wonderfully convey the youngster’s love of swimming and the freedom it brings, as he gracefully glides through the water as if it’s his natural state of being. Yet such cinematic stylisation rarely extends beyond the arena of the pool however, with director Jeong’s more sophisticated dramatic techniques as employed in prior films Eungyo (A Muse) and Happy End sadly missing during scenes of family conflict.

The dramatic tension is also undermined by the lack of a central figure. Whiplash is a phenomenal film largely due to Miles Teller’s central performance from a mild-mannered to psychologically unhinged student, yet in 4th Place acting duties are generally shared equally among the cast resulting in a lack of singular perspective and characters that are largely one-dimensional. Perhaps worryingly, the most developed member of the film is the violent coach due to (an overly long) prelude that simultaneously infers the circular nature of corporal punishment and generates sympathy for him – arguably more so than young victim Joon-ho. In more adept hands the emotional complexity of the mother and coach could shine through despite the script’s shortcomings, though Lee Hang-na and Park Hae-joon are unfortunately not up to the task as they over-exaggerate their respective performances.

Nevertheless the story is a timely and important one, with the film’s finale one of the most creative and enjoyable sequences witnessed in Korean independent cinema in quite some time.

Follwing physical abuse and family strife, Joon-ho must decide his future

Follwing physical abuse and family strife, Joon-ho must decide his future

Verdict:

Co-produced with the Korean Human Rights Commission, 4th Place is a powerful reminder of the brutal nature of Korea’s competitive educational system, and the inordinate abuse applied by authority figures toward students. Director Jeong Ji-woo explores the issue well and is particularly impressive during swimming sequences, resulting in a timely film that deserves commendation for tackling important and challenging subject matter.

★★☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews

Jeonju Film Festival 2016 – Hot Picks

JIFF 2016

JIFF 2016

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

Spy Nation

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)

Seven Years

Seven Years

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)

Worst Woman

Worst Woman

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)

Stray Goats

A Stray Goat

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)

Woo-joo's Christmas

Woo-joo’s Christmas

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)

Old Boy

Old Boy

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)

Great Patrioteers

Great Patrioteers

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

Curtain Call

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)

Kai

Kai

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.

17th Jeonju International Film Festival (제17회 전주국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2016