Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – ★★★★☆

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

A slick and pulse-pounding thriller, Cold Eyes (감시자들) is a consistently engaging cat-and-mouse cop drama by co-directors Jo Eui-seok (조의석) and Kim Byeong-seo (김병서). Gaining an impressive 5.5+ million admissions during its run, Cold Eyes has remade the 2007 Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky in a distinctly Korean fashion, eschewing the hard boiled noir in favour of highly polished Seoul landscapes and state of the art technology.

The strengths of the film lie in the kinetic sequences and exhilarating pacing, as well as the performances by the lead actors who have been wonderfully cast-against-type. Cold Eyes is not without flaws however, largely involving fleshing out the supporting cast and a third act that isn’t quite sure how to resolve everything. Yet such issues are easy to overlook when a genre film such as this is so engaging and enjoyable, and is quite the thrill ride throughout.

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Rookie Yoon-joo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Trained in the skills of surveillance and endowed with an incredible photographic memory, rookie Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo (한효주) works hard to join an elite government agency under the watchful eyes of Chief Hwang (Seol Kyeong-gu (설경구). Yoon-joo’s arrival is timely, as a group of expert criminals have been stealing from notably high profile targets, constantly getting away without leaving a shred of evidence. Yet during their latest crime a small but significant clue has been discovered. Joining Chief Hwang’s unit, recruit Yoon-joo – now code-named ‘piglet’ – must put her skills to the test and follow the trail of breadcrumbs to the mastermind behind the operations, the cold and calculating ‘Shadow’ (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성).

Immediately upon opening, Cold Eyes establishes itself as a cool and slick thriller. The futuristic metallic surfaces of the subway and high rise commerce zone in Seoul are highly impressive as Yoon-joo follows her target, turning the capital into a character in itself. The sequence is also exemplary in the construction of Yoon-joo as a rookie surveillance operative, as she works hard to notice and remember every minute detail no matter how insignificant, yet still makes enough mistakes to be believable and sympathetic. Not content with such a compelling opening, directors Jo and Kim follow it up shortly after with an engaging bank heist by uber-criminal Shadow. Clearly the co-directors have been influenced by the Joker’s bank job in The Dark Knight, and while Cold Eyes never reaches those heights, it is still thoroughly entertaining. The manner in which the criminals orchestrate their robberies is also quite thrilling, as Shadow watches from the rooftops to ensure a clean getaway while his henchmen busy themselves with the mission at hand, allowing for a duel perspective on events as well as providing even more polished cinematography of the Seoul skyline.

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

Another great strength of the film is undoubtedly the A-list cast who have been brilliantly cast against type. This is acutely the case for Han Hyo-joo who has been consistently cast as the love interest in several mediocre melodramas. In Cold Eyes the actress shines as an intelligent, skilled, and powerful operative, and it is a genuine delight to see a woman occupying such a role in a Korean film. Han Hyo-joo’s famed attractiveness is refreshingly never focused upon throughout the film with attention instead bestowed on her prowess, and the actress clearly relishes the role. Meanwhile Sol Kyeong-gu also excels as disheveled mentor Chief Hwang. Sol initially portrays the team leader with a commanding stoicism and intellectual fortitude, yet as story progresses it is primarily due to him that comedy enters the film thanks to his eccentricities. Naming every member of his team rather unflattering animal code-names is genuinely funny – particularly when designating their rotund target ‘thirsty hippo’ – yet such unorthodox methods are also crucial as he carves and maneuvers animal chess pieces on missions. As the ruthless and manipulative ‘Shadow’, Jeong Woo-seong is great. Typically cast as a romantic lead and/or inherently ‘good’, Jeong is surprisingly adept at playing the role of a cold-hearted villain with a penchant for murdering with a fountain pen. While he has the least to do of the three performers, every scene he is in is constantly engrossing and it’s a tribute to the actor that more screen time is desired.

For much of the running time Cold Eyes is an incredibly engaging cat-and-mouse thriller, and the entertainment derived from both sides attempting to outsmart each other is consistently high. Yet there are moments, most notably in the final act, that somewhat undermine all the great character work with silly coincidences in the attempt to tie up the story neatly. This is quite a shame considering what came before. Cold Eyes also fall into the trap of having too many underdeveloped secondary characters, with the belated attempts to flesh them out falling short. That said, the speedy pace of the film combined with the compelling story means that such concerns are never dwelt upon for long, with the open ended nature of the finale guaranteed to raise a smile.

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Verdict:

Cold Eyes is a slick and riveting thriller from co-directors Jo Eui-seok and Kim Byeong-seo. A remake of hard boiled Hong Kong noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a quite different film due to the focus on a seemingly futuristic Seoul and state of the art technology. The A-list cast, who have all been superbly cast against type, excel in their roles, particularly Han Hyo-joo as a highly intelligent and skilled rookie operative. With a highly engaging story and rapid pacing the film is consistently entertaining and, while some silly coincidences and over-abundance of secondary characters detract somewhat, Cold Eyes is a wonderfully compelling cat-and-mouse thrill-ride.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이) – ★★★☆☆

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Living in the remote countryside, Vietnamese bride Thuy diligently takes care of her ailing in-laws. As her mother-in-law suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, Thuy’s daily chores become evermore burdensome, particularly as her husband has been absent for an unusually long time. Despite the loneliness Thuy fills her spare time with studying Korean language and attending the local church, living a quiet but content existence. Yet when her husband is found dead in suspicious circumstances, Thuy soon discovers the realities of being a Vietnamese woman in the Korean countryside.

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy becomes suspicious when her husband fails to return home

Thuy (안녕, 투이) is an impressive debut by director Kim Jae-han (김재한), both in exploring the issues South-East Asian wives face in Korea and as a visually striking film. Indeed, director Kim and director of photography Kim Sung-tai are to be congratulated for capturing the ethereal beauty of the Korean countryside, as Thuy features some truly gorgeous cinematography involving the natural landscapes of the area. Combined with the washed out tone that permeates exterior scenes throughout the film, the village becomes a palpably foreboding location, one conveyed as forgotten by time and the rest of Korean society. As such Thuy’s isolation and loneliness within the environment are further emphasised, with her plucky attempts to stay positive crafting a naive yet likeable central protagonist.

Thuy stays positive despite the hardships as a foreign wife in the country

Thuy stays positive despite the hardships as a foreign wife in the country

Thuy’s characterisation as a curious, bold and humble young Vietnamese woman is one of the great strengths of the film, and director Kim wisely uses her as a conduit for examining the life of a foreign bride in the countryside. As tradition dictates, Thuy often acts akin to a maid in taking care of her in-laws and diligently studies Korea language at the local church with other foreign wives, something their spouses dislike in case they get any ‘ideas.’ Thuy also witnesses domestic violence – with the victim, rather than the aggressor, locked in jail – as well as the prostitution ring foreign woman can fall into in the city. As such Thuy is quite an insightful film, with the subtlety applied to the societal pressures and prejudice she endures adding further potency.

Where Thuy fails however is in the later attempts to turn an insightful drama into a thriller, and the story suffers greatly for it. Thuy’s inability to accept her husband’s death is wonderful in revealing the tenacity of her character, with her enquiries also revealing a great deal of the prejudice she must endure as an immigrant. However when the story veers away from her into exploring the local police force and neighbourhood watch ‘militia’, something which increasingly occurs as the film progresses, the power and insight begins to wane as it becomes typical genre fare, complete with contrivances that serve to undermine Thuy’s journey.

Thuy displays great resolve following the death of her husband

Thuy displays great resolve following the death of her husband

Verdict:

Thuy is an insightful film the explores the issues South-East Asian wives endure in the Korean countryside. Featuring some quite striking cinematography of the ethereal country landscapes, as well as subtlety in examining social issues and prejudice, Thuy is an impressive debut by director Kim Jae-han. However, the attempt to turn the interesting drama into a typical and contrived thriller greatly undermines Thuy’s journey which is quite a shame, as for the most part the film is a potent and welcome addition in depicting concerns faced by female immigrants.

★★★☆☆

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카) – ★★☆☆☆

Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카)

Screenwriter Ga-eul (Kim So-hee (김소희) lives a modest existence, working in dead-end jobs while she attempts to complete her screenplay. The only comforts for the lonely 40 year old are the stray cats she tends to – and often adopts – from the neighbourhood, and her boyfriend Joseph (Sung Ho-jun (성호준). Yet the relationship is quite scandalous as at 23 years her junior, Joseph has yet to complete high school let alone his required military service. Keeping a low-profile the couple continue their relationship unabated, until unexpected complications arise that threaten to drive them apart forever.

Crucial to the success of any romantic-drama is the core relationship. Audiences are fully aware that circumstances will enter the film that will challenge the protagonists, with the enjoyment derived from being so invested in the relationship that they will it to succeed despite the odds. In this sense, Pascha (파스카) falls far, far short of what is required as there is precious little romance or chemistry between Ga-eul and Joseph throughout the entire film. Director Ahn Seon-kyoung (안선경) has decided to enter the relationship well into it’s maturity, which is certainly no bad thing, as she sets up events and situations that are both natural as well as allowing for the sincerity of long-term partners to emerge. Yet even though the relationship is far from conventional such heartfelt emotions never appear, chiefly due to the awkwardness between the two lead actors which is incredibly distracting, particularly by Sung Ho-jun. There is a distance and coldness between them that conveys a mother and son relationship rather than lovers. Joseph’s Oedipal concerns are obviously an issue – hammered home with the song, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” – but scenes such as sharing a bath just appear clumsy and indifferent rather than passionate and intimate.

Ga-eul's relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Ga-eul’s relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Pascha‘s most interesting moments lie within scenes involving Ga-eul’s family. When they discover her relationship with the 17 year old, the judgement and criticism Ga-eul receives conveys a deep-rooted misogyny that, even at the age of 40, she must humbly endure. The abuse she suffers is indeed shocking and it is during such moments that actress Kim So-hee shines, displaying the frailty of the nervous and unconfident screenwriter with skill. The pressure enforced upon Ga-eul also leads to film’s very strong – and very graphic – anti-abortion statement, that will likely appall the majority of audiences and outrage many others. Commentators are likely to discuss how far directors could, or rather should, go when it comes to presenting such explicit and visceral portrayals of such a sensitive topic. Yet it is also bizarrely ironic given that the film is so concerned with feminist issues only to undermine one area of debate in such an extreme manner.

It is also unfortunate that director Ahn only begins to show creative flair out of the ashes from such controversial scenes. For the vast majority of the running time the film is an incredibly bland affair featuring a static camera and very little eye-catching cinematography. The uninspiring camerawork and compositions in the early stages of the film do convey the depression, loneliness and solemnity Ga-eul endures, yet such technical issues are rather crude and also suggest directorial inexperience, further detracting from the supposed intimacy between her and Joseph. This is indeed strange as director Ahn’s capabilities are impressive and wholly apparent during the film’s final scenes, a genuine shame as the relationship sorely requires such visual prowess much much earlier to be convincing and effective. As such Pascha is a romantic-drama that is ironically not memorable for its central couple or the relationship, but for the debate on ‘how far is too far?’ in representations of sensitive subject matter.

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Verdict:

In the attempt to convey the scandalous relationship between a 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend, Pascha falls far short of other romantic dramas. The awkwardness and indifference displayed by the actors ultimately ruins any tension for when the relationship is predictably threatened. Yet director Ahn Seon-kyoung does well when examining the issues of misogyny endured by the central protagonist. Ironically however, Pascha, is not memorable for the scandalous relationship but for the explicit representation of abortion, which will likely upset critics and audiences alike.

★★☆☆☆

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물) – ★★★☆☆

Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물)

When teenager So-young belatedly discovers she is pregnant, her attempt to get an abortion is dismissed by a doctor as too dangerous. Overhearing their conversation however is middle-aged Seung-yeon who, after several years of trying and failing to become pregnant, offers So-young a deal – the baby for an expensive foreign car. As the two women head into the country for the final months of So-young’s pregnancy, they form a close relationship, supporting each other through the unusual circumstances. Yet they are beset by problems from Seung-yeon’s selfish husband, and a group of three hunters with a penchant for rape. All the while, a secretive gardener watches the events unfold.

Godsend (신의 선물)

The women bond over simple chores

As the title implies, Godsend is intended as something of a contemporary nativity story, expressed through the unique visions of Kim Ki-duk – here on writing and producing duties – and protege director Moon Si-hyun (문시현). Kim Ki-duk’s methodology of employing amoral, misogynistic characters to explore social problems is quite apparent throughout the film, yet Godsend is also lighter than most projects he is involved with, presumably due to director Moon. Indeed, the portrayal and character development ascribed to unlikely duo So-young and Seung-yeon is quite charming, arguably even empowering, in the early stages of the film as the twosome attempt to complete their unorthodox deal without the aid of men. Bonding scenes, which include driving lessons and growing vegetables, are sweet natured and sincere. That is, before the inclusion of men. The male characters within Godsend are appalling beasts, and the threat of rape is constantly present throughout the film which often makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Seung-yeon is constantly abused by her selfish husband

Seung-yeon is constantly abused by her selfish husband

While early sex scenes between Seung-yeon and her husband convey an impersonal and unloving relationship very well, the theme of ‘sex as duty’ and his later consistent attempts to rape his own wife despite her proclamations to stop emphasise the intense misogyny laced within the story. This is further compounded by the three hillbilly hunters who lay sexual siege to the women, while So-young’s ex simply wants to receive a share of the money. In each predicament Seung-yeon and So-young are routinely blamed and ‘punished’ for stepping outside of traditional patriarchal ‘boundaries’, often to shocking – and infuriating – effect. While Kim Ki-duk certainly has his flaws, his depictions of misogyny are usually quite insightful on both character-driven and cultural levels. Such depth is not contained within Godsend, and as such the later attempts to change such morally vacuous males into upstanding gentlemen rings ridiculously hollow.

Yet Godsend is very engaging whenever the story returns to the developing sisterhood between Seung-yeon and So-young. Critics often lament Kim Ki-duk’s characters for taking huge and arguably illogical leaps within his narratives, and director Moon Si-hyun overcomes such concerns through non-linear editing.  Initially the film jumps from So-young’s disgust at the proposed exchange to her journey with Seung-yeon into the countryside, yet director Moon fills in the gaps with flashbacks which works wonderfully in terms of character development, with their burgeoning relationship easily the heart and soul of the film.

As a modern nativity however, Godsend falls flat. While the first half of the film sets up events well, the second half provides an overabundance of sexist sub-plots that detract from the journey the women undertake. The constant misogyny and threat of rape constructs a perverse nativity as opposed to an exploration of contemporary pregnancy and childbirth issues. Thankfully the religious themes are not overt however, while the developing relationship between So-young and Seung-yeon makes Godsend an interesting and oft-compelling drama.

Seung-yeon's husband listens to 'gift of God' in So-young's tummy

Seung-yeon’s husband listens to the ‘gift of God’ in So-young’s tummy

Verdict:

Godsend is a compelling attempt at a contemporary nativity story of sorts, based on a screenplay by Kim Ki-duk and directed by one of his proteges, Moon Si-hyun. Exploring the issues of pregnancy and surrogacy, the film shines when depicting the burgeoning relationship between the two central female protagonists as they bond during their unorthodox deal. However the inclusion of atrocious male characters, who perpetuate a constant threat of rape, often makes for uncomfortable viewing.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Director Park Chul-soo - 20/11/1948-19/02/2013

BIFF 2013: Park Chul-soo Special Commemoration: Eternal Movie Youth

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

While walking home late on February 19th after a day of filming, director Park Chul-soo was hit by a drunk driver and tragically died. He was 64.

To celebrate director Park’s significant contribution to the Korean film industry, the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) has prepared a special program entitled Park Cheol-soo Special Commemoration: Eternal Movie Youth.

Park Chul-soo made his directorial debut with Captain of the Alley in 1978, yet it was in 1985 that the director had a big break with Mother, a film that continues to be celebrated as one of the most prominent rape-revenge productions to emerge from the industry. The 1990s saw the release of his most revered films in the form of 301, 302 (1995), one of the first Korean films to receive a theatrical release in the US, and Farewell My Darling in 1996.

Director Park Chul-soo - 20/11/1948-19/02/2013

Director Park Chul-soo – 20/11/1948-19/02/2013

More recently director Park helmed independent erotic dramas that explored sexual relationships, including Green Chair (녹색의자) (2003), Red Vacance Black Wedding (붉은 바캉스 검은 웨딩) (2011), B.E.D. (베드) (2012), and Eating, Talking, Faucking (생생활활) (released posthumously in March 2013). When his death occurred, director Park was in post-production on Green Chair: Love Conceptually (녹색의자 2013 – 러브 컨셉츄얼리), a re-imagining/remake of sorts to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original.

Each of Park Chul-soo’s 5 films in the special program at BIFF 2013 are profiled below.

Park Cheol-soo Special Commemoration: Eternal Movie Youth

301, 302 (삼공일 삼공이)

301, 302 (삼공일 삼공이)

301, 302 (삼공일 삼공이) – 1995

Synopsis: 301, 302 became a cult hit upon release, and jettisoned director Park into one of the most popular Korean film makers at the time. The story contrasts two different woman in an apartment building, and through their attitude to food, conveys the suffering they have endured from patriarchal culture.

Farewell My Darling (학생부군신위)

Farewell My Darling (학생부군신위)

Farewell My Darling (학생부군신위) – 1996

Synopsis: Heavily influenced by American independent cinema, director Park turned his attention on Korean funerals in Farewell My Darling. The ceremony features the clash of traditional and new, as well as religious ideologies, that examines Korean culture through the tragic event.

Green Chair: Love Conceptually (녹색의자 2013 - 러브 컨셉츄얼리)

Green Chair: Love Conceptually (녹색의자 2013 – 러브 컨셉츄얼리)

Green Chair: Love Conceptually (녹색의자 2013 – 러브 컨셉츄얼리) – 2013

Synopsis: Green Chair: Love Conceptually depicts the  relationship between a married woman in her thirties and a twenty year old man. The film explores the issues of divorce and age, with erotic twists and turns.

Mother (어미)

Mother (어미)

Mother (어미) – 1985

Synopsis: Starring Yoon Yeo-jeong (Woman of Fire (1971), The Housemaid (2012)), Mother is still revered as one of the best rape-revenge films of the period. When her daughter is raped and later commits suicide, a mother decides to find those responsible and enact her grisly revenge.

Stray Dog (들개)

Stray Dog (들개)

Stray Dog (들개) – 1982

Synopsis: The bleak outlook of the early 1980s is captured in Stray Dog, a film about two extremely poor students who live in a dilapidated old house. As the two struggle to survive and even to find food, they are filled with desperation and longing.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Korean Cinema Today – Vision

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The Korean Cinema Today – Vision program at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) aims to highlight some of the independent film making talent emerging in 2013.

While the Panorama section explores big budget affairs (see here for the full profile), Vision is often a very exciting category due the fresh and distinctive approach new directors take, while the films themselves are often quite creative due to their low budget nature. Typically, there are a few gems to be found as talented film makers use Vision as a springboard for their careers.

For BIFF 2013, there are a number of interesting works on offer. Several directors make their respective debuts, while there are a surprising number of genre films including gangster, thriller, and comedy, present within. There are also a number of films that tackle challenging social issues such as surrogate mothers, teenage problems, and the experiences of foreign wives.

For profiles of all the films within Korean Cinema Today – Vision, please see below.

Korean Cinema Today – Vision

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Director: Jeong Hyuk-won (정혁원)

Synopsis: Revenge thriller Dynamite Man is director Jeong’s debut film. When two brothers betray their gang, one is brutally tortured. Filled with rage the surviving brother targets those responsible – with dynamite.

Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물)

Director: Moon Si-hyun (문시현)

Synopsis: Based on an idea by Kim Ki-duk, the film is a modern nativity of sorts. A young girl plans to exchange her baby with a couple, but complications arise from the men in their lives.

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자)

Director: Yoo Won-sang (유원상)

Synopsis: In his debut film, director Yoo tells the story of an ex-fireman whose daughter is kidnapped. For the girl to return unharmed, he must do the unthinkable and kidnap a boy for an exchange.

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Director: Lee Su-jin (이수진)

Synopsis: Student Gong-ju starts a new school, making new friends and becoming involved in after school classes. However when a group of meddling parents discover Gong-ju’s whereabouts, her troubled past is revealed.

Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders (조난자들)

Director: Noh Young-seok (노영석)

Synopsis: Receiving a world premiere at Toronto, director Noh’s (Daytime Drinking) Intruders follows a screenwriter who travels into the country to complete his screenplay. Yet when mysterious strangers arrive, violent events are set in motion.

The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

Director: Woo Moon-gi (우문기)

Synopsis: Sports comedy The King of Jokgu tells the story of a team passionate about foot volleyball, a popular past-time in Korea. When their request for a court is rejected, the team fight to make it happen.

Mot (못)

Mot (못)

Mot (못)

Director: Seo Ho-bin (서호빈)

Synopsis: Sung-pil tragically lost his younger sister in a motorcycle accident. Years later, Sung-pil meets the man responsible forcing painful emotions to resurface.

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Director: Lee Yu-bin (이유빈)

Synopsis: Following the death of their parents, a huge insurance payout is given to Eun-ju, but when she disappears half-brother Min-jae attempts to find her.

The Stone (스톤)

The Stone (스톤)

The Stone (스톤)

Director: Cho Se-rae (조세래)

Synopsis: When a mob boss losses a game of baduk (Go) to a young prodigy, the two begin to form a relationship as they continue to play each other.

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Director: Kim Jae-han (김재한)

Synopsis: Another debut film, Thuy depicts the life of a Vietnamese girl living in the country with her in-laws. When her husband fails to return home, Thuy’s enquiries attract the wrong kind of attention.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

For exciting new Korean films, the Korean Cinema Today program at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) highlights some of the best and latest productions emerging from the industry.

Korean Cinema Today is separated into two sub-categories – Panorama and Vision. While Vision explores the latest independent films and exciting new filmmaking talent, Panorama showcases some of the big domestic and internationally acclaimed films, as well as more high profile world premieres.

The 14 films in Panorama 2013 contains some of the biggest names working in the industry today. For arthouse fans, Kim Ki-duk’s highly controversial Moebius, as well as two Hong Sang-soo films – Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and Our Sunhi – make appearances. Two directorial debuts are included in the form of superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s Fasten Your Seatbelt, and veteran actor Park Joong-hoon’s Top Star. King of Pigs director Yeon Sang-ho’s latest animation The Fake is featured. There are also exciting new projects that involve crowdfunding, human rights issues, and the debut of K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in a lead role.

For the lowdown on all the films within the sub-category, please see below.

Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

Abbi (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Director: Jang Hyun-soo (장현수)

Synopsis: Abbi – or rather, Twisted Daddy – is a drama about a father whose dedication to his son becomes out of hand. Working hard to ensure his son can study law and become successful, the aging father risks everything.

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Director: Kim Tae-yun (김태윤)

Synopsis: Crowdfunding was sourced to produce this real life legal drama about a woman who contracts leukemia while working at a Samsung factory. The film follows the family’s efforts overcome the disease as well as the corporation responsible.

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완)

Synopsis: The Berlin File was a big hit upon release earlier his year. With an all-star cast including Ha Jeong-woo and Jeon Ji-hyeon, the action-thriller showcased director Ryoo’s style like never before. For the full review, please click here.

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho (연상호)

Synopsis: Following on from his hugely successful film King of Pigs, director Yeon Sang-ho employs his biting cultural critique stylisation to explore corrupted religious officials who are holding a small town to ransom.

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Director: Ha Jeong-woo (하정우)

Synopsis: Fasten Your Seatbelt – or ‘Rollercoaster‘ in Korean – marks superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s directorial debut. The comedy sees mismatched characters collide when their plane encounters a typhoon.

God's Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

Director: Lee Jang-ho (이장호)

Synopsis: Lee Jang-ho was a prominent director during the 1970s and ’80s, and after an 18 year hiatus has re-entered filmmaking with God’s Eye View. The film explores a group of missionaries whose faith wanes after abduction by Islamic rebels.

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Director: Kim Sung-su (김성수)

Synopsis: A co-production between Korea and Japan, sci-fi Genome Hazard depicts a man seemingly losing his sanity following the apparent death of his wife. Director Kim previously worked with Park Chan-wook and Son Il-gon.

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

Directors: Min Yong-keun (민용근), Lee Sang-cheol (이상철), Shin A-ga (신아가), Park Jung-bum (박정범)

Synopsis: Produced by the National Human Rights Commission, this omnibus film represents radically different stories about people living on the fringes of society, and the hardships they endure.

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Director: Kim Ki-duk (김기덕)

Synopsis: Moebius was marred by controversy before it was released.  Kim Ki-duk’s psychosexual thriller examines a family torn apart by adultery, penis dismemberment, and incest.

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

Director: Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)

Synopsis: Town trilogy and The Weight director Jeon Kyu-hwan explores the life of an impulse disorder patient and his long-suffering family in My Boy. cultural attitudes towards mental health and the medical system are examined.

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: University student Haewon feels lonely following her mother’s departure for Canada, and contacts married lover – and professor – Seong-joon. A story of a young woman’s quest for identity.

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: Sunhi is a film student who, wishing to continue her studies in America, seeks a recommendation letter from her professor. Yet in doing so, she unwittingly allows 3 different men attempt to advise her over her future.

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Director: Shin Yeon-shick (신연식)

Synopsis: A sequel of sorts to Rough Cut, Rough Play is concerned with a rising film star who becomes involved with gangsters, leading to a downward spiral. Based on an idea by Kim Ki-duk, the film features K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in the lead role.

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Director: Park Joong-hoon (박중훈)

Synopsis: Veteran actor Park Joong-hoon makes his debut with Top Star, a film about a talent manager who suddenly becomes a superstar. Yet as his popularity increase, so does his arrogance and determination to stay at the top.

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Im Kwon-taek Retrospective Poster

BIFF 2013: Fly High, Run Far: The Making of Korean Master Im Kwon-taek

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

Director Im Kwon-taek (임권택) has long been recognised as one of the most significant contributors within the Korean film industry, helming 101 films since his career began in 1936. At this year’s 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), director Im is due to be honoured with a special hand-printing ceremony and a staggering retrospective that includes 71 of his films.

Fly High, Run Far: The Making of Korean Master Im Kwon-taek is a special program dedicated to the master director. In an unprecedented move and to accommodate so many films, the retrospective will begin on September 23rd – a full 10 days before BIFF officially begins.

Im Kwon-taek Retrospective Poster

Im Kwon-taek Retrospective Poster

The screenings are due to take place at the futuristic Busan Cinema Center, with the retrospective opening with 1981’s Mandala (만다라), often cited as director Im’s breakthrough film. From his early black and white work in the 1960s through to his more recent output in 2010 the celebration chronicles the director’s career, however as some films have either been lost or suffered decay unfortunately not all 101 films can be showcased.  The event will also feature a number of special guest visits from high profile filmmakers, actors and academics at selective showings. The retrospective is co-hosted by the Korean Film Archive, Busan International Film Festival, Dongseo University Im Kwon Taek Film Archive, and Busan Cinema Center. For the full listing of the program, please see the official Busan Cinema Center website here (Korean).

During the festival itself 9 of director Im’s films will be screened. Guest visits by film professionals including Lee Chang-dong, Hong Sang-soo Kim Tae-yong and more will also occur during BIFF. Please see below for a profile of each film.

Fly High, Run Far: The Making of Korean Master Im Kwon-taek

Chunhyang (춘향뎐)

Chunhyang (춘향뎐)

Chunhyang (춘향뎐) – (2000)

Based on the classic Korean tale (most recently made as erotic drama The Servant (방자전)), director Im infuses his version with traditional Korean pansori (folk performance). The story depicts lovers Chunhyang and Mongryong who are separated, yet when Chunhyang is tortured by a corrupt official, Mongryong comes back for revenge.

Come, Come, Come Upward (아제아제 바라아제)

Come, Come, Come Upward (아제아제 바라아제)

Come, Come, Come Upward (아제아제 바라아제) – (1989)

The different paths taken by two Buddhist nuns on their quest for enlightenment are the subject of this 1989 classic. While one nun seeks it through inner practices, the other searches amongst other people, with both enduring hardships on their journeys.

Fly High, Run Far (개벽)

Fly High, Run Far (개벽)

Fly High, Run Far (개벽) – (1991)

Set during the Joseon Dynasty in the mid-19th century, Fly High, Run Far depicts a land in turmoil as the new religion of Donghak is embraced by the people yet rejected by the aristocracy. Following the execution of Donghak’s founder a new leader emerges, yet he quickly discovers the hardships of his new position within the royal court.

The General’s Son (장군의 아들)

The General’s Son (장군의 아들)

The General’s Son (장군의 아들) – (1990)

A rare action film by director Im. The story  explores the ramifications of a fight between Korean theater worker Doo-han and a Japanese student during 1930s occupied Korea. When Doo-han becomes something of a national hero after his victory, consequences emerge.

Mismatched Nose (짝코)

Mismatched Nose (짝코)

Mismatched Nose (짝코) – (1980)

In this 1980 classic, director Im blurs the boundaries between societal notions of good and bad. When a former police officer finds himself in difficult times and is forced to become a tramp, he discovers a criminal he pursued is also in the same situation when they meet at a homeless shelter.

Seize the Precious Sword (삼국대협)

Seize the Precious Sword (삼국대협)

Seize the Precious Sword (삼국대협) – (1972)

The oldest film in the retrospective, the film depicts a swordsman who travels to Japan with his two warrior friends on a singular mission – to find and return a Korean national treasure.

Seopyeonje (서편제)

Seopyeonje (서편제)

Seopyeonje (서편제)(1993)

One of director Im’s most famous films, Seopyeonje employs traditional Korean pansori in his melodrama about a reunited brother and sister, and the tragedies that befall a Korean community. Set against a backdrop of beautiful landscapes the film is an enduring classic and was a huge box office success, even gaining an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival.

Ticket (티켓)

Ticket (티켓)

Ticket (티켓)(1986)

In this somewhat controversial film, director Im explores the lives of coffee girls who work in a seaside town. As well as coffee the women provide extra sexual services euphemistically called ‘a ticket.’ The shocking and occasionally brutal treatment the women endure exposes one of the darker areas of Korean society.

Village in the Mist (안개마을)

Village in the Mist (안개마을)

Village in the Mist (안개마을) – (1982)

Sexuality and desire are explored in director Im’s Village in the Mist. The film tells the story of Seoulite Soo-ock who travels to the countryside to teach at an elementary school. Yet she is shocked to discover a sexual connection between the local vagabond and the women in the village, even though all the men claim he is impotent.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Gala Presentation, New Currents, and Open Cinema

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

With the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) due to commence on October the 3rd, it’s high time to profile the Korean entries that are due to be screened.

Three of the big categories at BIFF – Gala Presentation, New Currents, and Open Cinema – showcase some of the incredible mainstream and independent films to emerge from the Korean film industry this year.

Gala Presentation focuses on a select group of important films from the Asian continent, and within this category are two Korean films – Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (설국열차) and Kim Jee-woon’s The X (더 엑스).

New Currents, meanwhile, explores some of the more powerful independent features to emerge from the continent. The manner in which the films within this category delve into social and cultural issues, often through experimentation of film form, make it one of the more fascinating areas. Three Korean films – 10 Minutes (10분), Steel Cold Winter (소녀) and Pascha (파스카) – appear, and receive their world premieres at BIFF 2013.

Rounding out the three, Open Cinema selects films to be presented on the Busan Cinema Center’s impressive outdoor screen. Two big thrillers from Korea are within the category – Cold Eyes (감시자들) and The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브).

Please see below for more in-depth coverage of each film.

Gala Presentation

The class system on the train is kept in check by sinister matriach Mason

The class system on the train is kept in check by sinister matriach Mason

Snowpiercer (설국열차) – Director Bong Joon-ho (봉준호)

Bong Joon-ho’s science-fiction epic was released in Korea earlier this year, earning over nine million admissions and over $50 million at the box office. For many foreign visitors to BIFF 2013 this will be their first opportunity to see the film before it’s released in international markets, so it’s placement within the Gala Presentation category is quite deserved. Snowpiercer is also notable as (currently) the most expensive Korean film ever made, as well as having Hollywood behemoth The Weinstein Company on board producing. The film tells the story of the last survivors on Earth following a man-made ice age that covered the planet. The last remnants of humanity struggle to survive on a train called ‘Snowpiercer’ which circumnavigates the globe every year. Yet within the train an unfair class system has emerged, and a revolution begins between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ For the review of Snowpiercer, please click here.

The X (더 엑스)

The X (더 엑스)

The X (더 엑스) – Director Kim Jee-woon (김지운)

New camera technology allows for a more immersive experience

New camera technology allows for a more immersive experience

Screen X technology has been employed and experimented with in Kim Jee-woon’s latest film The X. Commissioned by cinema chain CGV, director Kim has used screen x – which allows for extra space on either side of the screen for a more immersive viewing experience – to produce this new 30 minute short action/thriller film. The X also features an all-star cast with Kang Dong-won, Shin Min-ah, and E Som in the lead roles which is guaranteed to arouse interest amongst their respective fan bases.

New Currents

10 Minutes (10분)

10 Minutes (10분)

10 Minutes (10분) – Director Lee Yong-seung (이용승)

10 Minutes is concerned with examining the notoriously harsh environment of the Korean workplace. The story follows a  young intern as he enters employment at a government facility, and is promised a full-time position that will guarantee financial stability. Yet when his boss promotes someone else into the position, the young man is forced to reevaluate his options. 10 Minutes is director Lee Yong-seung’s thesis film while at the Dankook Graduate School of Cinematic Content.

Steel Cold Winter (소녀)

Steel Cold Winter (소녀)

Steel Cold Winter (소녀) – Director Choi Jin-seong (최진성)

Steel Cold Winter is Choi Jin-seong’s first fiction film, after spending years helming successful documentaries. The film depcits the story of high schooler Yoon-soo who moves to the mountains in Gangwon Province following his friend’s suicide. Yet while he attempts to start a new life, he meets a mysterious girl called Hae-won and begins to fall in love. However Hae-won has a secret and when her father suddenly disappears, Yoon-soo’s suspicions become aroused.

Ga-eul's relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Ga-eul’s relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Pascha (파스카) – Director Ahn Seon-kyoung (안선경)

Director Ahn’s Pascha tells the story of a lonely 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend. Their unconventional relationship, and penchant for adopting stray cats, is fine until some unexpected news forces the intervention of their families. The pressure exerted on the couple results in plenty of judgement and heartache, as they must try to find a way to stay together. Pascha could perhaps be an interesting and more feminist orientated companion piece with last year’s A Muse (은교), which explored similar themes with an older man and young girl.

Open Cinema

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – Directors Jo Eui-seok (조의석), Kim Byeong-seo (김병서)

A remake of Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky (2006), cat-and-mouse cop drama Cold Eyes performed very well upon its release over the summer. The film is a slick and high-tech thrill-ride, featuring an impressively futuristic rendition of Seoul as a government surveillance team works day and night to catch professional criminals. Cold Eyes depicts the story of talented rookie Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo) who joins a special division headed by Chief Hwang (Sol Kyeong-gu). Their mission is to apprehend a group of professional thieves and their mastermind ‘Shadow’ (Jeong Woo-seong). The A-list cast have all been superbly cast against the types of roles they usually portray, and the result is a highly engaging thriller.

Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – Director Kim Byeong-woo (김병우)

The Terror Live was one of the surprise hits of the summer, notably going toe-to-toe with Snowpiercer and still gaining a large proportion of the audience. The reasons are quite clear as the thriller is a well-crafted and suspense-filled, as well as striking a chord with Korean audiences due to governmental criticism within. Superstar Ha Jeong-woo plays disgraced TV anchor Yeong-hwa, who has been demoted to radio due to a scandal. When a terrorist calls the radio show threatening to blow up a bridge, his bluff is called, and shortly thereafter an explosion occurs. Set entirely within a newsroom, The Terror Live is one of the more interesting thrillers in recent memory. For the review of The Terror Live, please click here.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

Preparations are well underway for the 18th Busan International Film Festival  (BIFF), which is due to take place from the 3rd to the 12th of October.

BIFF 2013 will feature a staggering 300 films from 70 countries, with 136 of those world and/or international premieres.

Amongst returning categories including ‘Gala Presentation‘, ‘New Currents‘, ‘Korean Cinema Today‘, and so forth, are a number of special programs for cineastes.

Fly High, Run Far: The Making of Korean Master Im Kwon-taek‘ is an incredible retrospective for the filmmaking giant. Director Im has helmed an unbelievable 101 films during his career, and to celebrate his contribution to the film industry BIFF 2013 will screen a whopping 71 of his films as well as conduct a hand-printing ceremony in his honour. To accommodate so many films, and in an unprecedented move, the retrospective will begin 10 days early as well as feature a host of guest speakers ranging from film professionals to academics at the screenings.

Meanwhile ‘Park Chul-soo Special Commemoration: Eternal Movie Youth‘ is a celebration of the films of director Park who tragically died earlier this year. Five of the director’s films are due to be screened, including the world premiere of Green Chair 2013 – Love Conceptually (녹색의자2013-러브 컨셉츄얼리), the posthumous release of his last production.

Additionally, ‘Rogues, Rebels and Romantics: A Season of Irish Cinema‘ is a recognition of the filmic output from the Emerald Isle, which also sees director Jim Sheridan get the hand-printing treatment alongside the screening of two of his most famous films. A little closer to home, ‘The Unknown New Wave of Central Asian Cinema‘ champions eight forgotten masterpieces from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Please see below for the serene BIFF 2013 trailer.

BIFF 2013 will also open the festival with Bhutanese drama Vara: A Blessing by director/Buddhist monk Khyentse Norbu – the first film hailing from outside of Korea or China to do so in the festival’s history. BIFF 2013 will close with Korean film The Dinner (만찬) by director Kim Dong-hyun (김동현), his third film and his latest since 2005’s A Shark (상어).

Opening Film

Vara: A Blessing (Bhutan)

Vara: A Blessing

Vara: A Blessing

Vara: A Blessing is director/Buddhist monk Khyentse Norbu’s third film, adapted from the Indian short story ‘Rakta Aar Kanna’ (Blood and Tears) by Sunil Gangopadhyay. The film interprets the Indian dance Bharatanatyam through a forbidden love between a young couple. Featuring Buddhist themes of truth-seeking and the path to enlightenment, Vara depicts the story of Lila, a young woman learning the traditional dance from her mother, who falls in love with poor sculptor Shyam. While Shyam worships Lila as a goddess and she in turn imagines him as Lord Krishna, their relationship becomes extremely problematic when Subha, the village leader, objects to their union.

Closing Film

The Dinner (만찬) (Korea)

The Dinner (만찬)

The Dinner (만찬)

Director Kim Dong-hyun explores the modern Korean family in his latest film. Each member of the family struggles with various burdens involving work and family, yet financial concerns are the chief cause of stress for them all. Despite such hardships, the elderly father wishes to treat his wife with a meal of hamburgers for her birthday, something she has never tried before. Yet as the day wears on it becomes increasingly apparent that none of their three children have either remembered nor planned anything for their mother’s special day, as they are so caught up in their own circumstances. When even greater tragedy threatens them, they must learn to cope with their burdens as a family.

For more information from the official BIFF 2013 website, please click here.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013