21st Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival to Honour Jeon Do-yeon

Poster for 'Contact, JEON Do-yeon' presented by the 21st BIFANAcclaimed actress Jeon Do-yeon is to be honoured at the 21st Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) this year, in celebration of her 20 year career that began with Contact back in 1997.

Entitled ‘Contact, Jeon Do-yeon,’ the special program is dedicated to the revered actress and will feature highlights from her incredible filmography, including Secret Sunshine – for which she won ‘Best Actress’ at Cannes Film Festival – tense drama The Housemaid, gangster/action film No Blood, No Tears, time-travel drama My Mother, The Mermaid, period-actioner Memories of the Sword, thrillers Countdown and The Shameless, and more to be announced.

In addition, BiFan will also hold a press conference, a special Q&A between Jeon Do-yeon and the audience, an exhibition of the posters in which she starred alongside stills of the famed actress, and an exclusive collectors book for fans.

Jeon Do-yeon is undoubtedly one of the most talented – and internationally celebrated – artists in Korean cinematic history, and as such the program is a great boon for audiences and the festival alike, allowing fans old and new to revisit her extraordinary filmography.

BiFan will run from July 13th ~ 23rd.

Official Poster of the 21st Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival

Festival News Uncategorized

Q&A with director Kim Jong-Kwan – “There is something appealing in writing from the female point of view”


Director Kim Jong-kwan

Director Kim Jong-Kwan is well-known to fans of independent Korean cinema. A graduate of the Seoul Institute of the Arts, his short film How to Operate a Polaroid Camera is considered a classic Korean short film. Last year he had not one but two features premiere at the two biggest film festivals in Korea, respectively – Worst Woman at the Jeonju International Film Festival in the competition section, while The Table was part of the Busan International Film Festival’s panorama of contemporary Korean cinema. One of the rising stars of Korean film – actress Han Ye-ri (Haemoo, Kundo: Age of the Rampant) – is in both, while beside her in The Table appears another popular actress – Jung Yu-Mi (Train to Busan, The Himalayas).

Since both movies were among my favorites in 2016, I was more than happy when director Kim found some time in his busy schedule to answer my questions. And since most of his movies are told through the eyes of women, it was only logical for my first question to be about his choice of main characters.

 Why the main characters in your movies are usually women?

I find it easier to write about a main female character. Maybe there is some feminine side in me – or so I have been told by people. My writing also reflects my literary taste: I seem to have read mainly novels either with women as protagonists or written by female authors. So I think that’s one of the reasons why creating female protagonists has become easier to me. Apart from that I think that the way I see the world and how I write about the relationships between people or the things that upset me in our society can be relayed better through the eyes of a woman.

The Table 2

After working together on a short film and the feature Worst Woman, actress Han Ye-Ri appears also in the director’s last film The Table.

So would you say that you know the heart of a woman?

I am not sure about that… Definitely there are things I don’t know about women. After all I am a man. But I think there is something appealing in writing from the female point of view. Women have both weak and strong sides in themselves. And I find that it is interesting to write about the situations when those two sides collide. Besides, in our society women are in a weaker position than men. So I seem to be more interested in writing about their struggles.

Ever since your first movie you have been making films about the relationships between men and women. What is the reason for that?

I like melodrama as a genre. Besides, I remember when I first had to shoot short films back in film school, I had to come up with stories that could be done on a really low budget. So writing scripts with 2 or 3 characters and concentrating on what is going on inside the relationship between a man and a woman was more comfortable.

Do you want to continue making melodramas?

Not necessarily. I would like to continue talking about the irony in relationships between people and about love. But I also want to explore in general what makes people sad, afraid, lonely… and that can be done through different genres. I’m interested, for example, in making a criminal drama.


In Worst Woman, relationship strife is the source of both comedy and drama.

When you go to the cinema to watch a movie, what kind of film do you usually watch?

Depends on my mood. Sometimes when I want to get rid of stress, I would watch something that is easy to take in, that doesn’t make me think too much. But when I am about to start a new project, I look for movies that can inspire and motivate me.

There are film people who completely reject the idea of watching blockbuster movies. They don’t regard them as “art” or as “cinema.”

Movies are both art and industry. Blockbuster movies are the ones that most people enjoy and have stronger commercial value. So it is only natural to make them. It’s impossible not to have them. But! If there were to be only such movies, it would be kind of “too lonely.” There must be movies that explore other themes. But also, it is not possible only to have independent art films. It is hard to make them profitable.

Is there communication or cooperation between Korean independent and commercial filmmakers?

There are people who start by making independent movies and then go into big, commercial projects as well as the other way around.

We have big budget movies with high artistic values such as The Handmaiden by director Park Chan-Wook, and we have low budget independent movies like Dongju: Portrait of a Poet by director Lee Joon-Ik (who also made blockbuster The Throne) that became a commercial success.

Of course there are people who identify themselves as only independent film directors. But most filmmakers, including me, don’t carry with themselves the identity of “an indie film director.” When starting a new project, we write about a subject that is important to us. That “thing” can turn into both a blockbuster or an art-house film.

The Table 1

Actress Jung Yoo-Mi in a scene from the movie The Table.

You have worked on several occasions with the same actresses – Han Ye-Ri and Jung Yoo-Mi. Why is that?

I also like working with new actors and crew. On one hand if I work with the same people, I could go deeper in terms of film, but on the other hand my colors could blend into only one. Working with different people allows me to broaden up my spectrum, but working with the same ones allows us to get used to each other and there is some feeling of security in that.

But even if I cast actors I have worked with before I say to them not to act in the same way as before. For my part, I also try to cast them in films in which they can show a different side of themselves.

For example the first time I worked with Jung Yoo-Mi was in the 2004 short film How to Operate a Polaroid Camera. The next time we worked together was in the 2010 film Come. Closer. The character I entrusted her the 2nd time was so different from her 20 something personality – much more melancholic. Then in my last film The Table I showed her as quite a strong woman who faces her first love. I really like trying out things like that.

The first time I worked with Han Ye-Ri was also for a short film. Then we made Worst Woman together where she plays a woman who carries a kind of self-irony in herself but is also quite cool. In The Table the feeling is a bit different. There is irony in her part there too, but her character is more of a person who doesn’t feel guilt when lying.

When you are working with your actors, is it easier to give directions and communicate with female or male actors?

When working together, both sides – actors and directors – have to kind of match their style. But it’s not a matter of gender whether and how this will work out. It just depends on the person’s specificities, character. For me the most important thing is to have real conversations, to exchange views and ideas with my actors.

최악의 여자 스틸#1

Worst Woman ironically tells the story of a woman that is not ‘the worst’.

Finally, ever since I watched Worst Woman, I wanted to ask you why you chose that title since the Korean one is Worst Day?

When we presented Worst Woman at the Jeonju International Film Festival last year, I thought such a title, both in English and Korean, had some charm in itself. To the male characters in the film she might seem as the worst woman, but ironically I wanted to tell the story of a woman that is not ‘the worst.’ So while watching the movie, people would have the title in their mind and would constantly ask themselves “Why is she ‘the worst woman’?” But our marketing team thought that the audience might feel uncomfortable with that title since it carries some prejudice in itself. So in Korean we changed it to Worst Day. As for the English one, on one hand there were films with such title and also most of the people working on the film thought it just sounds better, so we left it like that.


Our sincere thanks to director Kim Jong-kwan for taking the time to answer our questions.

Huge thanks also to our good friend Song Tae-Eun for helping with the transcription of the interview in Korean.

Festival News Interviews/Q&As

Interview with Kevin Lambert, director of Korea International Expat Film Festival (KIXFF)

All logos-10

We are just one week away from the start of the 2nd Korea International Expat Film Festival (KIXFF).  Festival director Kevin Lambert took some time from his busy schedule to answer questions about the festival which is going to run from next Friday, September 9th till Sunday, September 11th in Seoul. All movies will feature Korean and English subtitles.

KIXFF director Kevin Lambert

KIXFF director Kevin Lambert

Kevin, what films can the audience expect from the 2nd KIXFF?

We have 39 films, representing more than 15 different languages and more than 15 countries: USA, Great Britain, Spain, Ecuador, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Korea… However I think this year thematically the festival is a bit more exact. We were able to focus more on expat issues and really high quality low-budget films.

Last year the “I” in the KIXFF was for “indie”. This year you changed it to “international”. But still the “X” in the name remains for “expat”. Can you tell us more about your understanding about the term “expat”?

“Expat” is a noun that lots of Koreans are not familiar with. It is short for “expatriate” which means pretty much anyone who is living outside of their home country. For most foreigners this term can be a bit jaded so some of them might not necessarily relate to it. I think it is because in the West there is this concept that expat only applies only to people from 1st World countries, in better situations and it doesn’t include migrant workers, victims of war or refugees, it doesn’t include people who move for work out of necessity or who move because of marriage. But I want to emphasize we want all of these issues to be relevant and present in our expat section – whether it’s issues of Islamic identity, of traveling to study languages, whether it’s about first generation children of migrant families.

Tell us more about the expats in Korea. I know that there is a quite big community of expat filmmakers here.

Yes, there are a lot of foreigners here in Korea making film. A lot of them have been here as long as 10 years sort of slowly nurturing their careers. I remember back in 2010, when I started doing films again, I discovered a small community. Our small community grew and started making amateur films. Those amateur films would continue one after the other till eventually we were producing very high quality work. And now many of those amateurs have gone on to work professionally here and abroad.

All logos-08So basically the expat filmmakers’ community in Korea is a true incubator of talent?


Would you say that those people are still kind of isolated from the local film industry?

I think foreigners are making inroads into the Korean film community, but it happens a bit slowly. The biggest hurdle is obviously language. So filmmakers that can bridge that language gap and have talent could make great inroads. Because there is a lot of opportunity out there!

So do you think that coming to the festival would be a good opportunity for networking for those Korea-based expat filmmakers? In terms of being introduced to the local film community?

Yes, absolutely. While coming to KIXFF is not going to send you straight to the Korean industry, the connections you make locally, will allow you to grow as a filmmaker and will put you in the right position when you are ready to make inroads into the Korean film community.

Who do you expect to come this year to the festival considering your experience from 2015?

In some ways there’s going to be the regular cast of characters – mainly foreigners, but I am also expecting to see a lot of new faces: This year, as all the films will be subtitled, I believe there’s going to be a larger outreach to Korean moviegoers. I feel that we did also a really good job of including as many local filmmakers as we could and there are more filmmakers traveling in from abroad for this festival. Of course we are trying also to have representatives of the Korean film industry but still their number is small. But we are a young festival and there is plenty of room to.

Emu Art Space

Emu Art Space

Tell us more about the venues and dates.

I am really happy about the venues this year. On the 9th of September we are using EMU Art Cinema – a lovely small intimate cinema near Gwanghwamun, for our opening ceremony. Also the after-party will be downstairs in the same building. And then on the 10th and 11th we have two whole days of both indoor and outdoor screenings at the Deutsche Schule in Hannam-dong. It puts everybody in the same place – there’ll be food trucks and beer, and wine, and lots of fun so it should be a blast.

Screening schedule and online ticket booking on: www.kixff.com

Prices: Opening Night (Ceremony, Local expat shorts screening and after party) 15,000 won at the door / 12,000 online

Regular screenings – 10,000 won at the door / 8,000 won online

All access pass – 100 000 won (for all events).

Additionally Saturday and Sunday there will be free screenings – for more information refer to the official website of the festival.

Screening venues:

EMU Art Cinema (Opening Night on September 9th) – 종로구 경희궁1가 길 7, 110-062 서울특별시 – www.emuartspace.com

Deutsche Schule (All events on September 10th and 11th) – 서울특별시 용산구 독서당로 123-6

Festival News Interviews/Q&As Korean Film Festivals 2016

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

Q&A: director Jero Yun on documentary Mrs. B. A North Korean Woman

Director Jero Yun

Director Jero Yun

The 2016 Jeonju International Film Festival had a much more inclusive attitude towards indie documentary films for its 17th edition, with the festival committee going as far as creating a special Documentary Award – alongside a 10 million won prize – for the best doc screened within the Korean Competition and Korean Cinemascape categories, respectively.

One of the films that competed for the award, and also part of the Korean Competition section, was Mrs. B. A North Korean Woman by the Busan-born yet France-graduated director Jero Yun. It took him 4 years to complete this co-production between France and South Korea, which introduces audiences to a unique woman: Mrs. B., who ran away from North Korea to China with the help of illegal traffickers. While living with her new Chinese farmer husband Mrs. B. also became a drug and human trafficker in order to earn money for her North Korean family. The film begins when she decides to travel from a small Chinese village to Seoul, presenting her fight not only for survival but also for love and happiness.

The film was screened also during this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the ACID sidebar.

Escaping from North Korea to China, Mrs. B attempts to start a new life

Escaping from North Korea to China, Mrs. B attempts to start a new life

Who is Mrs. B.?

Mrs. B. is a woman I met 3 years ago in China. Back then I was doing a research for another project of mine connected with North Korean refugees. I have been working on this topic and meeting various people for more than 5 years now. Mrs. B. who back then was smuggling North Koreans into China introduced me to a lot of them so that I can make interviews. But as time went by I started thinking of making a film about her and she slowly became the protagonist of the current movie.

When one reads the synopsis of the film one may wonder how it is possible for Mrs. B. to have 2 families at the same time – one in North Korea and one in China…

It is possible. Usually the North Korean female refugees get sold to Chinese families after they escape North Korea. For around a year they must stay with the family in order to pay back the money paid by this family to the smugglers. After paying back those women look for a way to go to South Korea. But Mrs. B.’s case was different: she stayed with her new Chinese family for 9 years while her 2 sons and husband were still in North Korea.

How did she become a smuggler?

At the beginning she wasn’t a smuggler. She was just another refugee who wanted to stay just 1 year, earn money and then go back to North Korea to take care of her family. But as time passed by she decided to stay with her Chinese family because her Chinese husband was a very kind, a very gentle man. But since she also wanted to save her North Korean family, she became a smuggler to earn more money. Several years later she managed to organize everything for them to escape to South Korea.

After marrying a Chinese farmer, Mrs. B resorts to trafficking to earn money

After marrying a Chinese farmer, Mrs. B resorts to trafficking to earn money

The movie starts with her getting ready to join them in South Korea, right?

When I met her, she was about to leave for South Korea, yes. But although she wanted to go to Seoul, she didn’t want to live with her North Korean family but with her Chinese husband. Her dream back then, 3 years ago, was to get an apartment with her Chinese husband and live close to her sons and their father but not with them. Because she felt… well, not love, but something close to real friendship and partnership for the Chinese man.

In the film there is footage of you following Mrs. B. and other North Korean refugees on the long way from China to Laos as a roundabout way to South Korea. How did you get this amazing footage?

When Mrs. B. told me that she was leaving China to get to South Korea, I realized that once she leaves, she won’t be back. And I asked her whether I can go with her. She agreed.

But that might have been dangerous…

She told me: “Don’t worry. I will be with you and I will protect you.” At that moment I didn’t have a professional camera – I only had my phone and a small camera. So the whole footage you saw during the long bus ride through China down to Laos was taken with them. Everything was improvising. Because I really didn’t know it can become a movie, I wasn’t prepared for what happened.

Mrs. B. has led a tumultuous life

Mrs. B’s tumultuous situation takes her through several countries in her quest for peace

Were you scared at some point?

Of course. There were times when we couldn’t eat or had to walk on foot for hours. Or we had to change different cars and buses. We were going from one smuggler’s area to another one’s. So we never knew how good they will take care of us.

Did the other North Korean refugees in the group know who you are?

Mrs. B. introduced me to them as a South Korean filmmaker. I didn’t want to lie to them so they knew I had a camera and what I was doing. At first they didn’t trust me and I also wasn’t taking any pictures nor videos. But since I was with Mrs. B. and we spent so much time together on this long trip, I gained their trust.

And where is Mrs. B. now?

She is still here, in South Korea. But now she doesn’t want to be neither with her North Korean husband, nor Chinese husband…

17th Jeonju International Film Festival (제17회 전주국제영화제) Directors Festival News Interviews/Q&As Korean Film Festivals 2016

 Q&A: Korean-American director Andrew Ahn on feature debut SPA Night

Director Andrew Ahn

Director Andrew Ahn

During the 2016 17th Jeonju International Film Festival, the young Korean-American director Andrew Ahn came to his parents home country for the 1st time in order to present his feature debut SPA NIGHT. The movie, included in the World Cinemascape section of the fest, was shot in LA but its dialogue is almost 70% in Korean.

It is the story of a young Korean-American boy named David who tries to cope with his parents’ expectations towards his future as well as his own struggles regarding his homosexuality. After his parents are forced to close the restaurant they have been running for years, and lead by his desire to help them financially, David gets a part-time job at a jjimjilbang (spa) in Korea town in LA. He soon discovers that the place is not only used as a traditional sauna but also as a place for gay men from different nationalities to meet each other and make love. After witnessing the love play David realizes his own homosexuality, but with his parent fixated on his future success he is at a dead-end.

Andrew, how much of the story in SPA Night relates to your personal story?

A lot. It is almost as having a different version of my life because a lot of the same fears and anxieties that David goes through in the film are the fears and anxieties I had while growing up. So despite the differences – like I am not an only child compared to David, I went to college, I think emotionally it is a very personal movie.

I cannot help myself asking you about the idea for the SPA as a place to hook-up…

So the SPA… (laughs) I was out to have drinks with some gay friends and one of them told me he had a hot hook-up with a guy in a steam room in a Korean SPA in LA. When I heard that such a family-oriented space is being used for hooking up in the gay community I freaked out but… it was also kind of sexy. That was why I really wanted to make a film about it: it felt like a really perfect meeting point of my gay and my Korean identity.

Traditionally a family space, David soon discovers a sub-culture within the spa

Traditionally a family space, David soon discovers a sub-culture within the spa

How did it feel to show SPA Night to a Korean audience for the 1st time during the Jeonju Film Festival?

It was really special in a lot of ways. The film is so much about the sacrifices that Korean emigrants make in order to have a family in a country different from Korea. And so to be in Korea, and to see the country that my parents sacrificed to have me in America is really emotional. But you know, while I have been here I kind of have seen also the other side of the story: it wasn’t just my parents who sacrificed something, it was also their family here, in Korea, who sacrificed losing their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters to the US. And so for me showing the film here was a little bit like me telling that family or the Korean audiences in general that we are working really hard to make their sacrifice worth it too.

SPA Night went to the Screenwriters Lab of Sundance film festival and was screened there. Was the audience’s reaction in Korea different from the one in the US?

In general there were more questions in Jeonju as opposed to festivals in the States, there were also more questions about the immigrant experience. In the US the questions were much more about the individual and the growing and trying to reconcile one’s different identities.

Also when I was in Sundance all the gay press that I talked to was so interested in the cruising and the hooking up, the sexuality elements of the film. But also here in Korea the queer Korean people who have come to watch the movie were really interested in the sexuality elements as well. So I think in general it is very true that the Korean audiences are really hooked to the family story but still I think it depends person by person.

And at Sundance SPA Night was part of the US dramatic competition, right?

Yes. It was awesome: a US festival recognized as American a movie that doesn’t have white actors and with dialogue mostly not in English. And the audiences were really receptive – people came up to me telling me about how they connected to the characters even if they weren’t queer or they weren’t Korean-American.

It’s maybe because most people have had an experience where they faced their parents and told them “I don’t want to be a doctor as you want me to be”…

Yes (laughs). I think it is a very universal story – the story about finding yourself. Obviously it develops within a very specific context but that’s the cool thing about film: we are all human beings and we can sympathize with each other.

How did you find your own way?

Actually when I went to college I studied biology because… I was gonna be a doctor (laugh). I was going to be a good Korean boy and become a doctor. But in college I realized that even though I was doing well in my biology classes, it wasn’t something I was passionate about. And I didn’t want to be a dispassionate doctor. So I started taking film classes. I didn’t major in film because it was too much work but it was enough to get me a taste. After I graduated college I went to CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) for grad school. It was there that I slowly started to bind my personal development in terms of coming out as a gay man with my creative development as a filmmaker. It was fulfilling to me, I enjoyed doing that work. And so that level of satisfaction carried me all the way through today and will continue to.

The spa forces David to confront his identity

The spa forces David to confront his identity

How did your parents react when you came out?

I came out to my parents in 2011 and this is kind of the dirty little secret about my second short film (the one I did before SPA Night): I casted my own family in the film without telling them what the movie was about. And it was about a gay Korean-American man. I showed them the film to come out to them.

Seen that my filmmaking is tied to my sexuality, I think they are really happy that I found a lot of success with what I am doing so far. Personally they are very accepting of who I am but when it comes to especially Korean-American or Korean audiences, they get a little scared. But still I think they have the confidence in me that I am able to deal with any kind of resistance or criticism.

So it is a happy ending for you?

In a lot of ways – yes. In terms of my personal life and emotionally I am in a very good place. And I think it is because I am healthy with it that I am able to make these movies where I kind of look back at the darker, harder, more complicated moments. I really do hope that audiences see the movie and tell to themselves that yes, this characters are going through hard times but there’s always going be a sense of hopefulness and of looking forward to the future.

I still find it hard to believe that this is your first time in Korea after 22 years…

Yes. Now I am 30 years old and I came here for the last time when I was 8. It is totally different: the food that I remember, the landscape I remember… It is almost as if I had never been here before. And you know, I think my Korean when I was 8 years old was better than my Korean now.

So back home – in the States, you don’t speak Korean that much?

I don’t. I speak Korean with my family, with my parents but it is pretty limited like: 언제 먹어? (When are we eating) 빨리 가자 (Let’s go). A lot of my friends who are 2nd generation Korean Americans speak English to each other. They might drop a few words here and there but they are like 건배 (Cheers!). But it depends: some Korean Americans speak a lot more – we have a lot of 1.5 generation where people grew up in Korea as kids and then moved to LA when they were in their teens. And that’s what I find really fascinating about SPA Night: you see the different generations of emigrants.

How did you manage to have a completely Korean cast?

The casting was really tricky. One obstacle was just finding Korean-American actors: there are a lot of Korean people in LA and you think there would be more actors but there are not since there is not enough roles or the roles are really demeaning and kind of racist. People were giving me advice to cast a Japanese or a Chinese actor who could speak Korean with an accent. But for me that was the worst idea I had ever heard – I really wanted the movie to feel authentic and part of that authenticity is the language.

The other issue was the subject matter that we were dealing with – queer issues. I think it made some people uncomfortable. I really liked one young actor who auditioned for the role of David but he told me his mom really didn’t approve of the content of the film. She had said to him that if he’d took the part he would have to go to Korea and go into hiding.

But in the end we found the best actors for the respective part. Like Mrs Baek, the pushy church woman and the SPA manager, they are non actors – they are just friends of my parents who acted a long time ago but afterwards they’ve had families and run businesses. We were able to kind of rope them in and they were very happy to go back to acting for a little bit.

What about the actors who play David’s mother and father – they actually live in Korea, right?

Yes. Haerry Kim who plays the mother acted in a Korean American film called West 32nd. She did it when she was living in New York. I went through the cast list for that movie, saw her headshot and I thought she might be around the right age for the part. And so we tried to find her. And then Cho Youn-Ho who plays the father had acted in a short film that my producer and cinematographer had directed a few years ago. I thought he was really amazing. Fortunately he wasn’t doing a play at that time, so we were really excited to bring him over.

Would you like to make a film in Korea?

I would love to. But I think that if I make a film in Korea it would still be kind of from an outsider’s perspective. Because I am a foreigner in ways and then I am not in other ways. So it would be interesting to explore that kind of a grey area… I just need to figure out what’s the story, when can I make it and how do I find money…

For the podcast edition of this interview, head to KoreaFM here.

17th Jeonju International Film Festival (제17회 전주국제영화제) Interviews/Q&As

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)



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

17th Jeonju Film Festival Unveils K-Competition Line-up

JIFF Official 2016 Poster

JIFF Official 2016 Poster

The 17th Jeonju International Film Festival is due to take place from April 28th ~ May 7th.

Now in its 17th edition, the city has become synonymous not only for the best bibimbap in Korea and delightful hanok village, but as the launchpad of Korean independent cinema.

Several K-films that debuted last year at JIFF have gone on to great success on both the festival and commercials circuits, notably Korean Film Competition Grand Prize winner Alice in Earnestland.

2016 is sure to feature further break-out productions from the industry, and while information is still currently thin on the ground JIFF recently unveiled the K-film titles in both the Korean Film Competition and Korean Short Film Competition.

Please see below for the films to be screened alongside select stills. For further information, please follow the link at the end of the article.

Korean Film Competition

1. No Preparation for Old Age (노후 대책 없다) – Director Lee Dong-woo (이동우) | 101min

Delta Boys

Delta Boys

2. Delta Boys (델타 보이즈) – Director Go Bong-su (고봉수) | 126min

3. B Mrs.B. A North Korean Woman (마담) – Director Yoon Jae-jo (윤재호) | 72min

4. Breathing Underwater (물숨) – Director Go Hee-yeong (고희영) | 91min

Our Love Story

Our Love Story

5. Our Love Story (연애담) – Director Lee Hyeon-ju (이현주) | 99min

6. With or Without You (우리 연애의 이력) – Director Jo Seong-eun (조성은) | 99min

7. A Field Day (운동회) – Director Kim Jin-tae (김진태) | 75min

Worst Woman

Worst Woman

8. Worst Woman (최악의 여자) – Director Kim Jong-gwan (김종관) | 94min

9. Curtain Call (커튼콜) – Director Ryu Hoon (류훈) | 100min

10. Press (프레스) – Director Choi Jeong-min (최정민) | 95min

Korean Short Film Competition

1) Knocking on the Door of Your Heart (가슴의 문을 두드려도) – Director Choi Yoon-tae (최윤태) | 28min

2) May Okay (날 좋은 날) – Director Jeong Tae-wan (정태완) | 10min

3) Joke (농담) – Director Jeong Ji-yeong (정지영) | 12min



4) Zoo (동물원) – Director Kim Sae-hyeon (김세현) | 21min

5) The Game of All (모두의 게임) – Director Jo Ye-seul (조예슬) | 10min

6) Body and Soul (몸과 마음) – Director Jang Eun-ju (장은주) | 11min

7) Soar (비상) – Director Hong Sang-yu (홍상유) | 10min

8) Alone in the Rain (빗속을 혼자서) – Director Kim Ga-ryeong (김가령) | 18min

9) Deer Flower (사슴꽃) – Director Kim Gang-min (김강민) | 8min

10) Silent Boy (사일런트 보이) – Director Bak Geun-yeong (박근영) | 29min

11) Cyclical Night (순환하는 밤) – Director Baek Jong-gwan (백종관) | 15min

12) See You Tomorrow (씨유투머로우) – Byeon Seung-min (변승민) | 22min

Before I Grow Up

Before I Grow Up

13) Before I Grow Up (어른이 되기 전에) – Director Lee Joon-seub (이준섭) | 25min

14) Summer Night (여름밤) – Director Lee Ji-won (이지원) | 25min

15) The Astronauts (우주비행사들) – Director Son Gyeong-soo (손경수) | 14min

16) A Landscape between Past and Future (적막의 경관) – Director Oh Min-wook (오민욱) | 20min

17) Breathless (질식) – Director Bak Joon-seok (박준석) | 14min

18) A Tent (천막) – Director Lee Ran-hee (이란희) | 30min



19) Fly (플라이) – Director Im Yeon-jeong (임연정) | 28min

20) Hamster (햄스터) – Director Kim Sae-in (김세인) | 29min

21) The Woman Who was Planted in a Pot (화분에 심어진 여자) – Director Lee Jeong-woo (이정우) | 18min

For more information, please follow the link here.

Festival News

Communication & Lies (소통과 거짓말) – ★☆☆☆☆

Communications & Lies (소통과 거짓말)

Communication & Lies (소통과 거짓말)

At a private academy in the city, cleaning lady Sun (Jang Sun (장선) is reprimanded by her boss for inappropriate sexual conduct with other employees. Bizarrely however, she finds the situation humorous and continues with her work, conveying a psychological instability that worries her colleagues. Also at the academy is teacher Mr. Kim (Kim Kwon-hoo (김권후), whose eccentric behaviour also baffles those around him. Unable to communicate their distresses with the world, Sun and Mr. Kim decide to take a trip together, but can they truly express themselves or simply live with lies?

After beginning in gripping fashion, director Lee Seung-won’s debut Communication & Lies enters a downward spiral through an incredibly confused narrative structure and misogyny masquerading as psychological insight. While the film does well in portraying how those suffering from psychological instability go largely ignored in contemporary Korean society, the story fails to build empathy with the protagonists by focusing primarily on their hysteria.

Communication and Lies begins with a captivating eight minute long take, as Sun is scolded by her manager for her recent conduct. It’s a brilliantly written scene, with information gently teased out through the conversation that slowly reveals the reason for Sun’s admonishment, while her truthfulness and odd reactions highlight her instability through dark humour. The manner in which the discourse unfolds is gripping, particularly for those familiar with Korean culture who expect the conversation to play out in a certain fashion, with the scene wonderfully subverting cultural norms.

Sun has difficulty with communication and lies due to psychological instability

Sun has difficulty with communication and lies due to psychological instability

Yet from such a fascinating opening the film dramatically loses momentum through a frustratingly haphazard narrative structure. The film shifts focus to introduce the less-interesting Mr. Kim and his eccentricities, while building his relationship with Sun towards their trip. Mr. Kim simply isn’t as compelling as his female counterpart, a fact which director Lee appears to be aware of hence the somewhat belated inclusion of flashbacks that dart back and forth through their timelines in a bid to generate mystery by slowly revealing the traumas that inspired their neuroses. It’s a noble but often confusing endeavour, as the story jumps to various points of the character’s lives in the past three years and attempts to address the origins of their mental illnesses, yet there isn’t significant enough depth to generate the required empathy. This is acutely the case with Mr. Lee whose tangent is rather bland, and the film would have benefited greatly from having Sun as the sole lead.

Furthermore, the exploration of Sun’s psychological instability is acutely misogynistic. As a result of personal trauma, Sun dehumanises herself with various sexual acts, yet there is no examination given as to why her illness has developed in this fashion and as such sequences that are intended as explore Sun’s tendency to sexually humiliate herself are often instead merely perverse male fantasies, with beatings, foul language, and orifice-fascination featuring at various points. The character has great potential that is unfortunately not realised throughout the film’s 103 minute running time, though actress Jang Sun performs the role capably.

In a city full of people, the plights of the mentally ill often go ignored

In a city full of people, the plights of the mentally ill often go ignored


Though beginning in gripping fashion, director Lee Seung-won’s Communication & Lies loses impetus through a frustratingly haphazard and oft-confusing narrative structure. Though nobly attempting to allude to the origins of neuroses and the general ignorance within contemporary Korea, the film instead conforms to a misogynistic male fantasy masquerading as psychological insight.


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

Steel Flower (스틸 플라워) – ★★★☆☆

Steel Flower (스틸 플라워)

Steel Flower (스틸 플라워)

Unceremoniously dumped on a highway with only a suitcase of essential items, Ha-dam (Jeong Ha-dam (정하담) is forced to quickly adapt to life on the streets of Busan City. Scared, alone, and vulnerable, the homeless young woman flirts with suicide yet is determined to forge a path out of poverty, taking random service jobs to secure money and food. The locals, however, grow wise to Ha-dam’s situation and treat her abusively, though despite her trials she retains a passion for dance.

The follow-up to last year’s Wild Flowers, director Park Suk-yong’s Steel Flower displays a marked improvement by the socially-conscious writer/helmer. Raw, provocative and featuring a potent feminist message, the indie drama explores the plight of homeless young women with an intensity and verve that often makes for challenging, as well as uncomfortable, viewing.

One of the main issues with director Park’s previous effort Wild Flowers – which also premiered at the Busan Film Festival – was that after beginning in incredibly strong fashion the narrative deviated away from its fascinating trio of homeless girls towards their less interesting male counterparts. The filmmaker has clearly listened to such criticism as Steel Flower is much more focused and concise, centralised entirely on Ha-dam’s plight which allows the story to fiercely examine the abject desperation of her situation. From the moment the drama begins director Park employs kinetic handheld camerawork that infuses the film with a raw organic energy and brisk pacing, invigorated further with some incredible long takes that add palpable realism, the fact of which is often a mixture of fascination and distress as the harsh realities of life on the streets are exposed.

Despite fraught circumstances Ha-dam retains her love of dance

Despite fraught circumstances Ha-dam retains her love of dance

Steel Flower is also boasts some impressive cinematography, particularly in the underdeveloped and poverty stricken regions of Busan City. Disparity in wealth is acutely visualised through the landscapes and structures, as Ha-dam is forced to move away from the affluence of those at ground level, hiking ever higher up mountainous paths to locate a place of security amongst the economically challenged. The urban locations are also captured well as they feature an oppressive sensibility that seems to confine Ha-dam to the shadows, refusing to allow her to progress out of her homelessness and desperation.

The decision to withhold the origins of Ha-dam’s abandonment is a smart move as she symbolises the vulnerability of all young women in Korea, yet the story falters somewhat as she continues to be a mystery for the entirety of the running time. Little is revealed about her personality, or her psychological and emotional torment, save that she is trying to survive in harsh conditions, which makes it problematic when attempting to forge an emotional connection with the character.

Ha-dam’s erratic behaviour, meanwhile, is intriguing as she flits from quiet tenderness to hysterically deranged, conveying a form of mental illness which is unfortunately never really explored nor capitalised on. Her passion for dance is a key example; she is enamoured by tap dancing classes yet displays little talent for it, and as no other hints for her adoration are conveyed – save for the their symbolic purpose that she does, indeed, exist – it feels like a missed opportunity to explore her character in more depth.

While little about Ha-dam is revealed, she ultimately serves as a cipher through which the story can expose a variety of hardships endured by homeless young women and, combined with its strong feminist message, serves to generate important social debates that are sorely needed.

Pushed to breaking point, Ha-dam flirts with death

Pushed to breaking point, Ha-dam flirts with death


Steel Flower is director Park Suk-yong’s second film exploring the hardships of homeless young females, and is a big improvement for the socially-conscious filmmaker. Raw and provocative, the drama boasts effective kinetic camerawork infused with realism. While the mysterious nature of the central protagonist is somewhat problematic, Steel Flower is effective in raising potent social debate.


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