Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성) – ★★★★☆

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

The Korean education system is infamous for it’s grueling and oppressive culture, and the stress imposed on youngsters has often been the subject of film. Typically such themes appear in the form of teenage horrors, such as the successful Whispering Corridors series, whereby the pressures of constant examinations and competition from other students prove too much to bear for their very souls.

With Pluto (명왕성), director Shin Su-won (신수원) takes a dramatic-thriller approach to the topic and the result is fantastic. Employing the technical prowess and artistic sensibilities that earned her the Canal Plus prize for her short Circle Line (순환선) at Cannes, director Shin deftly explores the weighty subject matter with skill. Even more impressive is that Pluto manages to straddle both the independent aesthetic realm as well as more mainstream territory, a remarkable achievement given that it’s only her second feature film. While some critics have lamented the inclusion of more generic features, it is a wise move on director Shin’s part as it solidifies her name through the industry as a talent to watch.

At a highly prestigious high school that produces some of the most elite students in Korea, top student Yun-jin (Seong Joon (성준) is found murdered in a nearby forest. Immediately suspected is frosty roommate Joon (David Lee (이다윗), yet with a sound alibi his release is assured. Yet Joon knows much more about the circumstances surrounding Yun-jin’s death than he reveals, and gathers the most elite student group at school together to discover the killer.

The elite students run the school, forging a secret society

The elite students run the school, forging a secret society

Pluto begins with all the hallmarks of a highly competent independent thriller, as Yun-jin is stalked in the woods until he meets his untimely demise in suitably shocking fashion. Yet from such humble beginnings director Shin skillfully intertwines such low-budget aesthetics with thriller conventions, as prime suspect Joon is immediately questioned by detectives; however his intelligence proves too great for the officers to cope with, and with zero evidence, he is released. Both realms are consolidated incredibly well through the use of the non-linear narrative as Joon – sporting rebellious blue hair – in the present holds suspects captive as time counts down, while flashbacks to Joon’s admission to the school convey the character driven foundations.

The method is wonderfully effective in articulating the intense pressures enforced on students, whilst simultaneously providing each member of the school motive for Yun-jin’s murder. Director Shin approaches the topic with keen insight – perhaps unsurprising given her history as a teacher – as she emphasises how parental wealth, greedy tutors, and corrupt school officials are all accountable in the creation of highly intelligent yet morally questionable youths. And their actions are certainly unconscionable, as awful acts of cruelty are performed within the elite secret society of top tier students, ranging from sexual assault, bullying, bludgeoning animals and vandalism that ultimately result in suicide and murder.

Acts of vandalism are overlooked by officials in the bid to produce the best candidates

Acts of vandalism are overlooked by officials in the bid to produce the best candidates

Yet as ‘evil’ as their deeds are, director Shin fully develops each elite student as a victim in their own right. The lack of parental guidance and the encouraged desire to win at any cost pushes them into psychological instability. Their wildly spinning moral compass is, director Shin conveys, the result of a fundamentally corrupt education and class system that is doomed to repeat itself. The narrative wonderfully explores what happens when someone dares to challenge such a system through Joon, as he attempts to breach a social and educational class supposedly beyond his reach. Joon’s creativity and alternative perspective on life is brilliantly realised through his discussion on Pluto’s demotion, a theory that superbly encapsulates the very essence of the story – the belief that the sun/exam results are the center of the universe/life is not only flawed but wholly arrogant.

Lee David (이다윗) is highly competent in his performance as Joon. The novice actor does well in conveying an initially hopeful and interesting young man whose jealousy and desire leads him on a darker path. As his originality and creativity are quashed for the sake of exam results, the transformation into amorality is wholly believable.

Yet despite so many positive accomplishments, the final act was lamented by some critics for its use of generic conventions. This is an understandable criticism although one that is somewhat nitpicking. What director Shin has achieved with Pluto is remarkable, as she has taken a film with a keen social message and made it mainstream; a two-for-one in promoting debate on a serious Korean issue as well as solidifying her reputation as director of talent.

The intense stress and competition becomes to much to bear for Joon

The intense stress and competition becomes to much to bear for Joon

Verdict:

Pluto is an excellent exploration of the intense Korean education system, and the highly intelligent yet morally questionable youth that it creates. It’s a stunning feature film from director Shin Su-won, whose keen eye for symbolism and character study is articulated throughout. One of the great strengths of the film is the manner in which director Shin combines both the independent aesthetic with the mainstream thriller, simultaneously promoting debate on an important social issue as well as cementing herself as a quality director. Thoroughly recommended.

★★★★☆

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International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Reviews
My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스) – ★★★★☆

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

The best kinds of documentary are the ones where the audience and those within the film itself undertake the same journey of discovery, sharing revelations and introspections about a particular topic that ultimately change the perspectives of those both sides of the camera. This is acutely the case with director Park Moon-chil’s My Place, a highly personal account of the director’s own family history and trauma. Director Park explores the inherently Korean cultural clashes of traditional ideology versus the contemporary, Western individualism contrasted with Eastern collectivism, as well as gender and family politics, all through the microcosm of his own family unit. Beginning with very traditional concerns over his unmarried sister’s pregnancy, the documentary charts how every member of the Park family is forced to re-examine themselves, their pasts, and their choices in order to welcome the new member into the fold. From beginning to end My Place is a heartwarming and illuminating film, thanks in no small part to the director’s wonderfully strong and charismatic sister who challenges familial and cultural issues head-on and emerges victorious.

My Place (마이 플레이스)

Cross-cultural trauma and single motherhood are problematic topics in Korea

Director Park’s sister Peace is very much the heart and soul of My Place, and the documentary is largely centered around the ramifications of her decision to be a single mother. In Korean culture unwed mothers are heavily stigmatized, and the film begins by attempting to address her perceived irresponsibility and whether abortion is a viable option. Yet as director Park converses about the issue with his parents, he begins to re-evaluate his own understanding of his sisters character through considering their shared history, and by interviewing her about her past and the pregnancy. The technique is superb, as the non-judgmental approach allows for layers of psychology and past traumas to be re-examined, and how they impact the decisions of the present. For instance, the film explores how the siblings were born and raised in Toronto which allowed their individuality and creativity to be nurtured, yet their forced relocation back to Korea at a young age provided an enormous culture shock that was difficult to cope with; the director even noting that school assemblies reminded him of the Nazis. The impact was greatest on Peace however, and the home videos and photographs of her childhood authentically capture her fraught and difficult childhood.

Old home videos add authenticity to the journey the family undertake

Old home videos add authenticity to the journey the family undertake

Director Park also applies such frameworks to his mother and father, and in doing so discovers more about what drove them in their youth and what shaped their decision-making processes so long ago. With the revelations of Peace’s unhappy childhood it would be all too easy to blame his parents, and while they indeed acknowledge responsibility for their choices, delving into their history stops the issue from being simple. Such scenes are brilliantly edited within the documentary not only for their seamlessness, but the constantly compelling revelations regarding his parents inspires audience introspection. Each member of the Park household is a fascinating person forged by history, and the loving care that director Park exhibits when filming them is palpable. This particularly applies in regard to Peace, as the directors respect and admiration for his sister clearly grows and develops during the course of the film.

Ironically what forces the family to re-evaluate themselves is the very thing that causes them worry – Peace’s pregnancy. And when her son Soul is born, witnessing the family gathering together and become stronger than ever is extremely poignant. Director Park charts the very early years of Soul’s life in similarly effective style, exploring how each member attempts to find a role in which to provide help and support, and the results are consistently moving, humourous and entertaining. Watching Peace working hard as a single mother, and Soul as he develops a personality of his own, is powerfully absorbing and captured with tenderness and sensitivity. One such scene involves Soul and his grandfather reading a storybook together, and the attempt to bestow morality lessons on the youngster is a beautifully funny moment. Director Park – and the audience – come to realise that the initial concerns over Peace’s pregnancy were unfounded, and that the strength and resilience she exhibits as a single mother are incredibly admirable. As such, My Place is emblematic of changing cultural attitudes, and is a wonderful testament to the love and bonds shared within the family.

Family trauma is revisited and healed through the birth of Peace

Family trauma is revisited and healed through the birth of Peace

Verdict:

My Place is a funny, enlightening, and wonderful documentary about the importance of family. By using his unwed sisters pregnancy as a catalyst, director Park Moon-chil uses his concerns as a springboard in which to explore the history and psychology of his mother, father, and most predominantly his sister Peace. In doing so director Park shares his revelations and changing attitudes with the audience, with each step constantly compelling as the family attempt to heal past traumas in order to welcome the new baby. A superb and lovely documentary.

★★★★☆

International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Reviews
A former 'prostitute' throws candy at evil spirits while cursing American GIs.

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅) – ★★★☆☆

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

The sexual slavery inflicted upon the women of Korea during the Japanese occupation is an oft-discussed topic in Korean culture, with the euphemistically labelled ‘comfort women’ still striving for acknowledgement of the abuses they suffered. Less debated, however, is how the Korean government similarly forced such atrocities upon the women of the country for the pleasure of the American military, which was required in order to keep ‘peace’ on the peninsula. The hypocrisy involved has been a genuine source of frustration amongst feminists, particularly in regards to terminology – as money was exchanged for such sexual services with the American GIs, the women are often referred to as ‘prostitutes’ despite the subjugation imposed upon them.

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅)

Tour of Duty opens with a heartbreaking tale

Tour of Duty (거미의 땅), by directors Kim Dong-ryung (김동령) and Park Kyoung-tae (박경태), is a documentary that seeks to address the experiences of such ‘forgotten’ women. The film explores the lives of women forced to provide sexual services in a military town in the Uijeongbu area, and the affects of a history of sexual bondage. It is a heart-breaking and gut-wrenching viewing experience as the handful of women who still live in the now dilapidated town share their stories, and the poignancy is difficult to overstate. Directors Kim and Park do well in simply allowing their subjects to recount their traumatic pasts and their own distinct personalities, accompanied by some very attractive cinematography that exemplifies the twisted, labyrinthian landscape of not only the area but also the psychological trauma within. Yet despite such initial potency Tour of Duty loses focus and compulsion due to each director attempting to impart their own creativity on the film, resulting in an incredibly overly-long running time of two and a half hours.

A former 'prostitute' throws candy at evil spirits while cursing American GIs.

A former ‘prostitute’ throws candy at evil spirits while cursing American GIs.

Tour of Duty opens in suitably powerful style, as a now-elderly lady discusses some of the awful abuses she suffered when the military town was fully operational. The frank, almost confessional-tone of the conversation which includes the number of sexual partners and abortions she endured in her youth is beyond moving, while the resilience and resolve that developed as a result is incredible to witness. Similarly, the other women within the documentary are also highly compelling as they recount not only their tragic history, but their current life of squalor. One such woman, who became infected with a venereal disease from an African-American soldier, walks around the desolated military town throwing candies to ward off evil spirits while screaming racial obscenities about the man who gave her the affliction. Another traverses the myriad of maze-like pathways searching through refuse, lamenting the loss of her children. Directors Kim and Park employing stunning cinematography for each woman, employing different and very effective cinematic techniques for each in order to convey the disparate characters within the film. One of the most powerful images in the film comes when trying to locate the town itself on a map. As the camera moves across the Uijeongbu district, the sheer number of former military towns starkly articulates that the women featured within Tour of Duty are symbolic of a great many such stories in the area.

Yet the documentary becomes problematic when it begins to explore the life of an African-American/Korean orphan. Her history, involving childhood abduction by the authorities and forced prostitution – in which she often made to ‘service’ up to 15 soldiers a day – is no less harrowing than the other pasts being recounted. However the manner in which her story is told is highly expressionistic and completely at odds with the prior documentarian aesthetic. As such it is very clear that two directors are collaborating, with their alternative visions never managing to form a cohesive whole. The result is two films that have been edited together in a rather rudimentary fashion, which detracts from the incredible poignancy of what came before. This also gives rise to the other big issue with the film in the form of the two and a half hour running time, which is far, far too long. This is a genuine shame as had the two quite different films been edited separately both would be much stronger pieces of film, particularly the superb documentarian aesthetic in which Tour of Duty began.

A Korean-American orphan explores the old brothels she was forced to work in

A Korean-American orphan explores the old brothels she was forced to work in

Verdict:

Tour of Duty is a powerful documentary about the sexual abuses suffered by Korean women in an American military town in the Uijeongbu district. The stories of sexual slavery are harrowing and poignant, while the government role by both Korea and America in the atrocities, as well as the ‘forgotten’ status of the women, makes for an important and sometimes upsetting viewing experience. Yet the film loses traction as directors Kim Dong-ryung and Park Kyoung-tae seek to impose their quite different visual styles – the documentarian and the experimentalist – and the two disparate aesthetic styles never combine into a cohesive whole and make an overly-long running time of two and a half hours. Despite this, Tour of Duty is a potent reminder of crimes from the recent past that should not be forgotten.

★★★☆☆

International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Reviews
Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기) – ★★★★☆

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

Kim Tae-yong (김태용) is one of the few directors working in the Korean film industry who actively gives women a ‘voice’.  Rather than define female protagonists through relationships or position them as objects/commodities, director Kim’s films are consistently compelling through the articulation of fully-formed women’s roles.

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기) fits very much within such a framework. Indeed, the Korean titles literally translates as ‘Her Performance‘, an ironic title referring to both the director’s sensibilties as well as Gong Hyo-jin’s (공효진) outstanding acting talent. The 25 minute Hong Kong co-production is a highly charismatic short film, and despite the limited time frame manages to portray a lovingly nuanced and very entertaining romantic tale.

Upon learning of his terminally ill father’s condition, Jeju Islander Cheol-su (Park Hee-soon (박희순) must quickly return to his hometown to say a final farewell. However, wishing to show his father that he will be taken care of, Cheol-su hires an actress, Yeong-hee (Gong Hyo-jin), to act as his fiancee. Upon meeting the actress at the airport, Cheol-su quickly discovers Yeong-hee’s incredible positivity and charisma as she tries her utmost to fulfill her role.

Yeong-hee and Cheol-su meet at the airport, ready for their roles

Yeong-hee and Cheol-su meet at the airport, ready for their roles

First and foremost, the reason You Are More Than Beautiful is such a lovely short film is due to the superb performance of Gong Hyo-jin. From the moment she enters the film at the airport through to the final credits, the actress is constantly charismatic and it’s impossible not to be won over by her positivity. The title is particularly apt as Gong Hyo-jin is indeed very attractive, yet that is not what defines her character. It is Yeong-hee’s indomitable spirit and her cheeky-yet-playful personality that makes her so compelling to watch. Whether taking pictures in the countryside to reinforce the charade, or simply having a conversation to discover Cheol-su’s personality, Yeong-hee is a beautiful person both inside and out. Yet where the protagonist really shines in in meeting her fake fiancé’s terminally ill father. Her rendition of traditional Korean opera, as well as her interactions with the elderly gentleman, are a joy to behold due to the poignancy and heartwarming comedy embodied by the actress.

Actor Park Hee-soon also provides a great foil as stoic and sombre Cheol-su. The reason for his melancholy seems to go beyond his father’s illness, with the washed out colour palette conveying his depression well. Watching Cheol-su’s reluctance to engage with Yeong-hee’s positivity is wonderfully entertaining, as her zest for life slows chips away at his cold exterior yet he still attempts to keep her at a distance. The mismatched couple convey more heart and emotional connection than most films manage in three times the length, which is an incredible feat.

To flesh out the facade, the couple discover each other's traits

To flesh out the facade, the couple discover each other’s traits

Director Kim has stated that prior to filming You Are More Than Beautiful, all he prepared were the camera and the cast. This is quite surprising as the cinematography is very attractive throughout the film, particularly the manner in which the natural beauty of Jeju Island is captured. The roads and paths, as well as the horse farm, highlight the unspoiled nature of the island and as such conveys the romanticism with which Jeju has become renowned. Similarly, while the great outdoors looks gorgeous, director Kim employs some wonderful symmetrical shots to emphasis different stages of the evolving relationship between Yeong-hee and Cheol-su to great effect.

Yet despite such praise, the film isn’t quite perfect. It’s a credit to director Kim and the actors involved that although a lot of events occur during the 25 minute running time, there is still a desire for more. This certainly could have been achieved with more development ascribed to Cheol-su, whose character isn’t as fully-formed as Yeong-hee. Yet with Gong Hyo-jin on such amazing form it is entirely understandable, as her enthralling charisma and grace make the film so compelling.

Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

Verdict:

You Are More Than Beautiful is a delightful short film by director Kim Tae-yong. As one of the few directors in the Korean film industry creating fully-developed female roles his films are always interesting, and actress Gong Hyo-jin takes full advantage of the opportunity to perform her acting talent. Throughout the film she is utterly compelling and wonderfully charismatic, living up to the title as her passion for life and positivity make her more than an attractive women. A lovely short film.

★★★★☆

 

International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Reviews
Circle Line (순환선)

Modern Family (가족 시네마) – ★★★☆☆

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Modern Family (가족 시네마) is a collection of four short films that explores the different forms of trauma that can occur for contemporary families. Each story is a very interesting and well-crafted vision of the issues facing the family unit, with each respective director’s style shining through in the quest to articulate the emotional complexities of the situation.

The short films deal with a surprising array of topics including unemployment, the loss of a child, parental responsibility and women’s rights in the workplace. What is wonderful about each entry is the sincerity in which the issue is explored. Often subtle and understated, Modern Family is an insightful film about the complexities of family and the attempts to survive in contemporary society.

Yet ironically, as each short film is so interesting, they all feel as if they end too soon. All four directors have chosen potent topics to explore, and the short time limit means that each respective story feels cut short. The depth each director has applied in examining familial issues is powerful yet seems to only scratch the surface of the situation. It is a testament to the director’s skill that each entry causes a desire for more information, but it is a desire that, for the most part, goes unfulfilled.

In the interest of fairness, each short film is reviewed individually, before a final summary.

Circle Line (순환선)

Circle Line (순환선)

Circle Line (순환선) – ★★★★☆

Director Shin Su-won’s (신수원) Circle Line is the most prestigious entry within Modern Family, having won the Canal+ prize at Cannes in 2012. The award is thoroughly deserved, as director Shin employs some wonderful artistic shots and symbolism in exploring the life of a middle-aged man who has recently been made unemployed. To make matters worse, his wife is soon to give birth to their second child. Depressed and ashamed, the man simply travels on the subway circle line all day, searching for jobs on his laptop and observing the assortment of characters that come and go. Director Shin articulates the man’s frustrations superbly through the mise-en-scene and the minor, but highly symbolic, confrontations that arise. Jeong In-gi (정인기) is also terrific as the redundant father-to-be, providing a restrained performance that suddenly explodes when tensions become too much to bear. Circle Line is as much a commentary on contemporary masculinity, economy, and society as it is about family, and it’s the subtle manner in which each area is dealt with that makes the film so compelling.

Star-shaped Stain (별 모양의 얼룩)

Star-shaped Stain (별 모양의 얼룩)

Star-shaped Stain (별 모양의 얼룩) –  ★★★☆☆

Star-shaped Stain is arguably the most poignant film in the omnibus, as director Hong Ji-young (홍지영) examinations a couple whose daughter died through tragic circumstances. Initially the couple seem to be coping extremely well with the loss, however with the anniversary of the youngster’s death the barriers that they have built to cope with the trauma gradually wear down. Director Hong does a great job of gently peeling back the layers of the protagonists, particularly of the mother (Kim Ji-young, 김지영) who feels such a tremendous sense of guilt that she continuously revisits the events of her final encounter with her daughter. The real tragedy comes in the form of the hope that her daughter is alive, as the once composed woman begins to unravel which is genuinely heartbreaking to witness. The moving film is unfortunately cut short just as it starts to become seriously compelling, as the protagonists are pushed into highly emotional and psychological territory but then abruptly ends. This is a real shame as there is a lot more potential to be explored, but which never materializes due to the limitations of the running time.

E.D.571

E.D.571

E.D.571 –  ★★★☆☆

Director Lee Soo-yeon’s (이수연) entry is the only one which adds a more science-fiction sensibility to the exploration of family by setting the story in the year 2030. A workaholic career woman (Seon Woo-seon, 선우선) leads a rather lonely life, living purely to work. Yet it is thrown into disarray when a young girl (Ji Woo, 지우) appears on her doorstep claiming to be her biological daughter, the result of selling an unfertilized egg in order to pay for tuition years prior. The film is a commentary on parental responsibility with the media full of reports about criminal youths and gangs, but with the arrival of the biological daughter it becomes clear that such actions are the results of awful parenting and neglect. However E.D. 571 doesn’t really explore the issue with the depth required for it to be insightful, with mentions of certain situations but lacking the psychological and emotional depth for them to carry any weight. Part of the reason is the decision to shoot the entire confrontation in the woman’s home in the form of a battle of wits which, while certainly interesting, doesn’t really get to the heart of the issues being referenced.

In Good Company (인 굿 컴퍼니 )

In Good Company (인 굿 컴퍼니 )

In Good Company (인 굿 컴퍼니) –  ★★★☆☆

In Good Company is an excellent examination of the misogyny and unfairness women are forced to endure in contemporary Korea. Director Kim Seong-ho (김성호) also wisely shoots his film in the form of a documentary adding a greater sense of realism, while adding dramatic ‘reconstructions’ of the events that occurred as a pregnant worker is forced to resign in order to save a company providing maternity pay. Interestingly, rather than centering the argument around exploitative patriarchy through the male boss – performed ably by Lee Myeong-haeng (이명행) – the narrative emphasises the work ethic within Korean culture, and the lack of female solidarity, as the source of the problem. This is where In Good Company really shines, as the women who should know better and support each other actually perpetuate the misogyny, which is a highly refreshing take on the subject. While the film explores the issues well, it is ultimately let down in the quest to tie up all the narrative loose ends through a contrived finale which undermines what came before.

Verdict:

Modern Family is an insightful collection of 4 short films concerned with trauma in the contemporary family unit. Each director – Shin Su-won, Hong Ji-young, Lee Soo-yeon and Kim Seong-ho – have each produced work that exemplifies their unique styles as well as exploring quite diverse areas, and the omnibus is consistently compelling throughout. The time limitations do have a negative impact on the storytelling however, as just as the narrative begins to push their protagonists in dramatic directions the film is cut short, or the rush to tie everything up leads to contrivances. Despite this, Modern Family is a thought-provoking drama, and a great showcase of directing talent.

 ★★★☆☆

International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Reviews
BRA (브라자)

WFFIS 2013: Quick Fire Reviews 3

The quick-fire reviews featured here are from the Asian Short Film and Video Competition (아시아 단편경선):

BRA (브라자)

BRA (브라자)

BRA (브라자) – 7/10

Director Won Jan-di’s (원잔디) coming-of-age drama is a lovely and compelling story about a young girl called Da-young on the verge of entering adolescence  The tale encapsulates a wide spectrum of human emotion as Da-hyung desires to be seen as a woman by the boy she likes, and as such focuses on breasts as the sign of womanhood. As Da-young steals her grandmother’s bra and attempts to create breasts of her own, the film becomes a heart-warming tale of innocence with sweet moments of genuine comedy and drama. Director Won also seeks to create a comparison between Da-young and her grandmother, who is going through similar trials of her own. Yet as the grandmother’s story isn’t as developed as Da-young’s it serves to detract from the main story, although their discussion about entering womanhood is poignant and insightful. Certainly one of the better short films in the competition.

Chunjung (춘정)

Chunjung (춘정)

Chunjung (춘정) – 4/10

To be honest, it’s quite difficult to accurately review Chunjung as the English subtitles were so awful that the story was difficult to follow. Director Lee Mi-rang’s (이미랑) entry follows Chinese immigrant Chunjung, who joins an agency which cons elderly Korean people into parting with their money. It’s illegal of course, yet she forms relationships with the other women working there. It’s an odd film, as Chunjung appears to be mentally ill as well as illiterate, while the women at the agency always seem to talk about finding a man. Ultimately the film does very little to explore either the immigrant experience or Chunjung as a character, although hints of such may have been missed due to the terrible subtitles.

Fitting Room (피팅룸)

Fitting Room (피팅룸)

Fitting Room (피팅룸) – 4/10

Fitting Room is concerned with a mother who wishes to have a life of freedom, but can’t due to her young daughter. It is extremely difficult to empathise with the mother as she treats her daughter terribly throughout, never talking to her or attempting to understand the youngster. The turning point comes when the mother hides the sleeping girl in a closet in order to have sex with her boyfriend, which seems to be the catalyst for wishing to be a better mum. Director Oh Jung-mi (오정미) is clearly attempting to explore the evolving relationship between a bad single mother and her innocent daughter, but there is little depth due to the lack of dialogue and restriction within an apartment.

Mija (미자)

Mija (미자)

Mija (미자) – 6/10

Director Jeon Hyo-jeong’s (전효정) examination of lonely middle-aged woman Mija is an insightful, poignant, and often comedic short film. Her secret lover is a younger Nepalese man – a feature which sadly instigated gasps amongst the audience – and Mija decides to purchase tickets for them both to visit his homeland. The real power of the film lies in Mija’s desire to overcome her jealousies and her age through cosmetics and other methods, yet is ultimately unable to do so. The film is a poignant and moving depiction of a single middle-aged woman who wishes to change her life, with just enough comedy to keep the narrative from becoming bleak.

Mira's Will (미라의 의지)

Mira’s Will (미라의 의지)

Mira’s Will (미라의 의지) – 5/10

One of the more straightforward comedy offerings, Mira’s Will tells the story of a lonely young woman who has yet to experience her first kiss. The film is often more mildly amusing rather than funny, although the advice given by a friend to enhance her sex appeal – not to wear underwear on a date – adds some laughs. Director Lee Eun-jeong’s (이은정) entry is entertaining, especially witnessing Mira take control of her sexuality in order to seduce a man, but suffers as she is so desperate she’s willing to accept anyone. The film also doesn’t end well as wearing no panties on a date leads to a predictable outcome. However it is refreshing to see a female character take control of her sexuality – and to desire sex – without any connotations of shame, and as such is an enjoyable tale.

The Room of Drink (살롱 드 보아)

The Room of Drink (살롱 드 보아)

The Room of Drink (살롱 드 보아) – 3/10

The Room of Drink is an exploration of the way in which women are exploited in hostess bars by wealthy men. The premise is full of potential, as the hostess bar culture in Korea highlights one of the more accepted forms of misogyny within the country. However the film fails to scratch any of the surfaces that are so ripe for examination. When a pretty, young office worker is asked to drop by such a bar to provide documents for her boss, she is ushered into acting like a hostess, pouring drinks for her boss’ companion and allowing him to touch her. The unease is palpable, although never moves into the realm of tension, while the glares passed between the office worker and the real hostess convey an odd mix of jealousy and judgement that are not really explored. A missed opportunity by director Sohn Hae-sook (손해숙).

Festival News International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Bad Scene (배드신)

WFFIS 2013: Quick Fire Reviews 2

The quick-fire reviews featured here are from the Polemics: The Constellation of the Violence Against Women (쟁점: 보이지 않는 – 폭력의 관계구조) section:

Bad Scene (배드신)

Bad Scene (배드신)

Bad Scene (배드신) – 6/10

Bad Scene depicts the story of struggling actress Jin-hong who, due to her 28 years of age, fails to get the part of a high school student. However there is a role in the film suitable for her, but it involves a lot of nudity. Writer/director Jeon Go-woon (전고운) explores the internal conflict of a woman who wishes to succeed yet must use her body to do so, highlighting the serious issue of the physical exploitation of women in the workplace. Yet ironically the strength of the film doesn’t lie in the main story, but in events that surround it. Jin-hong tapes her breasts to be upright and perky, and sexualizes herself in school uniform, even before the nude role is offered.  In attempting to prepare for the sex scene, Jin-hong asks a male friend to help but in doing so is almost raped, as he protests that she, “started it.”  The psychological and psychical exhaustion she suffers are clear throughout, yet the main problem with Bad Scene is that in depicting her private life the film loses focus on the actual ‘bad scene’ itself and the way women are exploited on camera. A moving and thought-provoking drama that could of benefited from greater focus and/or an extra ten minutes for exploration.

Deviation (도착)

Deviation (도착)

Deviation (도착) – 5/10

Director Lee Min-beh (이민배) explores the ‘male gaze’ and the hypocrisy of masculinity in Deviation. On the subway Su-jin overhears men discussing the leak of a sex tape by a prominent actress, and the rampant misogyny in their ideology as they chastise the actress yet are excited by watching it. However the film then takes an awkward turn as Su-jin visits a police station due to the arrest of her boyfriend, who has been secretly taking pictures of women’s legs. The hypocrisy of the officers is explored as they accuse the boyfriend of perversion yet do so themselves, and make up appallingly sexist reasons for  the crime. Much of the running time is spent in the station which is unfortunate, as the conversations are generally pushed too far beyond the realm of believability for it to be of consequence. Yet director Lee does finish on an ironic and pertinent end note, by directly accusing the audience of sexism through the voyeurism of the camera itself, which is a nice touch.

My, No Mercy Home (잔인한 나의, 홈)

My No Mercy Home (잔인한 나의, 홈)

My No Mercy Home (잔인한 나의, 홈) – 7/10

Documentary My No Mercy Home is a powerful viewing experience, as director Aori (아오리) follows the court case of a young woman – nicknamed ‘Dolphin’ – as she sues her father for rape and sexual assault which commenced in the 8th grade. Yet what is truly shocking about this real-life story is how Dolphin’s family accuse her of lying, despite the evidence to the contrary, and ex-communicated by the mostly female members of the family. Technically the film is quite rough-around-the-edges, yet Dolphin’s story is so heart-breakingly sincere that it highly compelling, albeit difficult, viewing. One of the wonderful elements of My No Mercy Home is the emphasis on other women as villains; while the father is responsible for rape, it is Dolphin’s mother, aunt and sisters, as well as an ex-boyfriend’s mother and various others figures, who turn their backs on the truth and Dolphin’s suffering. While it would have benefited from greater technical prowess, the film is a  sincere and moving documentary.

Festival News International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews