12 Deep Red Nights : Chapter One (십이야 : 깊고 붉은 열두 개의 밤) – ★★☆☆☆

12 Deep Red Nights

12 Deep Red Nights: Chapter 1

Horror omnibus films are consistently prevalent in Korean cinema, particularly arising at film festivals where directors – who are typically between projects – use the medium to showcase and experiment with their respective aesthetics through the short story form.

Last year’s horror anthology MAD SAD BAD opened the 2014 Jeonju Int. Film Festival and featured three talented directors experimenting with 3D technology for addition frights. Horror Stories kicked off the 2012 Bucheon Int. Fantastic Film Festival, depicting three tales encapsulated within a larger framework, while sequel Horror Stories 2 appeared at BiFan the following year.

Yet while the format allows directors to experiment with their craft, it also inevitably results in comparisons regarding which tale is more effective, an unfortunate byproduct director Oh In-cheon smartly circumvents by helming all four stories within 12 Deep Red Nights: Chapter 1.

1st Night - Driver

1st Night – Driver

Following his well-received feature debut Mourning Grave, director Oh’s 12 Deep Red Nights: Chapter 1 articulates four tales of woe in the dark recesses of Korea after dark which, while competently helmed, disappointingly lack flair and creativity. While disorientating scenes of the urban nightlife are effective, the omnibus seems to be more akin to a practice run for future endeavours as director Oh experiments with pacing and generating suspense, with actual scares in very short supply. That said, it’s interesting how horror is derived from commonplace features of life in the peninsula.

In 1st Night – Driver, a young socialite calls for a driving service to take her home and begs the driver to kill her, promising to bestow all her wealth as a reward. For foreign audiences the notion of this industry will undoubtedly be initially difficult to digest, yet once accepted as commonplace in Korea the tale becomes an intriguing one. Tension is generated well as the driver struggles with the morality of the situation, yet the climax is a letdown.

2nd Night – PM 11:55 sees a female office worker return to her apartment, unknowingly followed by a hooded figure. Tasked with completing a translation assignment before midnight, the woman achieves her goal with five minutes to spare. Yet as she unwinds, the hooded figure begins consistently ringing her door bell and refuses to leave, with the woman unable to contact the outside world for help. PM 11:55 sets up a sense of panic well, clearly inspired by real circumstances. However director Oh seems unsure how to end the story, which comes to an unsatisfying, abrupt end.

2nd Night 11:55

2nd Night 11:55

The next tale, 3rd Night – atmosFEAR (or literally Sounds of a Man) is the most impressive in terms of generating an increasingly heightened aura of suspense. An audio technician requires ambient sound for his latest project, and uses his equipment to record the sounds that occur at night. After capturing conversations of couples arguing, he traverses a countryside area for natural ambience. Yet upon hearing a girl’s scream, he follows his recording equipment to investigate the source. While the camerawork and props are employed to created palpable tension, the finale is easily the most disappointing of all the short stories.

Finally, 4th Night – Secret Night tells the tale of junior office worker Yeong-min who attempts to steal company secrets. This segment is the most narratively driven and complete tale within the film, exploring the fraught dynamic between senior and junior company staff in Korea alongside issues of blackmail. Yet while Secret Night is the most structured tale, it’s also the most bland and laborious due to the overly long running time and drawn out story.

4th Night - Secret Night

4th Night – Secret Night

Verdict:

Depicting four tales of nightly horror, omnibus 12 Deep Red Nights: Chapter 1 is a competent yet uninspiring addition to director Oh In-cheon’s filmography. The anthology serves more akin to a practice run for future endeavours rather than an inventive take on the genre. While suspense is generated well throughout each story disappointment quickly follows, and is a mediocre effort by a usually solid director.

★★☆☆☆

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Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews

The Chosen: Forbidden Cave (퇴마: 무녀굴) – ★☆☆☆☆

The Chosen: Forbidden Cave (퇴마: 무녀굴)

The Chosen: Forbidden Cave (퇴마: 무녀굴)

N.B. This review is based on the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival 2015 edit, screened at the closing ceremony.

Psychologist Jin-myeong (Kim Seong-gyoon (김성균) is unique in his trade as one of the few professionals who considers supernatural phenomena when treating clients, performing exorcisms with apprentice Ji-gwang (Kim Hye-seong (김혜성) when the need arises. Due to his unorthodox methods Jin-myeong has earned a notable reputation, attracting the unwanted attention of documentary producer Hye-in (Cha Ye-ryeon (차예련). Yet they are forced to combine their efforts when a disturbing new case occurs, as art curator Geum-joo (Yoo Seon (유선) is at the mercy of a particularly vindictive spirit, the secrets of which originate from forgotten childhood memories and a ghostly cave.

Geun-joo's possession proves an extremely difficult task for psychologist:exorcist Jin-myeong

Geun-joo’s possession proves an extremely difficult task for psychologist/exorcist Jin-myeong

With a solid premise but poor execution, director Kim Hwi’s horror/thriller The Chosen: Forbidden Cave is heavy on frustration and light on scares. As the closing film for BiFan’s 2015 edition, the festival’s claim of the film’s ability to ‘punch up the horror scene’ in the industry is unfortunately pure hyperbole as The Chosen is, aside from a few well-constructed set-pieces, a bland addition in dire need of a re-edit.

The Chosen: Forbidden Cave begins in intriguing fashion as Jin-myeong lectures on the importance of shamanism when considering diagnosis, with a handful of scares to sell the concept. Yet from there the narrative rapidly descends into chaos as characters and themes randomly arise and recede, with the audience expected to instinctively know their place within the story. Jin-myeong appears to have the ability of foresight through dreams yet it is never made clear while a subplot, possibly involving  his wife and a botched exorcism, is never explained; his subordinate Ji-gwang just seemingly appears during consultations while his supernatural gifts – other than furiously shaking a plant during treatments – are not ascertained; documentary producer Hye-in’s history and motivations are not revealed; and most importantly, there is zero logic in the aimless actions of the vindictive spirit that inhabits Geum-joo. Frustration quickly sets in as characters and events occur randomly, with a re-edit, and much greater elaboration and development, sorely needed.

The search for answers to Geum-joo's affliction takes the team into horrific territory

The search for answers to Geum-joo’s affliction takes the team into horrific territory

While the ghost that inhabits Geum-joo is aggravatingly indiscriminate, the haphazard nature allows director Kim to stage a variety of horror set pieces that are generally well-constructed. While they are cliche and form a story more akin to a series of horror sequences than a coherent whole, the macabre scenes serve to present the tropes expected from the genre. Problematically however, as there are so many sequences of this manner, the impact and effectiveness of the horror is lost as audiences become increasingly immune.

Furthermore, the use of the 1948 Jeju Massacre as the ultimate source of terror within The Chosen is in particularly bad taste. Not that the tragic event doesn’t lend itself well to the genre, but the manner in which the tragedy is employed and interpreted as antiquated and misandrist, in need of purging by contemporary patriarchy and Christianity, is borderline offensive.

Actor Kim Seong-gyoon fares the best as psychologist/exorcist Jin-myeong within The Chosen. His stoic turn as the broad-minded professional halts emotional investment in the journey yet provides a solid foundation from which the events revolve around. The rest of the cast do not prosper as well. Yoo Seon is generally required to run around screaming and crying, while Cha Ye-ryeon and Kim Hye-seong are present merely to appear attractive and little else.

Horrific truths await in the cave

Horrific truths await in the cave

Verdict:

Aside from a solid premise and the occasional well-constructed horror sequence, The Chosen: Forbidden Cave is a big misstep from director Kim Hwi. The events and characters within the film appear and recede indiscriminately throughout the haphazard narrative while any sort of development is a rarity. The Chosen is a frustratingly bland addition to the K-horror scene.

★☆☆☆☆

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews

Sunshine (선샤인) – ★★☆☆☆

Sunshine (선샤인)

Sunshine (선샤인)

North Korean refugee Seol-ji (Dana (다나) was a propaganda poster artist for the Dear Leader prior to her escape. Now settled in a district in Seoul with friend Soon-yeong (Lee Mi-so (이미소), Seol-ji works delivering flowers for a fellow refugee and paints during her spare time. Her skill is such that ambitious documentary director Shin-woong (Kang Eun-taek (강은탁) begs to film her and reveal Seol-ji’s talent to the world, yet she is reluctant due to the ramifications for her family should her North Korean identity be discovered. Agreeing to cancel her face on camera, the duo work together to craft a documentary about art yet quickly learn that Seol-ji’s abilities become problematic when asked to construct something original.

Documentary director Shin-woong begs Seol-ji to be his muse

Documentary director Shin-woong begs Seol-ji to be his muse

Sweet and amiable, writer/director Park Jin-soon’s Sunshine is a rare breed of romantic-drama that leaves audiences with a resonating sense of contentment after the credits have run, yet when probed is ultimately found to be lacking in substance.

Helmer/scribe Park Jin-soon is competent at his craft and Sunshine begins in a promisingly quirky and infectious fashion, as eccentric artist Seol-ji and her rather unorthodox lifestyle are introduced alongside documentary director/borderline stalker Shin-woong who’s so desperate to capture her work on film. Their dynamic is enjoyable as Seol-ji’s reluctance to be filmed and Shin-woong’s persistence to do so clash with predictably entertaining results, informing a hint of romance underpinning the proceedings, while the picturesque Jeju Island scenery ensures the film is an attractive one throughout.

On the condition of anonymity Seol-ji agrees to be the subject of the documentary, and from there Sunshine begins its decline into mediocrity, albeit a very genial one.

A burgeoning romance underpins the collaboration

A burgeoning romance underpins the collaboration

As Sunshine continues in charmingly amicable fashion, a host of subplots are interweaved into the narrative yet none are prioritised, compelling or given resolution. The story gently trundles along as the hints of romance that develop between Seol-ji and Shin-woong are given a slight love triangle twist, as Seol-ji struggles to draw anything original, as Shin-woong has problems at work, and so forth. Yet while such issues are featured, exploration simply isn’t present making it difficult to invest in their respective trajectories. The most glaring area this arises is in Seol-ji’s status as a North Korean residing in Seoul. Scant scenes touch upon the issue but in no real depth, aside from some last minute sequences with best friend Soon-yeong.

Sunshine is an enjoyable viewing experience largely due to actress Dana’s charismatic turn as artist Seol-ji. Dana infuses the character with a disarming innocence and vulnerability alongside passion and integrity, making what could have easily been a bland story into an entertaining one.

Shin-woong notices something specia and hiddenl in Seol-ji's work

Shin-woong notices something specia and hiddenl in Seol-ji’s work

Verdict:

Sunshine is an enjoyable romantic drama that leaves audiences content with its genial themes, yet scratching the surface reveals a real lack of substance. Writer/director Park Jin-soon has crafted an amiable and visually attractive story yet one that never explores the host of subplots within, notably regarding North Korean issues. However, Dana’s charismatic performance elevates Sunshine into an entertaining tale.

★★☆☆☆

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews

BiFan 2015 – Korean Feature Films Part 2

BiFan 2015BiFan 2015 will run for 10 days from July 16th~26th, and the biggest genre film festival in Asia is bigger than ever.

To celebrate the upcoming extravaganza, here at Hanguk Yeonghwa we are profiling the Korean films due to screened.

In Part 1, we took a look at the K-films present for the closing ceremony as well as within the Bucheon Choice: FeatureWorld Fantastic Cinema, and The Masters categories, respectively.

Here in Part 2 the K-films selected for Vision Express, the rather wordy KAFA+ Next D – “3D, Once Again,” and K-Indie Genre Strikes! are profiled.

To see PART 1 of our BiFan profile, please click here.

Vision Express

Amor (그리울 련) – director Han Cheol-su (한철수)

Hee-yeon's terminal illness doesn't deter boyfriend Tae-woo

Hee-yeon’s terminal illness doesn’t deter Tae-woo

Drama Amor follows the story of terminally ill Hee-yeon who, due to her situation, tries to tell her zookeeper boyfriend Tae-woo to forget about her and move on with his life. Yet one day Tae-woo finds a mysterious woman in a bad situation in a zoo bathroom, and discovers she is related to Hee-yeon.

Antigone (안티고네) – directors Kang Eok-seok (강억석), Kim Sung-pum (김성범), Park Seo-yeon (박서연)

The story of King Yong is told

The story of King Yong is told

Three directors have collaborated together to bring the story of King Yong to the big screen. Judging from the stills that have been released, the period drama has a definite Dogme 95 vibe through the absence of set design. The film retells a classic Greek tragedy, which examines the lives of King Yong and his family as they attempt to flee to Japan.

Purpose of Reunion (동창회의 목적) – director Jeong Dae-man (정대만)

Dong-chul owns a charming bar

Dong-chul owns a charming bar

Director Jeong Dae-man’s entry seems to be one of the more traditional drama offerings that focuses on the complexity of modern relationships. The plot involves Dong-chul, who owns a quaint bar, and wants to hold a reunion. Yet one of his guests is attractive Yujin, and they begin a relationship…but what will his wife say?

Sunshine (선샤인) – director Park Jin-soon (박진순)

Sul-ji is an artistic North Korean exile

Sul-ji is an artistic North Korean exile

Sunshine appears to be the only feature film at BiFan 2015 to explore the division between North and South Korea. The film follows former propaganda designer Sul-ji, now a florist, who is asked to be the subject of a documentary for a down-on-his-luck producer…but what will this mean for her family still north of the border?

KAFA+ Next D – “3D, Once Again”

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) – directors Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승), Kim Tae-yong (김태용)

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령)

3D omnibus MAD SAD BAD opened the 2014 Jeonju Int. Film Festival, and features a variety of genres. The best is easily the supernatural drama Picnic by director Kim Tae-yong, while director Ryoo Seung-wan’s thriller Ghost – based on real events of teens who murder due to sns – is also good. Zombie comedy/horror I Saw You by director Han Ji-seung completes the omnibus.

K-Indie Genre Strikes!

12 Deep Red Nights (십이야: 깊고 붉은 열두 개의 밤 Chapter 1) – director Oh In-chun (오인천)

Four horror stories are told in the film

Four horror stories are told in the film

Director Oh In-chun, fresh from 2014 horror/romance Mourning Grave, returns with an omnibus of four chilling stories. Rather than separate tales, the events – titled Driver, PM 11:55, atmosFEAR and The Secret Night – are all interlinked. Director Oh’s film is also intended as the first part of a series of 12 horrors.

Mizo (미조) – director Nam Ki-woong (남기웅)

Mizo and Woo-sang have a violently sexual relatonship

Mizo and Woo-sang have a violently sexual relatonship

Mizo premiered at Jeonju Film Fest 2014. The film depicts the story of a girl left in the trash as a child, who later returns to the area as an adult and forms relationships with the corrupt people living there, preparing her revenge. Mizo is violent and overtly sexual, but then that should come as no surprise from the director of Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine.

My Secret Partner (완벽한 파트너) – director Park Heon-soo (박헌수)

Comedy and sex mix to fun effect

Comedy and sex mix to fun effect in this light-hearted take on modern relationships

Also known as Perfect Partner, this raunchy sex-comedy follows a screenwriter and a chef who, due to suffering from a severe lack of inspiration, embark on sexual relationships with their students to help unleash their passions. Yet the young objects of their lust have motivations of their own. Will the controversial relationships prove fruitful?

Ownerless Flower Uhwudong (어우동: 주인 없는 꽃) – director Lee Soo-sung (이수성)

An erotic love triangle features

An erotic love triangle features

Released in January 2015, Ownerless Flower Uhwudong is a rare independent period drama featuring plenty of lust and debauchery through the narrative, which centers on a twisted love triangle amongst the social elite. Director Lee Soo-sung is no stranger to raunchy material having helmed sex comedy Mango Tree in 2013, though his latest marks a big improvement.

Playboy Bong (아티스트 봉만대) – director Bong Man-dae (봉만대)

Tensions arise on the set of an erotic movie

Tensions arise on the set of an erotic movie

Another sexy-comedy to arrive at BiFan 2015 is Playboy Bong. The film explores a film crew that go to Bali to shoot an erotic movie, but the producers are underwhelmed with the early footage. To salvage the film, porn director Bong Man-dae is hired yet when he arrives and begins demanding more erotic scenes, his presence escalates the situation.

Rough Play (배우는 배우다) – director Shin Yeon-shick (신연식)

An actor traverses madness

An actor traverses madness

An unofficial sequel of sorts to Rough Cut, Rough Play premiered at Busan Film Fest in 2013. Written by Kim Ki-duk, the film explores the life of a struggling actor who finally becomes a star, yet as his power rises so does his arrogance, leading to an epic fall from grace. Ironically the film was responsible for catapulting idol star Lee Joon’s popularity, particularly for the inclusion of a bed scene.

The Stone (스톤) – director Cho Se-rae (조세래)

The gentlemen's game of baduk turns violent in the criminal underworld

The gentlemen’s game of baduk turns violent

The Stone combines the criminal underworld with the classic Asian game of baduk. A young genius baduk player uses his skills to hustle local small time gangsters, yet when his ability comes to the attention of a crime boss, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Through their gentlemanly games, they begin to see the errors of their ways.

To see PART 1 of our BiFan profile, please click here.

For the full BiFan screening schedule, please follow the link here.

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015

BiFan 2015 – Korean Feature Films Part 1

BiFan 2015From July 16th~26th, the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) will commence its 19th edition.

Asia’s biggest genre film extravaganza, BiFan (previously called PiFan) boasts a larger scale than ever before which is sure to please cineastes. Out of the 235 films due to be screened, 62 are world premieres while 61 will receive their Asian debut.

BiFan 2015 hosts an incredible range of programmes including staples such as Bucheon Choice and World Fantastic Cinema, in conjunction with more specialised categories that honour particular filmmakers and creative output as with I’m (not) Sono Sion, Mexican Genre Film Showcase, and Excellent Actor, Nice Guy Simon Yam.

Amongst all the international films to be screened, Korea will also make its presence known through a variety of genre offerings, as well as closing the festival as has occurred in previous years with The Terror Live and My Ordinary Love Story.

To see the Korean films being featured at BiFan, please see below.

For PART 2 of our BiFan profile, please click here.

Closing Film

The Chosen: Forbidden Cave (퇴마: 무녀굴) – director Kim Hui (김휘)

A psychologist must discover a secret to perform an exorcism

A psychologist must discover a secret to perform an exorcism

BiFan 2015 will close with a horror/thriller, based on Shin Jin-oh’s 201- novel ‘Moonyeogool.’ The film follows exorcist/psychologist Jin-myeong as he works on a case to free a client from a potentially dangerous spirit, yet to do so he must uncover a powerful secret. The Chosen is directed by Kim Hui, whose previous work includes Horror Stories 2 and Neighbours, and early buzz is particularly strong.

Bucheon Choice: Feature

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운) – director Han Jun-hee (한준희)

The matriarch of a criminal empire has big plans

The matriarch of a criminal empire has big plans

Urban crime drama Coin Locker Girl was a surprise hit upon release in April, grossing over $10 million. The film is visually impressive and features a wonderfully transformative performance by Kim Hye-su, as she adopts the role of a crime boss matriarch who turns on an enforcer (Kim Go-eun), and as such finds itself in competition at BiFan. You can read the review here.

Tattooist (타투이스트) – director Lee Seo (이서)

Soo-na notices something strange about a client's tattoo

Soo-na notices something strange about a client’s tattoo

The second Korean film in competition is thriller Tattooist. Soo-na, a beautiful yet somewhat disturbed tattoo artist, is asked to design the mythical character Medusa on a new client’s back. Yet she begins to notice a correlation between the ink and a murder case involving young girls. Tattooist features renowned TV drama actors Yoon Jun-hee and Song Il-gook.

World Fantastic Cinema

Boy From Wonderland (앨리스: 원더랜드에서 온 소년) – director Huh Eun-hee (허은희)

Hye is haunted by nightmares and seeks the truth

Hye is haunted by nightmares and seeks the truth

Appearing to amalgamate fantasy, horror and thriller conventions, Boy From Wonderland depicts nightmare sufferer Hye-joong (Jung So-min) whose dreams have become so severe that they threaten her very life. To find the source of her terrors she travels to a lodge she visited 24 years prior and meets the mysterious Hwan (Hong Jong-hyun).

Malice (멜리스) – director Kim Yong-woon (김용운)

Ga-in's jealousy becomes out of control

Ga-in’s jealousy becomes out of control

Ripley’s Syndrome informs the central premise of director Kim Yong-woon’s thriller, as a young woman becomes obsessed with her best friend’s life and begins to try and assume her very identity, including seducing her husband and stealing her child. Malice stars glamorous actress Hong Soo-ah as the psychologically unstable Ga-in.

Super Origin (시발, 놈 – 인류의 시작) – director Baek Seung-gi (백승기)

Unique beings arise 40,000 years ago

Unique beings arise 40,000 years ago

Director Baek Seung-gi made a name for himself with comedy-fantasy Super Virgin, and he returns with another quirky offering in the form of Super Origin. 40,000 years ago a light appeared in the sky and as a result strange beings appeared in the land, and start to form a civilisation, the likes of which has never been seen before.

The Masters

Angry Painter: Director’s Cut (성난 화가 디렉터스 컷) – director Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)

Passion, love and anger inform th epainter's world

Passion, love and anger inform the painter’s world

A co-production between Korea and Estonia, Angry Painter tells the tale of two men who operate as violent bounty hunters. When a US soldier kills one of the men and his girlfriend, the remaining partner goes on a violent rampage for justice that takes him into the heart of Europe. Starring Yun Jun-sang.

For PART 2 of our BiFan profile, please click here.

For the full BiFan screening schedule, please follow the link here.

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015

Snowy Road (눈길) – ★★★☆☆

Snowy Road (눈길)

Snowy Road (눈길)

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Yeong-ae (Kim Sae-ron (김새론), the arrogant daughter of a rich man in the village, studies hard to learn the language of the hostile force and be accepted within the ranks. Poverty-stricken Jong-boon (Kim Hyang-ki (김향기), meanwhile, must contend herself with menial chores until the possibility of marrying out of hardship arises. Yet when the Japanese forces come looking for girls to be ‘comfort women’ – or rather, sexual slaves – financial status does not enter consideration and both youngsters are abducted into a life of horrific servitude.

In the present day Jong-boon (Kim Yeong-ok (김영옥), now an elderly woman, lives alone in a dilapidated part of town. Noticing that her teenage neighbour Eun-soo (Cho Soo-hyang (조수향) is in trouble, she takes it alone herself to help the girl and in doing so is forced to confront the traumatic experiences of her past.

Yeong-ae and Jong-boon are abducted and forced to provide sexual services to Japanese troops

Yeong-ae and Jong-boon are abducted and forced to provide sexual services to Japanese troops

Snowy Road originally aired as a two-part television drama, yet for the purpose of a cinematic release the episodes have been edited together to create a powerful testament to the horrific abuses Korean women suffered during the Japanese occupation. Despite a large number of films and documentaries exploring the subject matter over the years, upon receiving its world premiere at Jeonju Film Festival 2015, Snowy Road left audiences sobbing at the depiction of two of Korea’s youngest and most celebrated actresses reenacting the torture so many women suffered at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. While the film does not always escape the production shortcomings and melodramatic trappings of K-drama, Snowy Road is a particularly emotional piece that strongly resonates.

Director Lee Na-jeong and writer Yoo Bo-ra have crafted an impressive tribute to women’s suffering in both the past and present through the non-linear story, cutting between the two periods to reinforce how women’s rights have changed and how far they have yet to go. For scenes in the past, director Lee conveys the atrocities committed to Korean women through the abduction, imprisonment and abuses Yeong-ae and Jong-boon endure at the hands of the Japanese. Yet in the present a rather different set of injustices are dealt with, as elderly Jong-boon is routinely treated with disrespect while her young charge Eun-soo, alone and in need of money, becomes easy prey for wealthy middle-aged men. It is difficult to state how brave director Lee and writer Yoo are for examining the abuses of the past (Japanese men) and present (Korean men) and depicting them parallel to each other through the narrative, especially given the current highly conservative and patriarchal political climate, as well as with anti-Japanese sentiment so high following Prime Minister Abe’s denial that the incidents ever occurred. That is not to say that the crimes are in any way equal – rather, that Lee and Yoo’s bravery comes from not over-simplifying the debates put forth as purely the result of an external ‘other’, but also critically looking within contemporary Korean culture to explore the plights that effect modern Korean women. Snowy Road presents the issues well, impressively articulating that women need to stand united against injustices past and present to draw attention to their plight, rather than internalise guilt and shame.

Elderly Jong-boon and Eun-soo form a unique bond through their experiences

Elderly Jong-boon and Eun-soo form a unique bond due to their experiences

While Snowy Road ambitiously tackles such sensitive issues competently, the film consistently struggles to escape its origins, existing somewhere between a TV drama and film but not quite fitting into either category. Cinematography of landscapes are generally composed with skill and appear cinematic, yet when faced with more intimate moments or generating tension the budget limitations become increasingly clear. As such crucial scenes, most explicitly apparent at the internment camp where Yeong-ae and Jong-boon are abused, lack the potency and sense of urgency that a film of this nature should contain.

The film also falls into cliche TV drama territory as the narrative attempts to come to a close. Melodrama has long been a feature of Korean TV and film output so it comes as little surprise that such generic devices arise in Snowy Road, however a film dealing with the subject matter of comfort women hardly requires such heavy-handed efforts to evoke tears from the audience. The story is tragic enough without additional manipulative melodramatic tropes, and their inclusion does a disservice to those who experienced such horrific trauma.

However that said, director Lee has chosen a particularly solid cast to express the issues being put forth. Kim Sae-ron is really developing into a wonderfully talented actress, and following her stellar performance in A Girl at My Door she exudes the icy arrogance of her character in Snowy Road delightfully. Playing off Kim’s cold demeanour is no small effort yet Kim Hyang-ki (Thread of Lies) is especially likeable as the young and warm-hearted Jong-boon. The actresses have established their careers with monikers such as ‘the nation’s daughters’ which undoubtedly serves to generate even more emotional resonance. The actresses in the present are somewhat shortchanged by the script yet Cho Soo-hyang, who scored Best Actress at Busan Film Festival 2014 for Wild Flowers, and Kim Yeong-ok acquit themselves admirably.

Jong-boon and Yeong-ae attempt to flee the internment camp

Jong-boon and Yeong-ae attempt to flee the internment camp

Verdict:

Snowy Road is a highly emotional charged film about ‘comfort women’ and the horrific abuses they suffered during the Japanese occupation. Yet director Lee Na-jeong and writer Yoo Bo-ra impressively combine the sensitive subject matter with the issues faced by contemporary women, and deserve credit for it. While the film often struggles to escape its TV drama origins, Snowy Road is a powerful and resonating story on a vital topic.

★★★☆☆

16th Jeonju International Film Festival (제16회 전주국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews

Seoul International Women’s Film Festival 2015

SIWFF POSTERThe Seoul International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) is due to be held from May 27th to June 3rd, at Megabox Sinchon and Arthouse Momo theaters near Ewha Women’s University.

Now in it’s 17th edition, the festival continues to feature successful categories such as New Currents, Polemics #IAmAFeminist, and Queer Rainbow that explore the lives of contemporary women around the globe.

Yet this year SIWFF organisers have added an extra element to help promote the event for the first time in the festival’s history – an honorary ambassador titled ‘Feminista.’ The first Feminista is actress Kim Ah-joong, the star of films including 200 Pounds Beauty and My P.S. Partner.

SIWFF 2015 will open with Berlinale Crystal Bear winner My Skinny Sister, which leads nicely into this year’s special focus program, The Equal Power of Swedish Women’s Cinema, which contains an impressive 21 titles.

However, let’s take a look at some of the Korean films due to be screened at SIWFF 2015.

New Currents

21& – director Kim A-ra (김아라)

Disillusionment for those in their early twenties is rife

Disillusionment for those in their early twenties is rife

Young filmmaker Kim A-ra explores the disillusionment and frustrations of Koreans in their early twenties in documentary 21&. After studying extremely hard in Korea’s brutal education system, the youngsters are looking forward to working towards achieving their ambitions…but is it possible?

A Girl at My Door (도희야) – director Jung July (정주리)

Do-hee is a victim of terrible domestic abuse in the country town

Do-hee is a victim of terrible domestic abuse in the country town

Premiering at Cannes in Un Certain Regard before appearing at Toronto and Busan, A Girl at My Door is an incredible and empowering drama exploring the lives of those on the margins of contemporary society. Featuring outstanding performances by actresses Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, and with confident and assured direction under the gaze of July Jung, this is a great opportunity to catch the film again on the big screen. Read the review here.

Heart of Snow, Heart of Blood (눈의 마음: 슬픔이 우리를 데려가는 곳) – director Kim Jeong (김정)

Korean descendants born in Uzbekistan have a complex history

Korean descendants born in Uzbekistan have a complex history

Documentary Heart of Blood, Heart of Snow follows the life of Alex Kim, a descendant of Koreans who were forcibly relocated to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Yet while there his family wealth is confiscated, and he becomes the owner of a restaurant. Director Kim Jeong uses Alex’s story to examine the turbulent history of those who fled the Korean War, only to become struggling nomadic migrants.

The Liar (거짓말) – director Kim Dong-myeong (김동명)

Ah-young's lies explore the materialism of society

Ah-young’s lies explore the materialism of society

Talented independent actress Kim Kkob-bi takes centre stage in drama The Liar. The film examines the importance of social status, material wealth and physical appearances in Korean society through the lies told by Ah-young, the central  protagonist who dreams of a life of luxury away from her current reality. Director Kim’s drama premiered at Busan Film Festival last year.

Polemics #IAmAFeminist

Cart (카트) – director Boo Ji-young (부지영)

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

Based on a true story, Cart depicts the outcry and shocking abuse of workers rights as the managers of a supermarket chain attempt to fire their staff and replace them with part-timers. Yet many of the current workforce are struggling single mothers, students, or those nearing retirement. Premiering at Toronto before screening at Rotterdam and Busan, Cart is an impressive social drama. Read the review here.

The Emotional Society on Stage (감정의 시대:서비스 노동의 관계미학) – director Kim Sook-hyun (김숙현), Cho Hye-jeong (조혜정)

The roles we perform come under scrutiny

The roles we perform come under scrutiny

Experimental documentary The Emotional Society on Stage examines the roles people are forced into within society, and notably if it’s possible to break such cultural forms through performance. The 24 minute film previously appeared at the 2015 Jeonju Film Festival, as well as The Seoul Independent Documentary Film and Video Festival in the same year.

Queer Rainbow

Sinchon Bouncy Ball (신촌탱탱볼) – director Lee Min-jeong (이민정)

Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Korea

Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Korea

 World premiere. Documentary Sinchon Bouncy Ball presents the issues concerned with sexuality in modern Korea through following student Rau as she prepares to complete a school project regarding gender identity. In examining the various areas of the debate Rau comes to develop her ideas on the nature of sexuality, love and identity.

Barrier Free Screening

How to Steal a Dog (개를 훔치는 완벽한 방법) – director Kim Seong-ho (김성호)

Can Ji-so steal a dog and help her family?

Can Ji-so steal a dog and help her family?

How to Steal a Dog was a successful indie film in Korea earlier this year, and has been selected for the ‘barrier free screening’ event, presented for both visually and hearing-impaired audiences.

The film depicts the tale of Ji-so and younger brother Ji-suk who spy a poster offering a big cash reward for finding a missing dog.

For more information, please visit the official SIWFF website here.

Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Seoul International Women's Film Festival (제 17회 서울국제여성영화제)