Joon-ho adores swimming and is mesmirised by the nature of light and water

4th Place (4등) – ★★☆☆☆

4th Place (4등)

4th Place (4등)

Youngster Joon-ho (Yoo Jae-sang (유재상) loves to be in the water and has a real talent for swimming, yet for some reason he always places fourth in competitions. Furious at her son’s lack of improvement despite her constant scolding, Joon-ho’s mother (Lee Hang-na (이항나) seeks out a renowned swimming coach with terrible reputation – former olympic hopeful Gwang-soo (Park Hae-joon (박해준). As Joon-ho’s training commences, coach Gwang-soo’s methods become increasingly violent, revealing the extremes taken and endured in such a competitive culture.

Joon-ho adores swimming and is mesmirised by the nature of light and water

Joon-ho adores swimming and is mesmirised by the nature of light and water

Produced in conjunction with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 4th Place is a potent exploration of the extremely competitive education culture that exists within Asia. Studies routinely reveal that Korean children are amongst the unhappiest in the world with shocking levels of suicide, due the incredible stress heaped upon them by strict parents and teachers, and as such director Jeong Ji-woo deserves respect merely for broaching the issue on film.

Director Jeong examines the issue through Joon-ho, a youngster who deeply enjoys swimming yet is incessantly berated and belittled by his shrill mother for not taking the sport more competitively. The manner in which she psychologically torments her son is equal parts horrifying and infuriating to behold, as she manipulates Joon-ho into equating his lack of success as a lack of love for her, initiating deep internalised guilt. Through her machinations at church – which director Jeong subtly insinuates as a place of corruption – she finds a coach for Joon-ho, one who verbally and physically abuses the youngster. Parallels are clear with the exceptional drama Whiplash, and while 4th Place never reaches those heights it deserves commendation for tackling such a vital societal issue.

Joon-ho's training often includes bouts of violence and verbal abuse by the coach

Joon-ho’s training often includes bouts of violence and verbal abuse by the coach

Visually, 4th Place is beautifully shot during the swimming scenes. The lighting and lenses used serve to create a world of majesty and elegance under the water, a place where Joon-ho can escape and find enjoyment in solitude. Such sequences wonderfully convey the youngster’s love of swimming and the freedom it brings, as he gracefully glides through the water as if it’s his natural state of being. Yet such cinematic stylisation rarely extends beyond the arena of the pool however, with director Jeong’s more sophisticated dramatic techniques as employed in prior films Eungyo (A Muse) and Happy End sadly missing during scenes of family conflict.

The dramatic tension is also undermined by the lack of a central figure. Whiplash is a phenomenal film largely due to Miles Teller’s central performance from a mild-mannered to psychologically unhinged student, yet in 4th Place acting duties are generally shared equally among the cast resulting in a lack of singular perspective and characters that are largely one-dimensional. Perhaps worryingly, the most developed member of the film is the violent coach due to (an overly long) prelude that simultaneously infers the circular nature of corporal punishment and generates sympathy for him – arguably more so than young victim Joon-ho. In more adept hands the emotional complexity of the mother and coach could shine through despite the script’s shortcomings, though Lee Hang-na and Park Hae-joon are unfortunately not up to the task as they over-exaggerate their respective performances.

Nevertheless the story is a timely and important one, with the film’s finale one of the most creative and enjoyable sequences witnessed in Korean independent cinema in quite some time.

Follwing physical abuse and family strife, Joon-ho must decide his future

Follwing physical abuse and family strife, Joon-ho must decide his future

Verdict:

Co-produced with the Korean Human Rights Commission, 4th Place is a powerful reminder of the brutal nature of Korea’s competitive educational system, and the inordinate abuse applied by authority figures toward students. Director Jeong Ji-woo explores the issue well and is particularly impressive during swimming sequences, resulting in a timely film that deserves commendation for tackling important and challenging subject matter.

★★☆☆☆

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Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews
SKY01

Reach for the SKY (공부의 나라) – ★★★★☆

Reach for the SKY (공부의 나라)

Reach for the SKY (공부의 나라)

Every year, Korean high school students undertake the infamous ‘Suneung’ exam – a gruelling series of college scholastic ability tests that will  determine which university they can attend, the status of which in turn will dictate potential opportunities that will arise in later life. The most prestigious and highly sought after institutions are Seoul National, Korea, and Yonsei universities which form the an acronym SKY, respectively, with students often resorting to extreme measures in order to achieve enrolment. Documentary Reach for the SKY follows a selection of students on their quest to be in the top percentile and fulfil their ambitions.

Students attempt to cope with their stressful ordeal with humour

Students attempt to cope with their stressful ordeal with humour

One of the most well-received Korean independent films at Busan Film Festival earlier this year, documentary Reach for the SKY is an engrossing exploration of the inordinate amount of pressure caused by the infamous Suneung exam as well as the cultural phenomena that has spawned in its wake. Directors Steven Dhoedt and Choi Woo-young wisely avoid taking a stance on the issue yet emphasise the burdens, profiteering and fervour with impressively subtle irony, which will likely mean little to native Koreans but will resonate strongly with audiences unfamiliar with the country’s harsh education system.

Filmed over the course of four years, Reach for the SKY follows a well-chosen selection of students at various stages in their academic careers as they attempt to pass Suneung exam, and through their experiences directors Dhoedt and Choi reveal an array of startling cultural facets with keen insight. Whether the subjects are taking or re-taking the infamous test, the co-helmers broaden the perspective to capture the unique contexts within which the students operate, and in doing so the pressures from parents, teachers and wider society are revealed to fascinating effect.

The pressures of the Suneung exam have spawned wealthy celebrity teachers

The pressures of the Suneung exam have spawned wealthy celebrity teachers

Of these, the individuals and institutions that profit from the anxieties surrounding the exam are given focus, notably the celebrity teachers and boarding schools that have arisen as a result. The directors brilliantly capture the startling quasi-pop star status of a teacher as he lectures on stage to a sold out auditorium full of eager teens before driving home in his BMW, scenes which are effectively juxtaposed with a boarding school more akin to a juvenile offender prison than an academic organisation, and religious institutions that depict the fervour of acolytes as they speak in tongues.

In each case, directors Dhoedt and Choi lace the images with a wonderfully cheeky sense of comedic irony that helps to offset the rather astonishing nature of such scenes. The instances where the wealthy celeb-teacher actually fails to speak/write English correctly particularly resonates, while the poor English signs at the boarding school, the mean parents/teachers who receive angry disapproving looks from students, the annoyed Buddhist monk who is handed a list of hundreds of students to pray for, all combine to underscore gentle and playful criticisms of the education system.

Arguably the most potent form of critique is the manner Reach for the SKY intermittently incorporates quotations from the Analects of Confucius, an ideology which still holds powerful relevance in contemporary Korean society. Through citing such Confucian texts, followed by sequences revealing how the education system has evolved in an alternative direction, the implication is clear – teens are studying not to be enlighten but to be assessed, and their suffering is very real.

Every year thousands of students sit the stress-inducing Suneung exam

Every year thousands of students sit the stress-inducing Suneung exam

Verdict:

Reach for the Sky is an impressive documentary exploring the infamous Suneung exam. Directors Steven Dhoedt and Choi Woo-young insightfully capture the stresses endured by students generated by the harsh education system and wider socio-cultural facets, often with wonderfully cheeky irony that serves to gently critique the entire phenomenon to fascinating effect.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews
Assassination

Assassination (암살) – ★★★☆☆

Assassination (암살)

Assassination (암살)

During the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, independence fighters wage war against the regime. However complicating matters significantly are the native Koreans who offer support to the invaders, turning traitor for wealth and power. One such turncoat, Kang In-gook (Lee Kyeong-yeong), is selected as the next assassination target with sniper Ahn Ok-yoon (Jeon Ji-hyeon), bruiser ‘Big Gun’ (Jo Jin-woong) and explosives expert Deok-sam (Choi Deok-moon) recruited for the task by independence captain Yeom Seok-jin (Lee Jeong-jae). However unbeknownst to the trio, contract killers Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jeong-woo) and Old Man (Oh Dal-soo) have been hired to stop them before they can fulfil the mission.

Liberation fighter Yeom gathers together a team for a daring task

Liberation fighter Yeom gathers together a team for a daring task

Deserving credit for producing blockbuster fare in the Korean film industry – as well as for touching on the extremely sensitive issue of Japanese collaboration – director Choi Dong-hoon has once again crafted solid entertainment in the form of Assassination. While boasting a talented ensemble cast and and production values most other directors could only dream of, Choi’s latest still, as with prior film The Thieves, suffers from an overly-long and convoluted narrative that is tonally inconsistent. Alongside poor characterisation and lack of depth, Assassination is ultimately eye-candy cinema that is fun while it lasts but difficult to truly invest in.

Assassination begins in explosive fashion, as the fraught political period is brought to life through an adrenaline-inducing opening sequence that sees resistance fighter Yeom attempt to take out a high-profile Japanese target. It’s an engrossing and brilliantly executed introduction, with director Choi effortlessly generating thrills while setting up momentum for events to come. It also, ironically, contains much of what the film is about – glorious production values and camerawork, and talented performers wrangling with thread-bare characterisation.

The film’s reported $16 million budget is clearly visible in every frame as Assassination is truly a visual treat. The production, set and costume design are consistently impressive from beginning to end and it’s a genuine shame that the talented teams behind these areas have not been more widely celebrated for their work, for Assassination is worth watching largely for the visual finesse within.

Trio Big Gun, Ok-yoon and Deok-sam are recruited to assassinate a conspirator

Trio Big Gun, Ok-yoon and Deok-sam are recruited to assassinate a conspirator

Director Choi has always managed to attract an impressive ensemble cast featuring some of the best talent within the industry for his projects, and Assassination is no exception. The manner in which such disparate characters are weaved together is arguably more organic than Choi’s previous work, and there is great entertainment value to be had during the film’s first half as alliances are forged and events set up. Yet at the half way mark the narrative takes a turn for the worse, veering into a wealth of convoluted and contrived plot points while taking initially promising characters and reducing them to one-dimensional stereotypes.

While the film’s stars perform their roles competently, unfortunately the characterisation issues effect them greatly. Jeon Ji-hyeon is promising as an empowered captain of the indolence who defies authority, only to be later reduced to her image in the film’s second act and never really shows her range. Ha Jeong-woo does what he can in the role of Hawaii Pistol though it quickly becomes apparent that both he and sidekick Oh Dal-soo never really belong in a story of Korean independence, seemingly remnants from a comedy-western that are shoe-horned in for light relief. Lee Jeong-jae performs the role of resistance leader Yeom with confident ease and is arguably the most charismatic presence, although the actor is in real danger of becoming typecast which undermines the tension.

While consistently entertaining, perhaps the biggest issue with Assassination is that the narrative itself is simply vapid. Director Choi bravely employs the extremely sensitive topic of Koreans collaborating with their oppressors during the era, but never explores nor takes a stance on the issue. It’s only in the film’s dying moments when one such traitor is allowed to twist history into portraying himself as a patriot that the film’s message takes a disturbingly conservative tone, and as such the underutilisation of a key feature of Korean history is sadly wasted.

Team leader and sniper Ok-yoon takes aim

Team leader and sniper Ok-yoon takes aim

Verdict:

One of the big tentpole films of 2015, blockbuster Assassination is an entertaining affair. Director Choi Dong-hoon once again proves his ability to command a talented ensemble cast and enormous budget. Top marks however instead go to the production crew who’ve crafted Assassination into a visual treat, making it possible to withstand the overly-long convoluted narrative and thread-bare characterisation that so often threatens to derail the proceedings.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Reviews
In a city full of people, the plights of the mentally ill often go ignored

Communication & Lies (소통과 거짓말) – ★☆☆☆☆

Communications & Lies (소통과 거짓말)

Communication & Lies (소통과 거짓말)

At a private academy in the city, cleaning lady Sun (Jang Sun (장선) is reprimanded by her boss for inappropriate sexual conduct with other employees. Bizarrely however, she finds the situation humorous and continues with her work, conveying a psychological instability that worries her colleagues. Also at the academy is teacher Mr. Kim (Kim Kwon-hoo (김권후), whose eccentric behaviour also baffles those around him. Unable to communicate their distresses with the world, Sun and Mr. Kim decide to take a trip together, but can they truly express themselves or simply live with lies?

After beginning in gripping fashion, director Lee Seung-won’s debut Communication & Lies enters a downward spiral through an incredibly confused narrative structure and misogyny masquerading as psychological insight. While the film does well in portraying how those suffering from psychological instability go largely ignored in contemporary Korean society, the story fails to build empathy with the protagonists by focusing primarily on their hysteria.

Communication and Lies begins with a captivating eight minute long take, as Sun is scolded by her manager for her recent conduct. It’s a brilliantly written scene, with information gently teased out through the conversation that slowly reveals the reason for Sun’s admonishment, while her truthfulness and odd reactions highlight her instability through dark humour. The manner in which the discourse unfolds is gripping, particularly for those familiar with Korean culture who expect the conversation to play out in a certain fashion, with the scene wonderfully subverting cultural norms.

Sun has difficulty with communication and lies due to psychological instability

Sun has difficulty with communication and lies due to psychological instability

Yet from such a fascinating opening the film dramatically loses momentum through a frustratingly haphazard narrative structure. The film shifts focus to introduce the less-interesting Mr. Kim and his eccentricities, while building his relationship with Sun towards their trip. Mr. Kim simply isn’t as compelling as his female counterpart, a fact which director Lee appears to be aware of hence the somewhat belated inclusion of flashbacks that dart back and forth through their timelines in a bid to generate mystery by slowly revealing the traumas that inspired their neuroses. It’s a noble but often confusing endeavour, as the story jumps to various points of the character’s lives in the past three years and attempts to address the origins of their mental illnesses, yet there isn’t significant enough depth to generate the required empathy. This is acutely the case with Mr. Lee whose tangent is rather bland, and the film would have benefited greatly from having Sun as the sole lead.

Furthermore, the exploration of Sun’s psychological instability is acutely misogynistic. As a result of personal trauma, Sun dehumanises herself with various sexual acts, yet there is no examination given as to why her illness has developed in this fashion and as such sequences that are intended as explore Sun’s tendency to sexually humiliate herself are often instead merely perverse male fantasies, with beatings, foul language, and orifice-fascination featuring at various points. The character has great potential that is unfortunately not realised throughout the film’s 103 minute running time, though actress Jang Sun performs the role capably.

In a city full of people, the plights of the mentally ill often go ignored

In a city full of people, the plights of the mentally ill often go ignored

Verdict:

Though beginning in gripping fashion, director Lee Seung-won’s Communication & Lies loses impetus through a frustratingly haphazard and oft-confusing narrative structure. Though nobly attempting to allude to the origins of neuroses and the general ignorance within contemporary Korea, the film instead conforms to a misogynistic male fantasy masquerading as psychological insight.

★☆☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews
Steel Flower (스틸 플라워)

Steel Flower (스틸 플라워) – ★★★☆☆

Steel Flower (스틸 플라워)

Steel Flower (스틸 플라워)

Unceremoniously dumped on a highway with only a suitcase of essential items, Ha-dam (Jeong Ha-dam (정하담) is forced to quickly adapt to life on the streets of Busan City. Scared, alone, and vulnerable, the homeless young woman flirts with suicide yet is determined to forge a path out of poverty, taking random service jobs to secure money and food. The locals, however, grow wise to Ha-dam’s situation and treat her abusively, though despite her trials she retains a passion for dance.

The follow-up to last year’s Wild Flowers, director Park Suk-yong’s Steel Flower displays a marked improvement by the socially-conscious writer/helmer. Raw, provocative and featuring a potent feminist message, the indie drama explores the plight of homeless young women with an intensity and verve that often makes for challenging, as well as uncomfortable, viewing.

One of the main issues with director Park’s previous effort Wild Flowers – which also premiered at the Busan Film Festival – was that after beginning in incredibly strong fashion the narrative deviated away from its fascinating trio of homeless girls towards their less interesting male counterparts. The filmmaker has clearly listened to such criticism as Steel Flower is much more focused and concise, centralised entirely on Ha-dam’s plight which allows the story to fiercely examine the abject desperation of her situation. From the moment the drama begins director Park employs kinetic handheld camerawork that infuses the film with a raw organic energy and brisk pacing, invigorated further with some incredible long takes that add palpable realism, the fact of which is often a mixture of fascination and distress as the harsh realities of life on the streets are exposed.

Despite fraught circumstances Ha-dam retains her love of dance

Despite fraught circumstances Ha-dam retains her love of dance

Steel Flower is also boasts some impressive cinematography, particularly in the underdeveloped and poverty stricken regions of Busan City. Disparity in wealth is acutely visualised through the landscapes and structures, as Ha-dam is forced to move away from the affluence of those at ground level, hiking ever higher up mountainous paths to locate a place of security amongst the economically challenged. The urban locations are also captured well as they feature an oppressive sensibility that seems to confine Ha-dam to the shadows, refusing to allow her to progress out of her homelessness and desperation.

The decision to withhold the origins of Ha-dam’s abandonment is a smart move as she symbolises the vulnerability of all young women in Korea, yet the story falters somewhat as she continues to be a mystery for the entirety of the running time. Little is revealed about her personality, or her psychological and emotional torment, save that she is trying to survive in harsh conditions, which makes it problematic when attempting to forge an emotional connection with the character.

Ha-dam’s erratic behaviour, meanwhile, is intriguing as she flits from quiet tenderness to hysterically deranged, conveying a form of mental illness which is unfortunately never really explored nor capitalised on. Her passion for dance is a key example; she is enamoured by tap dancing classes yet displays little talent for it, and as no other hints for her adoration are conveyed – save for the their symbolic purpose that she does, indeed, exist – it feels like a missed opportunity to explore her character in more depth.

While little about Ha-dam is revealed, she ultimately serves as a cipher through which the story can expose a variety of hardships endured by homeless young women and, combined with its strong feminist message, serves to generate important social debates that are sorely needed.

Pushed to breaking point, Ha-dam flirts with death

Pushed to breaking point, Ha-dam flirts with death

Verdict:

Steel Flower is director Park Suk-yong’s second film exploring the hardships of homeless young females, and is a big improvement for the socially-conscious filmmaker. Raw and provocative, the drama boasts effective kinetic camerawork infused with realism. While the mysterious nature of the central protagonist is somewhat problematic, Steel Flower is effective in raising potent social debate.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews
Romance

Twenty Again (두 번째 스물) – ★★☆☆☆

Twenty Again (두 번째 스물)

Twenty Again (두 번째 스물)

On a flight to Italy, middle-aged film director Min-gu (Kim Seung-woo (김승우) surprisingly comes face-to-face with his first love, Min-ha (Lee Tae-ran (이태란). Though she initially pretends not to recognise him, a spark is clearly rekindled between the two and when Min-ha discovers he is working at a nearby film festival in Turin she sets out to meet her lost love again. Although now in their forties the passion from their younger days is instantly rekindled, and the lovers decide to travel around Italy together to relive their ‘second twenties.’

A refreshingly original and beautifully shot romantic tale, director Park Heung-sik’s Twenty Again is an entertaining story of two 40-somethings rekindling the passion of their first true love. While somewhat contrived and clearly owing a huge debt to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Twenty Again is a welcome addition to the genre with its strong leads and appreciation of art and culture.

One of the great strengths of helmer/scribe Park Heung-sik’s Twenty Again is the manner in which he eschews the will they?/won’t they? cliches involving an impossibly attractive young couple, and instead explores the rather more complicated and mature romantic lives of those in their forties. It’s a welcome change and while contrivances are initially employed to bring the couple together, once the reunion occurs the story hits the ground running as both Min-gu and Min-ha have a palpable chemistry and are thoroughly compelling protagonists. The couple never shy away from discussing the complexities of their lives as both are married with children, yet it is particularly difficult to judge them as their Italian affair feels beautifully organic and reinvigorating, with their glances of adoration striking an incredibly sincere emotional core.

Min-gu and Min-ha rekindle their romance through a mutual appreciation of art and culture

Min-gu and Min-ha rekindle their romance through a mutual appreciation of art and culture

Min-gu and Min-ha are also noteworthy as a professional and intellectual couple. Min-ha in particular is a wonderfully refreshing romantic lead, as she exudes intelligence, strength, assured elegance, and sexual empowerment to great effect, a far cry from the weak-willed naivety so often exemplified in her contemporaries. While the characterisation doesn’t always strike the correct balance between confident and cocky, playful and mean, Min-ha is still highly charismatic and makes it plain to see how shy director Min-gu could fall so deeply for her.

As their reconciliation develops, many of the conversations involve discussions of art, culture and philosophy as they travel around various picturesque Italian cities. It occasionally becomes a bit implausible as they have a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the arts despite having careers in wildly different fields, yet the topics are constantly engaging. Conversations regarding their relationship during their twenties resonate the most by far, especially a key scene in which the reasons behind their separation are discussed. At times however the narrative becomes akin to a series of repetitive vignettes, as the lovers sleep together then visit a gallery, have sex followed by a museum tour, and so on, with the conversations often not continuing across the course of their trip, which is something of a missed opportunity.

Director Park has undoubtedly been influenced by Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in crafting Twenty Again, which is certainly no bad thing, yet he makes the misstep of referencing the film more than once through the course of the drama. By alluding to its source of inspiration the remarks draw the audience out of the story, instead of letting the film find its own unique voice, which it so clearly has.

Min-ha and Min-gu relish every second of their romantic 'second twenties' together

Min-ha and Min-gu relish every second of their romantic ‘second twenties’ together

Verdict:

Twenty Again is a refreshingly original romantic tale by director Park Heung-sik, as two forty-somethings rekindle a past romance within the beautifully shot locales of Italy. The mature and compelling couple are consistently charismatic, and while  the occasional shortcomings in the script detract from their journey, Twenty Again remains a passionate exploration of love.

★★☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews
Sang-ho scours the back streets of Paris every night looking for Yeong-wha

A Korean in Paris (파리의 한국남자) – ★★☆☆☆

A Korean in Paris (파리의 한국남자)

A Korean in Paris (파리의 한국남자)

Ever since the sudden disappearance of his wife Yeong-wha (Pang Ji-in (팽지인) two years ago in Paris, native Korean Sang-ho (Cho Jaehyun (조재현) has lived homeless on the streets of the capital, hoping to find and bring her home. Each day Sang-ho scours the back alleys of the Parisian underworld fearing she may now be part of the sex trade, showing Yeong-hwa’s picture to prostitutes in his quest for information. Yet despite a frustrating lack of help to find her, Sang-ho refuses to give up.

A Korean in Paris (파리의 한국남자)

A Korean in Paris (파리의 한국남자)

Slow-burning and insightful, director Jeon Soo-il’s A Korean in Paris is a gorgeously shot cross-cultural drama. Featuring keen observations of a Paris that lies beneath the tourist veneer alongside some truly stunning cinematography from Kim Sung-tai, the poetic film is a compelling mystery despite sporadically floundering from lack of impetus and sexual politics that are occasionally found wanting.

A Korean in Paris is a rare breed of drama by director Jeon Soo-il. Independent films from the peninsula often tend to focus on internal socio-cultural issues, yet director Jeon – who studied film direction as well as receiving a Masters and PhD in the French capital – has crafted a keen and insightful examination of Parisian society as told through the eyes of a middle-aged Korean man. It’s a consistently fascinating commentary as director Jeon explores the seedy underbelly beneath the city’s romantic veneer, exposing a rampant sex trade, a homelessness epidemic, and horrible racism towards poverty stricken immigrants. Such bleak subject matter is beautifully, and quite ironically, juxtaposed with the exquisite locations within the capital, captured in glorious fashion by the quality lensing of Kim Sung-tai, that serve as stunning backdrops to a city that is seemingly in decay.

Sang-ho scours the back streets of Paris every night looking for Yeong-wha

Sang-ho scours the back streets of Paris every night looking for Yeong-wha

While very much a slow-burning drama, A Korean in Paris interestingly plays out akin to a mystery as Sang-ho traverses the city looking for any traces of his wife. Through his journey the film notably articulates that many Asian immigrants in Paris find themselves working in the sex trade, as well as the circumstances they endure. As Sang-ho shuffles along the numerous streets lined with prostitutes each night the story becomes somewhat repetitive, while the potential offered by his burgeoning relationship with a Korean prostitute (Lock Mi Kwan (미콴락) is squandered before it truly begins.

Things do pick up however when the narrative employs a flashback sequence revealing the events that led up to Yeong-hwa’s disappearance, conveying eccentricities in her character that raise certain questions and implies that the situation is far from a simple ‘disappearance’ case as previously believed. While the film attempts to avoid concrete answers and let audiences interpret events for themselves, the narrative infers a particular discourse that is rather unenlightened in regards to sexual politics.

Sang-ho lives in the dark underbelly of Paris, within view of the glossy veneer

Sang-ho lives in the dark underbelly of Paris, within view of the glossy veneer

Verdict:

A Korean in Paris is a slow-burning drama that examines the seedy underbelly of the French capital beneath the romantic veneer. While director Jeon Soo-il’s story is keenly insightful and cinematographer Kim Sung-tai lensing is gorgeously composed throughout, the rather repetitive nature of the story and unenlightened sexual politics make the film equal parts perplexing yet fascinating.

★★☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews