Ordinary People (소시민) – ★★☆☆☆

Ordinary People (소시민)

Ordinary People (소시민)

Jae-pil is about to have the worst Sunday of his life. From the moment the hapless salaryman wakes up in a grotty motel, he is beset by a host of problems – his bullying manager demands Jaepil ‘massage’ some figures or else lose his job; his estranged wife begins divorce proceedings while filing for custody of their daughter Soo-in; his nagging sister is demanding money to donate to  her church; and he has just become the prime suspect in a murder case. One thing’s for sure – this Sunday is going to be hell.

A humorously dark tale, director Kim Byung-june’s Ordinary People is an entertaining slice of ironic satire that pokes fun at the insane challenges of the everyday salaryman. Striking the tone just right during the first half, the film spirals into theatrical silliness in the second, subverting the intelligent mockery for obvious gags.

Aside from a rather oddly dramatic preface during the opening credits, Ordinary People begins in promising fashion as director Kim explores the insanity within the mundane tasks bestowed upon the middle-aged Korean office worker. Using central protagonist Jae-pil as a cypher, he piles on the absurd stresses such employees endure with an impressively dark and often subtle wit, balancing the tone well between realism and farce as Jae-pil is pushed to breaking point. The title perfectly reflects director Kim’s brand of humour – these characters and events are indeed ‘ordinary’ in the lives of many Koreans yet there is a comedic ridiculousness to it all that he works hard to emphasise.

Jae-pil is told to 'massage' some figures for his company

Jae-pil is told to ‘massage’ some figures for his company

However, just as with this year’s other darkly satirical film (and Jeonju Film Festival winner) Alice in Earnestland, Ordinary People takes an ill-advised turn at the halfway mark. Through a misunderstanding in an apparent murder case Jae-pil is considered a suspect, from which the events and characters all suddenly descend into farcical comedy the likes of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Korean ‘gag concert’ TV show. The dry and ironic humour of the first hour comes undone as the Jae-pil’s situation comes increasingly ludicrous and the acting evermore theatrical, culminating in the eye-rolling introduction of colourful chubby gangster trio the Bear Brothers. Director Kim is certainly aware as his protagonists recount how bizarre the events have become, yet it continues to escalate until the film reaches its overly long conclusion with trite melodrama.

While the introduction to the characters and their relationships are in need of tightening, both Jae-pil and his sister are great devices through which to explore the stresses of contemporary Koreans. Jae-pil is a likeable protagonist and one who the audience genuinely want to succeed despite his occasionally frustrating whiny impotence to his problems. His sister, however, is largely pushed to the margins of the story, a real missed opportunity as her role as an intelligent journalist who quit due to marriage could have provided further great ironic satire from a female perspective, as well as offered a fun counterpoint to Jae-pil’s misadventures.

The situation escalates when Jae-pil finds himself in trouble with the law

The situation escalates when Jae-pil finds himself in trouble with the law

Verdict:

Director Kim Byung-june’s Ordinary People begins in darkly satirical fashion through ironic jokes at an average salaryman’s expense, yet following such a promising opening the film missteps into absurd theatrical comedy at the halfway point before ending with trite melodrama. Yet the potential displayed in the first half means Kim’s future films are ones to watch out for.

★★☆☆☆

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

Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다) – ★★★★☆

Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다)

Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다)

Arriving in Suwon City a day earlier than scheduled, film director Chunsoo (Jung Jaeyoung (정재영) bides his time by wandering around the local landmarks. By chance, he runs into pretty artist Heejung (Kim Minhee (김민희) and persuades her to join him for a cup of coffee. As the two spend the day together conversing awkwardly over meals and drinks, Chunsoo and Heejung become closer.

Then, events play out again with Chunsoo’s more gentlemanly manner and Heejung’s greater sense of independence arousing slight variations in their burgeoning relationship.

Director Cheon-soo persuades artist Hee-jeong to have coffee

Director Chunsoo persuades artist Heejung to have coffee

Undeniably charming and beautifully told, director Hong Sangsoo‘s Right Now, Wrong Then is a genuine delight. The stirringly sensitive drama is the kind of story only the acclaimed auteur could produce, capturing the endearing awkwardness of human interaction with keen insight and is wholly deserving of its accolades – namely the Golden Leopard (Best Film) and Best Actor for Jung Jaeyoung at its premiere in Locarno International Film Festival, with more undoubtedly to follow.

It’s become almost a cliche in itself to point out director Hong’s interest in capturing the subtleties of human interaction, the awkward clumsiness of smart men over confident women, of repeating scenarios with slight adjustments in characterisation that result in rather different outcomes, but as he does it so insightfully it’s hard not to constantly acknowledge his deft skill in such areas. With Right Now, Wrong Then director Hong wonderfully succeeds in capturing the beauty of such moments with an endearing humour and grace that is captivating, conveying a palpable charm that was somewhat lacking in his prior effort Hill of Freedom.

Right Now, Wrong Then is in fact two films in one, and much of its pleasure is derived from juxtaposing both stories. In the first installment, film director Chunsoo is shy, secretive, and akin to a wannabe philanderer; in the second he is a shade more confident, honest and direct. The differences that arise through his interactions with artist Heejung, who is shy and passive in the first tale before later becoming more independent and assured, are subtle yet profound as conversations take alternate trajectories that greatly effect them both, resulting in radically different outcomes for their relationship.

Hee-jeong and Cheon-soo drink and converse as they grow closer

Heejung and Chunsoo drink and converse as they grow closer

In lesser hands such simple tales of strangers meeting would be mildly entertaining, yet actors Jung Jaeyoung and Kim Minhee fulfil the roles with astonishing nuance and depth, propelling the drama into one of the best K-films of the year. Jung, who previously worked with director Hong in Our Sunhi, excels as the sensitive Chunsoo by conveying the character’s social ineptitude wonderfully with awkward mannerisms and speech, while also managing to capture a unique sense of charisma with his forthright honesty later in the film. It’s clear why Jeong was the recipient of the Best Actor award at Locarno and he’s sure to add further trophies to his cabinet as Right Now, Wrong Then screens at more international festivals.

As Heejung, Kim Minhee is absolutely captivating. Her performance is unquestionably deserving of high praise and accolades. Her facial expressions and quirks, particularly during some of the film’s pivotal and revelatory scenes, contain so much palpable emotion that they resonate long after the credits have rolled. With Right Here, Wrong Then, and with her upcoming turn in Park Chan-wook‘s Fingersmith, Kim Minhee looks set to become one of the K-Film industry’s most sought after actresses.

The subtle differences in characterisation result in alternative outcomes

The subtle differences in characterisation result in alternative outcomes

Verdict:

Director Hong Sangsoo’s Right Now, Wrong Then is a charismatic, endearing tale of burgeoning relationships only the celebrated auteur is capable of telling. Wonderfully subtle, insightful, and humorous, the drama is a heartwarming tale of human interaction and the possibilities of tender new emotional experiences.

★★★★☆

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

BIFF 2015: Hidden Masterpieces of the 1960s

BIFF 2015

BIFF 2015

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) will play host to a special series of screenings entitled Korean Cinema Retrospective: Hidden Masterpieces of the 1960s.

With hostilities between the two Koreas resulting in a truce 1953 and the South’s subsequent emphatic drive for redevelopment, the ’60s proved to be a burgeoning period for cinema with filmmakers producing an average of 200 films per year.

This period of modernisation is to be celebrated by screening 8 of the lesser known films from the decade, some of which were considered lost for all time until a discovery earlier this year by a travelling film operator unearthed 450 sought after classics. His donation of the film reels to the Korean Film Archive has resulted in filling in many of the gaps of Korea’s cinematic heritage which, after restoration, can finally be experienced on the big screen.

Below are the films in the Hidden Masterpieces program to be screened at BIFF, two of which can be viewed on the Korean Film Archive’s youtube channel.

Hidden Masterpieces of the 1960s

A Bloodthirsty Killer (살인마) (1965)

Director Lee Yong-min (이용민)

A Bloodthirsty Killer

A Bloodthirsty Killer

Classic K-horror A Bloodthirsty Killer uses the genre to explore the social and cultural issues of the era. Aeja is a cheerful and content woman living a comfortable existence with her husband, yet her happiness inspires incredible jealousy in those around her resulting in her murder at the hands of her mother-in-law and niece. Following Aeja’s untimely death, strange things begin occurring as her spirit returns from the grave seeking revenge.

The film blends Eastern and Western generic conventions in depicting the new affluent classes emerging in the ’60s, and the subsequent jealousy of those less fortunate.

Jealousy of the emerging affluence in the '60s is a key theme

Jealousy of the emerging affluence in the ’60s is a key theme

The Body Confession (육체의 고백) (1964)

Director Jo Keung-ha (조긍하)

The Body Confession

The Body Confession

The role of women in 1960s Korea was fraught to say the least, but for single mothers it was extremely taxing. The Body Confession examines the life of a middle-aged mother of three daughters living in Busan, who will do anything to see that her children receive the best of everything in life. To do so, she secretly works as a madam at a brothel, sacrificing all she has for her family’s wellbeing. Yet with troubles beginning to arise for each daughter she struggles to cope.

The Body Confession is in many ways a companion piece for last year’s Ode To My Father, but from a female perspective and with far more depth.

To watch The Body Confession online, click here.

The fraught existence of a single mother is examined

The fraught existence of a single mother is examined

The Cash Is Mine (현금은 내 것이다) (1965)

Director Lee Sang-eon (이상언)

The Cash Is Mine

The Cash Is Mine

The Cash Is Mine is an early noir gangster film and, as Nameless Gangster and  Gangnam Blues more recently explored, depicts the criminal underworld as an instrumental part of Korea’s development.

When local gangster Young-jun kills an old man at the behest of his syndicate, he comes to feel an enormous burden of guilt. With detectives closing in on him, Young-jun’s desire to make amends results in taking care of the old man’s daughter Eun-joo, protecting her despite great personal risk. Can he be both criminal and saviour, as well as evade incarceration for his transgression?

Rivals meet in this early noir crime thriller

Rivals meet in this early noir crime thriller

The DMZ (비무장지대) (1965)

Director Park Sang-ho (박상호)

The DMZ

The DMZ

The DMZ was long thought lost until its sudden discovery in 2006. Amazingly the film was shot on location – a dangerous prospect at the time – with the permission of the U.S. 8th Army and the Military Armistice Commission, and carries a strong anti-war message.

The war drama follows two young children who become lost in the DMZ due to moving from the constant battles between North and South. As they walk around the perilous environment they are exposed to the horrors of war, witnessing corpses and weapons of destruction, as they attempt to survive on rations they occasionally find.

Two children become lost in the DMZ during conflict

Two children become lost in the DMZ during conflict

The Door of the Body (육체의 문) (1965)

Director Lee Bong-rae (이봉래)

The Door of the Body

The Door of the Body

The Door of the Body explores feminist issues from a unique perspective, as rather than succumb to roles of ‘the wife’ or ‘the mother’ the lead protagonist wishes to use the growing liberal attitude of the era to become a businesswoman.

Arriving in Seoul from the country, Eun-sook sets her vision on owning her own beauty salon and begins working as a masseuse and prostitute to generate the required capitol, which she wisely invests in stocks and shares. Yet when Eun-sook falls in love with a con artist he manages to cheat her out of all her savings, leaving the young woman destitute and forced to find another way to achieve her dream.

A woman strives for independence during the tough era

A woman strives for independence during the tough era

The General’s Mustache (장군의 수염) (1968)

Director Lee Seong-gu (이성구)

The General's Mustache

The General’s Mustache

A real rarity in 1960s Korean film, The General’s Mustache blends live action detective drama with animated sequences, highlighting the advancements being made in the industry at the time.

When young photographer Kim Chul-woon is discovered dead in suspicious circumstances, two detectives are assigned to the case though answers prove elusive. Tracking one particular lead take the investigative team to a novelist, who informs them Chul-woon was writing a story called ‘The General’s Mustache’ as well as revealing that he was in a passionately intense relationship with a girl.

To watch The General’s Mustache online, click here.

The mystery of the man's death deepens when his relationship is revealed

The mystery deepens when the dead man’s relationship is revealed

Trees Stand on Slope (나무들 비탈에 서다) (1968)

Director Choi Ha-won (최하원)

Trees Stand on Slope

Trees Stand on Slope

Trees Stand on Slope is arguably the big film in the program, as it’s one of the 450 films recently rediscovered and donated to the Korean Film Archive, now finally restored and ready to be experienced on the big screen.

The story, based on Hwang Sun-won’s novel, is a violent tale of jealousy, revenge and guilt examining issues from the Korean War. Envious of the love between best friend Dong-ho and his girlfriend Suk, Hyun-tae arranges a secret night with a prostitute while Suk is away. Beside himself with remorse, Dong-ho does the unthinkable which sends Hyun-tae into a downward spiral that sees him commit heinous acts of criminality.

Trees

Jealousy proves the be the downfall of three close friends

When Night Falls at Myeongdong (명동에 밤이 오면) (1964)

Director Lee Hyung-pyo (이형표)

When Night Falls at Myeongdong

When Night Falls at Myeongdong

Issues faced by women in Seoul are portrayed within When Night Falls at Myeongdong, a film that examined the gender imbalances in the capital as it dramatically became one of the most affluent in Asia.

In the bars of Myeongdong are scores of young attractive women, all of whom are waiting to find a handsome and rich suitor to marry and take them away from their miserable existence of drinking with strangers. One such woman is especially popular due to her incredible beauty, although she is notorious for being picky. Yet when a bank manager arrives one night and they hit it off, she may well have found her path to freedom.

Temptations arise in the bars of Myeongdong

Temptations arise in the bars of Myeongdong

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