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