Who is the mysterious new tenant?

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어) – ★★☆☆☆

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어)

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어)

Struggling screenwriter Nam Gyu-jeong (Choi Yoon-yeong (최윤영) has multiple dilemmas to contend with. She has a huge crush on her best friend’s boyfriend, the local police officer; her divorced parents are both behaving mysteriously; her laptop has died and she cant afford to replace it; and a disquieting, black-clad new tenant has begun staying in her father’s building. As Gyu-jeong begins researching for her next project involving a vampiric protagonist, she becomes convinced that the enigmatic stranger known as Gang Nam-girl (Park Jeong-sik (박정식) is also a bloodsucker due to his aversion to sunlight and distaste for garlic…or he could be just plain weird. As Gyu-jeong seeks the truth about Nam-girl and the assortment of people in her life, the comical situations that arise help her to discover the path of love is often far from smooth.

Who is the mysterious new tenant?

Who is the mysterious new tenant?

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어) is a quirky romantic comedy that is unfortunately lacking in both areas. The comedic scenes that emerge throughout the course of the film are entertaining enough to be smile inducing – for example the mystery man’s name is Gang Nam-girl (Gangnam girl) – yet rarely offers more, while the burgeoning romance between Gyu-jeong and her ‘vampire’ is forced to the point of being contrived. The reason for this ultimately belongs to array of supporting characters who number far too many, and director Lee Won-hoi’s (이원회) desire to give each of them a narrative arc forces You Are My Vampire into a film comprised of a series of vignettes rather than a compelling whole with a strong emotional core. The rom-com does display hints of the madcap narrative devices that made How to Use Guys With Secret Tips such a thrill, but unfortunately they never extend into something provoking the same kind of enjoyment.

Gyu-jeong wears quirky clothes while selling side dishes to get Nam-girl's attention and discover his secrets

Gyu-jeong wears quirky clothes while selling side dishes to get Nam-girl’s attention and discover his secrets

While the comedy tends to prompt titters rather than laughs, You Are My Vampire also offers some stimulating social issues through the supporting cast. Gyu-jeong’s parents are divorced yet remain friends, and the jokes that arise between the three of them are refreshing compared to traditional Korean rom-com fare. Similarly Gyu-jeong’s crush on her best friend’s boyfriend and the resulting dilemmas are conveyed without the pretense and melodrama inherent in other stories, while Nam-girl’s sad history and the storyline involving Bangladeshi friend Mabub are welcome. However, Mabub is also the victim of a racially offensive joke regarding his armpit odor, which is uncalled for and very disappointing. As the comedy gently continues, You Are My Vampire falls into the trap that often blights Korean rom-coms by incorporating a heavy dose of melodrama to force narrative closure. It’s an unnecessary addition, but luckily director Lee quickly moves focus back to the central couple and their unconventional attraction to each other.

WIth all the mysteries going on, can Gyu-jeong and Nam-girl get it together?

WIth all the mysteries going on, can Gyu-jeong and Nam-girl get it together?

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어) attempts to capitalise on contemporary culture’s fascination with supernatural love stories, by offering a decidedly quirky rom-com between a struggling screenwriter and man who displays all the hallmarks of vampirism. Director Lee Won-hoi (이원회) employs quite gentle comedy throughout that provokes sniggers rather than laughs, while the over-abundant supporting cast force the film into a series of vignettes rather than a compelling whole. While the approach to social issues is refreshing, the contrivances and lack of strong emotional core make the rom-com a mildly entertaining experience.

★★☆☆☆

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Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Sookhee (숙희)

Sookhee (숙희) – ★★☆☆☆

Sookhee (숙희)

Sookhee (숙희)

When highly-conservative philosophy professor Yoon (Jo Han-cheol (조한철) suffers a stroke due to overwork and stress, his wife does the best she can to nurse him back to health. Yet when she cannot cope any longer, she enlists the help of quirky caregiver Sookhee (Chae Min-seo (채민서), whose patients all seem to remarkably recover. Sookhee, however, is more than she seems and her techniques vary from kind and sweet to threatening and sexual.

Sookhee (숙희)

Sookhee is a free spirit

Imagine Mary Poppins as a sexually charged sociopath who take care of conservative, misogynistic stroke sufferers. That is quite possibly the most apt description of Sookhee (숙희), a bizarre film with a huge identity crisis and a large undercurrent of meanness. The mish-mash of an array of generic conventions, as well as Sookhee’s constantly schizophrenic characterisation, make the story an incredibly surreal experience. Writer/director Yang Ji-eun (양지은) doesn’t appear to be sure what kind of film she wants to helm, as the narrative – and characters – veer in all directions without really exploring any. Ironically this is both compelling as well as frustrating, as the odd machinations consistently surprise. Yet beneath all the bizarre goings-on is an ordinate amount of unwarranted, appalling misogyny. Masculine fantasies frequently arise and typically instigate violence. Throughout the film Sookhee is routinely beaten and sexually assaulted by the men in her life adding an acutely nasty dimension to an otherwise jovial film, which is all the more surprising given that director Yang is one of the few female filmmakers presenting her work at JIFF 2014. Sookhee perpetuates the archaic ideology that free-spirited women need to be tamed and dominated by violence and sex.

Sookhee is the victim of an inordinate amount of misogyny

Sookhee is the victim of an inordinate amount of misogyny

What director Yang does well lies in her use of colour. Scenes featuring Sookhee are beautifully vibrant and sumptuous, often featured in the countryside far from the realm of men, conveying her liberation from patriarchy alongside pagan, or wiccan, sensibilities. Professor Yoon, in contrast, is located within an absence of colour. The washed-out palette wonderfully conveys his conservatism and strict adherence to the rules of men, bolstered by the repetition of academic and religious iconography. As Sookhee enters Yoon’s world and ‘educates’ him through her odd mix of fear and sexual liberation, his world gradually becomes more colourful as he heals. Yet therein also lies problems, as Yoon’s trajectory is more of a vapid devolution than one of enlightenment. Director Yang is attempting to explore Oedipal issues and gender roles through Sookhee’s maternal and Yoon’s infantile roles, and by reversing old-fashioned patriarchal positions of power and sex. However the message is lost beneath the deluge of oddities and mean-spirited misogyny, alongside the unintentionally humourous overacting.

Sookhee's former patients seek to 'tame' her through sexual violence

Sookhee’s former patients seek to ‘tame’ her through sexual violence

Verdict:

Sookhee is a peculiar film about a free-spirited caregiver who helps stroke sufferers through a bizarre mix of fear and sex. The tone and themes within the surreal film spiral wildly throughout, creating a huge identity crisis from beginning to end while the undercurrent of needless misogyny casts a dark shadow over proceedings. Writer/director Yang Ji-eun does well in employing colour to convey the sensibilities of the two central protagonists, yet the messages regarding reversal of patriarchal relationship and sexual roles are subsumed beneath utter oddity and meanness.

★★☆☆☆

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

JIFF 2014: Korean Competition

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The Korean Competition at the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) always contains a selection of rare gems of independent cinema.

Last year the big winner of the competition was December which was honoured with the Grand Prize, while Dear Dolphin and Lebanon Emotion won the CGV Movie Collage Awards, respectively. The Audience Critics Prize went to documentary My Place. Interestingly, out of all of the winning films the most successful were Lebanon Emotion – which earned Jung Young-heon the Best Director prize at the Moscow International Film Festival as well as appearing in Vancouver and London – and My Place, which has earned several domestic accolades including the Jury Prize at the Seoul International Film Festival and was invited to the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.

At JIFF 2014 there are eleven films vying for the coveted Grand Prize. Among the eight features and three documentaries are nine world premieres, which is certainly an impressive lineup. Below is the Korean Competition trailer which features highlights from all the entrants, before more detailed profiles of each film in the program.

Korean Competition

A Dream of Iron (철의 꿈)

Director Park (Kelvin) Kyung Kun (박경근)

A Dream of Iron

A Dream of Iron

A Dream of Iron

A Dream of Iron

Documentary A Dream of Iron arrives as the most celebrated film in the category following a premiere at Berlinale and being awarded the NETPAC prize (alongside Non-Fiction Diary). Unable to understand his partner’s decision to become a Buddhist monk, director Park begins searching for something tangible and awe-inspiring, leading him to Korea’s POSCO steelworks. Contrasting differing ideas of religion and majesty, A Dream of Iron contains stunning cinematography of the country’s struggle with modernity.

A Fresh Start (새출발)

Director Jang Woo-jin (장우진)

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start marks director Jang Woo-jin’s  feature debut. The film depicts youngsters Ji-yeon and Hye-rin, two lonely individuals who meet regularly at a literature club. When their relationship unexpectedly turns sexual, everything is fine…until Hye-rin discovers that she is pregnant. With both of them already suffering from family-related problems, school issues and the all-too-common depression that afflicts Korean youth, Hye-rin and Ji-yeon struggle with what they should do in such a difficult situation. Furthermore their unsure feelings towards each other are forced into the spotlight as they struggle to find a solution.

Highway Stars (악사들)

Director Kim Ji-gon (김지곤)

Highway Stars

Highway Stars

Highway Stars

Highway Stars

Highway Stars is another documentary entry in the competition, following the life and times of Band Udambara. The ensemble are a fascinating group consisting of former nightclub performers and a Buddhist monk, and the film explores how they make a living by taking night gigs. Nightclubs, it should be noted, are different from clubs in Korea as they are extremely male orientated and often are fronts for illegal activity. Director Kim Ji-gon, whose documentary Grandma Cement-Garden appeared at JIFF last year, returns to explore more individuals forced to the margins of society.

Miss the Train (미성년)

Director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭)

Miss the Train

Miss the Train

Miss the Train

Miss the Train

Director Lee Kyung-sub has previously helmed a number of short films including last year’s JIFF Cinemascape entry Mr. Vertigo, starring Oh Dal-su. With Miss the Train director Lee upgrades to feature length in depicting the story of So-jin, who grieves the death of her mother, a former shaman. When a strange man forces So-jin to help him find his missing child as he believes she is part of a prophecy, she desperately seeks an escape from the pressures in her life. Yet when she runs away to lie low in a warehouse, she encounters another odd man, and her grasp on reality becomes evermore tenuous as spirits seem to appear before her.

Monkeys (몽키즈)

Director Jung Byeong-sik (정병식)

Monkeys

Monkeys

Monkeys

Monkeys

Monkeys is Jung Byeong-sik’s directorial debut, after working on other films including 2012’s A Confession of Murder and Action Boys in 2006. Monkeys revolves around Gong-hyeok, a man who once had future ambitions of becoming renowned in the music and film industry. Yet now in his late twenties and in dire need to support his family, Gong-hyeok is still no closer to achieving his dreams. Yet when he reconnects with an old friend who has just debuted as a film director, Gong-hyeok cannot help himself and old quarrels suddenly start to reappear and drive a wedge between them. The film is in both colour and black and white.

One For All, All For One (60만번의 트라이)

Director s Park Sa-yu (박사유), Park Don-sa (박돈사)

One For All, All For One

One For All, All For One

One For All, All For One

One For All, All For One

Issues of discrimination are of paramount concern in rugby drama One For All, All For One. The sporting film depicts a Korean rugby team in Osaka who are very successful despite encountering prejudice from society at large. However their indomitable spirits and strong sense of camaraderie help them to overcome any discrimination that comes their way. Sporting dramas are often quite successful in Korea especially as they typically involve national pride, particularly when the opponents are Japanese. Director Park Don-sa is a third generation Korean living in Osaka, while director Park Sa-yu has focused on discrimination against Koreans in Japan in her previous work.

Pohang Harbor (포항)

Director Mo Hyun-shin (모현신)

Pohang Harbor

Pohang Harbor

Pohang Harbor

Pohang Harbor

Drama Pochang Harbor explores the notions of life and death, in conjunction with human development and behaviour, in what looks set to be the most experimental offering in the category. When his father mysteriously goes missing, a man returns to his hometown in order to find him. Yet the man also has alternative reasons for coming home. Following years of working dead-end labour jobs and not settling any roots, the man is searching for something more than the life he has forged. In her feature debut director Mo Hyun-shin employs a host of long shots and keen cinematography to examine the human condition.

Sookhee (숙희)

Director Yang Ji-eun (양지은)

Sookhee

Sookhee

Sookhee

Sookhee

Sookhee tells the story of a conservative, workaholic philosophy professor named Yoon. Unable to take the stress any longer Yoon suffers a stroke and, as his wife is unable to cope, a free-spirited caregiver named Sookhee nurses him to health. Yet her treatments are far from orthodox as she employs a mixture of kindness, fear, and sexual excitement to force Yoon on the road to recovery. Furthermore, the maternal instincts she employs enact a dramatic reversal of traditional gender roles, provoking extreme reactions from the once uptight philosophy professor. Sookhee is director Yang Ji-eun’s first feature film and due to the exploration of sexual issues is described as a ‘daring debut.’

The Wicked (마녀)

Director Yoo Young-seon (유영선)

The Wicked

The Wicked

The Wicked

The Wicked

The competition would be lacking without a new thriller, and luckily director Yoo Young-soon’s debut The Wicked fulfills the criteria. When Se-yeong begins working at a company, her senior I-seon quickly becomes concerned. Se-yeong’s threatening behaviour, as well as her fascination for sharp objects ranging from scissors to small knives, frightens I-seon…particularly as she learns more about her new colleagues unsavory past. Could Se-yeong truly be as wicked as she seems?

The Youth (레디 액션 청춘)

Directors Kim Jin-moo (김진무), Park Ga-hee (박가희), Ju Seong-su (주성수), Jung Won-sik (정원식)

The Youth - Wonderwall

The Youth – Wonderwall

The Youth - Play Girl

The Youth – Play Girl

The Youth is an omnibus of four short stories, each one exploring the lives of Korean youths. The segments are entitled The Rumor, Wonderwall, Enemies All Around, and Playgirl. Within each short film the directors examine the worlds of Korean youngsters as they struggle to discover their identities as well as retain their innocence and hope, even when facing external issues including violence and peer pressure. Director Kim Jin-moo is a hot property after the release of Apostle, a film based on North Korean human rights issues. The film was even selected for overseas screenings at the UN. Furthermore directors Park Ga-hee and Jung Won-sik all have a history in helming shorts, while Ju Seong-su has previously worked in the production departments of several features.

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어)

Director Lee Won-hoi (이원회)

You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire

Quirky romantic-comedy-drama You Are My Vampire seeks to capitalise on supernatural relationships that are so popular in contemporary culture. Director Lee Won-hoi employs a playful and energetic style in depicting the story of struggling screenwriter Gyu-jeong, who encounters a mysterious black-clad figure who bears an uncanny resemble to a vampire…or he could just be the strangest man she’s ever met. The film features an eclectic supporting cast who, to Gyu-jeong’s dismay, also begin behaving strangely after the arrival of the pale-skinned man.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014
The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 2014 Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) is due to commence from May the 1st through to the 10th.

Now in its 15th installment, JIFF has long been the festival for showcasing up and coming Korean independent talent as well as serving as a platform for international indies to receive attention. This year is of course no exception, as new features have added and programs extended in conjunction with the traditional core categories.

Last year, JIFF provided the launchpad for several notable Korean indie films that later went on to become successful on the international circuit. Family documentary My Place (마이 플레이스) and drama-thriller Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정) were the most prominent, enjoying lengthy festival runs and scooping several awards domestically and internationally while other productions including Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)Talking Architecture, City: Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀), and controversial documentary Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트) also performed well. Breathe Me (울게 하소서) was the most celebrated short film to emerge from the festival, later appearing in Cannes in the prestigious Critics Week category.

This year however sees not only an array of new Korean filmmakers but also some of the most renowned and reputable names in the independent film industry screening their latest work. Furthermore, the festival design is clearly emphasising JIFF as a celebration of elegance and subtle sincerity, as can be viewed in the trailer below.

The big change at JIFF 2014 lies in the greater focus on Korean films. Korea Cinemascape has now become a distinct program in its own right, and while previously more mainstream Korean films were integrated within, the focus has now shifted to more independent and low-budget productions. As such, there are some big names in indie cinema within Korea Cinemascape this year, including Lee Song Hee-il (White Night), Lee Sang-woo (Barbie) and Kim Kyung-mook (Stateless Things), as well as a greater number of world premieres which further cement JIFF’s reputation for discovering new talent.

In addition, two of JIFF’s staple programs – Jeonju Digital Project and Short! Short! Short! – have been amalgamated in order to enhance the overall quality of the productions as well as elevating the films into features. This year, two of of the three films are helmed by Korean directors.

The festival is also now separated into two distinct parts – from May 1st~7th JIFF will operate is normal, while May 8th~10th will focus more on the films in the International Competition. The Closing film has been abolished, and instead the Grand Prize winning film from the International Competition will screen instead.

Opening Film

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) 

Directors Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승), Kim Tae-yong (김태용)

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉)

MAD SAD BAD is a fascinating and exciting departure from traditional opening films. The 3D omnibus is helmed by three of Korea’s extremely talented directors. In Ghost, director Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File) explores the life of a high school student who retreats from the world and instead finds purpose talking with a girl on SNS. The segment stars red hot indie star Lee David (Pluto, Poetry), Kwak Do-wan (The Attorney, National Security) and model Son Soo-hyeon in her acting debut, while the film itself is based on a true story. In futuristic zombie film I Saw You, director Han Ji-seung (Papa) plays with a variety of genres as he portrays the undead as factory workers. Featuring Park Ki-woong (Secretly Greatly) and kpop star See Ya’s Nam Gyoo-ri (Death Bell), the romantic musical horror will certainly be an attractive affair. Rounding out the omnibus is Picnic by director Kim Tae-yong (You Are More Than Beautiful). When a young girl loses her autistic brother on a picnic trip, her frantic search calls forth the realms of her imagination inspired from her beloved comic books. Child actress Kim Soo-an (Hide and Seek) stars.

Please see below for the MAD SAD BAD trailer.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014
Yong-ju and Gi-woong contemplate their lives atop Night Flight

Night Flight (야간비행) – ★★★★☆

Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Premiering to high praise at the 2014 Berlinale, director Lee Song Hee-il’s (이송희일) insightful and thought-provoking drama Night Flight (야간비행) continues to build upon themes explored in his previous work. Homosexuality in contemporary Korea and the resultant alienation are joined by explorations of the country’s notoriously harsh education system as well as social injustice, making the coming-of-age film arguably the director’s most fully formed work to date. With Night Flight, director Lee Song is rapidly cementing his position as Korea’s most prominent and influential queer filmmaker.

Like most teenagers in Korea, high school students and best friends Yong-ju (Kwak Si-yang (곽시양) and Gi-taek (Choi Jun-ha (최준하)  struggle with an overwhelming amount of study and the pressure to attend a top university. Yet the duo’s lives are further complicated as Gi-taek is relentlessly bullied and beaten by the school’s ‘elite’ while Yong-ju, raised by his single-parent mother, is gay and unable to express his sexuality for fear of repercussions. Yong-ju has long harbored a crush on violent head-bully and low-level gangster Gi-woong (Lee Jae-joon (이재준) since middle school, who also attempts to cope with an extremely troubled life. When Yong-ju decides to make a pass at Go-woong, events are then set in motion that forces them all into a powerful confrontation.

Yong-ju harbors a secret crush on fellow student Gi-woong

Yong-ju harbors a secret crush on fellow student Gi-woong

Director Lee Song Hee-il’s films are always absorbing explorations of the alienation gay men experience within contemporary Korea, and Night Flight certainly doesn’t disappoint. Within the film director Lee Song has focused on an area he has previous only briefly touched upon in his short Suddenly, Last Summer – the fraught experiences of gay teenagers. Night Flight is made up of a collection of real life stories the director has acquired over a number of years from the media and word of mouth, and it’s to his credit that they are collated into a convincing, compelling whole. Yet what sets Night Flight apart from director Lee Song’s prior films is that while homosexuality is a central theme it is not the sole focus of the story. A great number of social issues that Korean teenagers experience, including the enormous pressures of the education system, single-parent families, the class divide, and social injustice all feature within the narrative and are insightfully explored throughout. By featuring issues found in other acclaimed teenage indie dramas such as Pluto and Bleak Night, director Lee Song naturalises homosexuality as another facet of identity that youths struggle with as opposed to a constant sense of ‘otherness’, which is a welcome change indeed.

Night Flight is also yet another showcase for director Lee Song’s incredible vision for landscapes and composition. The cinematography is quite striking throughout the film, with the decrepit and poverty stricken environments portrayed with a great sense of foreboding, of a society crumbling under its own archaic issues. The fences and bars that appear throughout the district, so often wonderfully foregrounded, imply the prison within which these long-suffering teens occupy and are unable to escape.

Yong-ju and Gi-woong contemplate their lives atop Night Flight

Yong-ju and Gi-woong contemplate their lives atop Night Flight

Yet the film is not all grim landscapes as director Lee Song allows his characters occasional reprieves in the form of glorious sunsets, particularly atop former gay hotspot bar ‘Night Flight.’ This private arena, situated at the top of a dilapidated building, not only provides a great metaphorical resonance of escapism from the confines of a rigid society but also allows the troubled teens freedom of expression, with the conversations containing penetrating insight into the issues confronting them.

Night Flight is also an interesting variation for director Lee Song as not all of the principal characters are gay. Central protagonist Yong-ju is the only distinct homosexual voice with the film, while his friend Gi-taek exposes the bullying within Korean culture and ambiguous love interest Gi-woong personifies social injustice. All the cast give competent performances in their roles, although their rather obvious older-than-high school ages tends to be a distraction. As the narrative caters for a variety of perceptions and experiences that effect Korean teenagers Night Flight eloquently fits within the canon of provocative films about Korean youth. While the story is a little over-ambitious in attempting to contain so many social issues, Night Flight is well constructed and many of the disparate problems that feature are seen through to their respective conclusions.

The troubled teenagers dream of escape from the confines of a crumbling society

The troubled teenagers dream of escape from the confines of a crumbling society

Night Flight is an insightful and provocative teenage drama by Korea’s most notable queer filmmaker, director Lee Song Hee-il. In exploring homosexual themes of alienation in conjunction with an array of other youth and social issues such as education and the class system, director Lee Song has crafted a powerful coming of age story of identity and the desire for escape. Night Flight is a welcome addition to not only queer but also youth film, and is arguably the director’s most fully formed film to date.

★★★★☆

Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews