The Isle (섬)

The Isle (섬)

The Isle (섬) –  ★★★☆☆

The Isle is an intense art-house film that explores misogynistic violence, sadomasochism, and animal cruelty in the foundation of a couple’s relationship. The controversy it has courted is warranted, yet despite this the social issues presented by Kim Ki-duk are damning regarding patriarchy and as such further instigates important areas of debate.”

Jesus Hospital is a compelling drama that examines morality with a family during a period of crises. Writer Shin A-ga has constructed a well-balanced, mature exploration of the selective application of faith, which she skillfully co-directs with Lee Sang-cheol. Jesus Hospital is an engaging film and a significant contribution to Korean independent cinema.”

Jiseul (지슬)

Jiseul (지슬)

Jiseul (지슬) – ★★★★★

Jiseul is a powerful and harrowing account of the 1948 Jeju Uprising, with director O Muel’s monochrome palette and intense visual style adding incredible potency and realism to the true-life events. Accompanied by some wonderful cinematography by Yang Jung-Hoon, Jiseul is an exemplary independent production and one of the most important releases of 2012.”

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정) – ★★★★☆

Lebanon Emotion is certainly one of the best films to emerge from JIFF 2013. With an engrossing story involving the nature of grief, the film never ceases to be compelling as two seemingly disparate people come together through suffering. Director Jung Young-heon’s keen visuals are stunningly realised through the cinematography, making for an attractive and insightful film.”

M (M (엠))

M (M (엠))

M (M (엠)) – ★★★★☆

M will undoubtedly not appeal to fans of structured mainstream films, yet for those interested in more artistic and experimental filmmaking, is a visual tour-de-force with incredible expression of colour and technical confidence. The poignancy of Min-woo’s journey serves as a wonderfully thrilling and romantic addition to auteur Lee Myeong-se’s  filmography.”

Madonna (마돈나)

Madonna (마돈나)

Madonna (마돈나) – ★★★★☆

Madonna is an impassioned story of social injustice and sexist abuse in contemporary Korean society by writer/director Shin Su-won. Displaying an evolved visual finesse and featuring a potent exploration of the cruel class system, the noir-esque drama is an unflinching take on societal ills.”

A Matter of Interpretation (꿈보다 해몽)

A Matter of Interpretation (꿈보다 해몽)

A Matter of Interpretation (꿈보다 해몽) – ★★★☆☆

A Matter of Interpretation is a wonderfully quirky and highly enjoyable second feature from writer/director Lee Kwang-kuk. The influences from his mentor Hong Sang-soo are clearly apparent yet Lee infuses his film with an alternative sense of biting wit alongside comedic – and often somewhat surreal – socio-cultural insight. Actress Shin Dong-mi shines as central protagonist Yeon-shin, while Yu Joon-sang is wonderfully charismatic as the odd detective. The film does suffer due to the fragmented narrative, yet A Matter of Interpretation is an entertaining take on modern happiness.”

Maundy Thursday (AKA Our Happy Time (우리들의 행복한 시간)

Maundy Thursday (우리들의 행복한 시간)

Maundy Thursday (우리들의 행복한 시간) – ★★★★☆

“The focus on societal and religious discourses, and the love that can develop through sharing personal trauma, make Maundy Thursday a unique and incredibly compelling romantic drama. The performances by the central couple are wonderful and the manner in which they develop feelings of romance are organic and highly convincing. Maundy Thursday is an excellent portrayal of alternative romance, and a poignant reminder of the value of sharing pain and happiness within a relationship.”

A Midsummer's Fantasia (한여름의 판타지아)

A Midsummer’s Fantasia (한여름의 판타지아)

A Midsummer’s Fantasia (한여름의 판타지아) – ★★☆☆☆

A Midsummer’s Fantasia is separated into two distinct chapters. Director Jang Kun-jae films both episodes with his trademark sincerity in capturing the realism in relationships. However the film is inescapably dull, as the protagonists rarely engage in anything other than small talk, making the film one primarily for fans of realist cinema.”

Miss The Train (미성년)

Miss The Train (미성년)

Miss The Train (미성년) – ★★☆☆☆

Miss the Train is an atmospheric indie drama by director Lee Kyung-sub, who displays a genuine evolution in style through his melancholy cinematography. Yet even so, the muddled and puzzling story is a continual source of frustration as the attempt to generate mystery becomes lost within itself.”

Mizo (미조)

Mizo (미조)

Mizo (미조) – ★★☆☆☆

Mizo is a drama of sexual and violent excess, but then perhaps that’s to be expected from director Nam Gi-woong, who was previously responsible for Teenage Hooker Was A Killing Machine. For fans of such spectacle, Mizo will quite likely be entertaining. However the film is blighted by a poor script and terrible characterisation, while the narrative is ultimately quite absurd. Newbie actress Lee Hyo holds the drama together well yet introspective Mizo certainly is not.”

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Modern Family (가족시네마 )

Modern Family (가족시네마) – ★★★☆☆

Modern Family is an insightful collection of 4 short films concerned with trauma in the contemporary family unit. Each director – Shin Su-won, Hong Ji-young, Lee Soo-yeon and Kim Seong-ho – have each produced work that exemplifies their unique styles as well as exploring quite diverse areas, and the omnibus is consistently compelling throughout.”

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스) –  ★★★☆☆

Moebius is yet another powerful and disturbing exploration of sexuality from director Kim Ki-duk. In quite literally – and explicitly – interpreting Freudian theories on screen, director Kim has crafted a very interesting film yet due to the far from unsubtle adaptation the absurdity of it all can often be cringeworthy and/or comical. Lee Eun-woo is undoubtedly the breakout star of the film as she performs with incredibly intensity. Moebius is not for the faint-hearted.”

A Muse (은교)

A Muse (은교)

A Muse (은교) –  ★★★☆☆

“A film of great depth and symbolism, A Muse is an eloquent exploration of the nature of age, love, and relationships. While the fetishization of Eun-gyo’s body tends to undermine the spiritual connection between her and Jeok-yo, and Park Hae-il’s casting  helping to alleviate the sexualization as well as being an oddity, the film succeeds on the strengths of a wonderfully character driven narrative and a superb debut by actress Kim Go-eun.”

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루)

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루)

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루) – ★★★★☆

My Dear Enemy is a charming and moving slice of realism from director Lee Yoon-ki, whose trademark sensitivity and compassion are fully on display. Bolstered by wonderful performances from Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jeong-woo, the film is a sophisticated yet subtle exploration of the thirty-something generation and their relationships, as well as an interrogation of the role of Korean culture in such matters. As such, the drama is mature and sincere throughout.”

National Security (남영동1985)

National Security (남영동1985)

National Security (남영동 1985) – ★★★★☆

National Security is a powerful film about the human rights abuses suffered by democratic rights campaigner Kim Jong-tae at Namyeong-dong detention center in 1985. Director Chung Ji-young employs his minimalist style highly effectively in depicting scenes of humiliation and torture, allowing for the horror of the acts to speak for themselves. National Security is a poignant reminder of the importance of human rights, and is a welcome addition in the politicization of contemporary Korean cinema.”

Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행) – ★★★★☆

“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.”

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원) – ★★★★☆

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is an incredibly charming and quite lovely film by director Hong San-soo. In depicting lonely film and acting student Haewon as she rekindles an affair with her married professor, a deceptively simple and subtlety nuanced film about identity and direction is constructed, employed through the director’s trademark aesthetics. Jeong Eun-chae is wonderfully charismatic and gives a career best as Haewon. While the story does meander and the male characters are quite immature, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is a delightful and refreshing tale of modern relationships.”

Oasis (오아시스)

Oasis (오아시스)

Oasis (오아시스) – ★★★★★

Oasis is an exceptional masterpiece. The social-realist aesthetic applied in depicting the burgeoning relationship between the lead couple is executed magnificently by auteur Lee Chang-dong, who deftly sidesteps melodrama in conveying the development of love between mentally ill and cerebral palsy individuals. Moon So-ri and Seol Kyeong-gu are simply exquisite in the lead roles. Oasis is an absolute must-see film.”

Obsessed (인간중독)

Obsessed (인간중독)

Obsessed (인간중독) – ★★★☆☆

Obsessed is a competent erotic drama from director Kim Dae-woo, the filmmaker responsible for several noteworthy racy period films. While the production design in Obsessed is lovingly crafted and wonderfully absorbing, the lacklustre story and stoic acting from the leads make the film a mediocre affair, and as such the intensity and passion is lacking throughout. Obsessed is a mildly entertaining romp that never fulfills the promise insinuated in the title.”

One on One (일대일)

One on One (일대일)

One on One (일대일) – ★★★☆☆

One on One is something of a refreshing film by director Kim Ki-duk. In focusing on social issues through a traditional narrative framework, and in conjunction with rather ‘raw’ camera techniques, director Kim has crafted an interesting examination that removes the excess of his prior films. However as One on One is overly ambitious as well as containing poor dialogue, the film is difficult to fully invest in, and is an intriguing yet flawed addition to his filmography.”

Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카) – ★★☆☆☆

“In the attempt to convey the relationship between a 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend, Pascha falls far short of other romantic dramas. The awkwardness and indifference displayed by the actors ultimately ruins any tension for when the relationship is threatened.”

Peppermint Candy (박하사탕)

Peppermint Candy (박하사탕)

Peppermint Candy (박하사탕) – ★★★★★

Peppermint Candy is undoubtedly one of the modern classics of Korean cinema, and is an exceptional entry by director Lee Chang-dong. The story is equal parts poetic and subtle as well as raw and compelling, as the emotional and psychological layers of main protagonist Yeong-ho are gradually peeled away. In doing so the director intricately examines the notions of contemporary Korean masculinity. As such, Peppermint Candy is a journey both personal and national and is an absolute must-see.”

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성) – ★★★★☆

Pluto is an excellent exploration of the intense Korean education system, and the highly intelligent yet morally questionable youth that it creates. It’s a stunning feature film from director Shin Su-won, whose keen eye for symbolism and character study is articulated throughout. Director Shin combines both the independent aesthetic with the mainstream thriller, cementing herself as a quality director. Thoroughly recommended.”

Poetry (시)

Poetry (시)

Poetry (시) – ★★★★★

Poetry is an incredible film. The script, the direction, and the acting come together perfectly to create a wonderfully subtle and elegant narrative about a woman on a search of discovery, yet the understated social commentary that is interwoven within it elevates the film even higher. Yoon Jung-hee is truly wonderful as Mi-ja, conveying the elegance of a woman striving to achieve something noteworthy in her life. Poetry is, without doubt, a must-see film.”

Poongsan (풍산개)

Poongsan (풍산개)

Poongsan (풍산개) –  ★★★☆☆

Poongsan is a very interesting nihilistic examination of the north/south divide, one that embraces wholeheartedly the similarities between both sides in an incredibly pessimistic context. The deconstruction of the agencies of both countries, and the use of language as a tool/enemy is wonderfully executed and brings a new dimension to the political debate within the cinematic realm. Poongsan is an entertaining, though disjointed, film.”

Punch (완득이)

Punch (완득이)

Punch (완득이) –  ★★★☆☆

Punch is a charming and heart-warming film about those on outside of ‘mainstream’ society and culture, made compelling by the wonderful characterization within. While the film may not push boundaries, the character-driven script features such an array of protagonists, issues and comedic idiosyncrasies that Punch becomes unique in its alternative perspective on a familial drama.”

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