Memories of the Sword (협녀, 칼의 기억) – ★★☆☆☆

Memories of the SwordMany years ago, a peasant uprising led by the legendary 3 Swords goes awry when Deok-gi (Lee Byung-hun) betrays the band of warriors by aligning with the corrupt king and murdering Poong-chun (Bae Soo-Bin). Distraught, Seol-rang (Jeon Do-yeon) flees with Poong-chan’s infant daughter Hong-yi, vowing revenge. 18 years later, Hong-yi (Kim Go-eun) has become a master swordsman thanks to the tutelage of the now-blind Seol-rang, and upon learning of her tragic history embarks on a quest to avenge her father.

Hong-yi prepares to test her skills

Hong-yi tests her skills against the military’s finest warrior

Memories of the Sword is perhaps best described as a Korean attempt at the wuxia sub-genre, a particularly bold undertaking by writer/director Park Heung-sik considering the its very Chinese origins and the quality of titles to emerge. To his credit, Memories of the Sword is a handsomely shot film and often features beautifully composed sequences as characters interact with stunning natural landscapes. The film owes a huge debt of gratitude to cinematographer Kim Byeong-seo as he employs wuxia traits to make a visually engaging and stylised piece of work that is rare in K-cinema.

Yet Memories of the Sword falls apart due to its highly convoluted plot and poor narrative structure. Attempts to create melodrama and intrigue between characters quickly become tedious as the relationships and shared histories presented are laborious to endure, while big reveals that could have injected tension into the story are haphazardly divulged. As such, it’s often difficult to tell whether Memories of the Sword is a reverential wuxi undertaking or a parody of the genre.

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Blind master Seol-rang perfects her swordplay

Both Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Byung-hun are without a doubt two of the most talented actors in Korean cinema, and it’s a genuine delight to see them interact on screen together. Jeon Do-yeon in particular stands out in Memories of the Sword as she injects a passionate intensity and humanity into Seol-rang, an impressive feat given the character is so thread-bare. Kim Go-eun is also a great talent as witnessed in A Muse, yet here she appears to be in completely different film to her co-stars as she overacts her way through scenes with youthful glee.

In terms of action, no one fairs especially well when it comes to the martial arts sequences and wire-work essential to the film. The choreography is competent but generally uninspired, failing to generate the required investment to make the thrills riveting viewing. While watching it’s impossible to not recall superior examples of the genre – notably Hero and House of Flying Daggers, from which Memories of the Sword appears to take so much influence – and wish to be watching them instead.

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Villainess Deok-gi lusts for power

Verdict:

Memories of the Sword is visually impressive Korean attempt at the wuxia sub-genre, yet aside from a selection of beautifully composed scenes the martial arts adventure falls flat.

★★☆☆☆

 

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Reviews

21st Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival to Honour Jeon Do-yeon

Poster for 'Contact, JEON Do-yeon' presented by the 21st BIFANAcclaimed actress Jeon Do-yeon is to be honoured at the 21st Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) this year, in celebration of her 20 year career that began with Contact back in 1997.

Entitled ‘Contact, Jeon Do-yeon,’ the special program is dedicated to the revered actress and will feature highlights from her incredible filmography, including Secret Sunshine – for which she won ‘Best Actress’ at Cannes Film Festival – tense drama The Housemaid, gangster/action film No Blood, No Tears, time-travel drama My Mother, The Mermaid, period-actioner Memories of the Sword, thrillers Countdown and The Shameless, and more to be announced.

In addition, BiFan will also hold a press conference, a special Q&A between Jeon Do-yeon and the audience, an exhibition of the posters in which she starred alongside stills of the famed actress, and an exclusive collectors book for fans.

Jeon Do-yeon is undoubtedly one of the most talented – and internationally celebrated – artists in Korean cinematic history, and as such the program is a great boon for audiences and the festival alike, allowing fans old and new to revisit her extraordinary filmography.

BiFan will run from July 13th ~ 23rd.

Official Poster of the 21st Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival

Festival News Uncategorized

Q&A with director Kim Jong-Kwan – “There is something appealing in writing from the female point of view”

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Director Kim Jong-kwan

Director Kim Jong-Kwan is well-known to fans of independent Korean cinema. A graduate of the Seoul Institute of the Arts, his short film How to Operate a Polaroid Camera is considered a classic Korean short film. Last year he had not one but two features premiere at the two biggest film festivals in Korea, respectively – Worst Woman at the Jeonju International Film Festival in the competition section, while The Table was part of the Busan International Film Festival’s panorama of contemporary Korean cinema. One of the rising stars of Korean film – actress Han Ye-ri (Haemoo, Kundo: Age of the Rampant) – is in both, while beside her in The Table appears another popular actress – Jung Yu-Mi (Train to Busan, The Himalayas).

Since both movies were among my favorites in 2016, I was more than happy when director Kim found some time in his busy schedule to answer my questions. And since most of his movies are told through the eyes of women, it was only logical for my first question to be about his choice of main characters.

 Why the main characters in your movies are usually women?

I find it easier to write about a main female character. Maybe there is some feminine side in me – or so I have been told by people. My writing also reflects my literary taste: I seem to have read mainly novels either with women as protagonists or written by female authors. So I think that’s one of the reasons why creating female protagonists has become easier to me. Apart from that I think that the way I see the world and how I write about the relationships between people or the things that upset me in our society can be relayed better through the eyes of a woman.

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After working together on a short film and the feature Worst Woman, actress Han Ye-Ri appears also in the director’s last film The Table.

So would you say that you know the heart of a woman?

I am not sure about that… Definitely there are things I don’t know about women. After all I am a man. But I think there is something appealing in writing from the female point of view. Women have both weak and strong sides in themselves. And I find that it is interesting to write about the situations when those two sides collide. Besides, in our society women are in a weaker position than men. So I seem to be more interested in writing about their struggles.

Ever since your first movie you have been making films about the relationships between men and women. What is the reason for that?

I like melodrama as a genre. Besides, I remember when I first had to shoot short films back in film school, I had to come up with stories that could be done on a really low budget. So writing scripts with 2 or 3 characters and concentrating on what is going on inside the relationship between a man and a woman was more comfortable.

Do you want to continue making melodramas?

Not necessarily. I would like to continue talking about the irony in relationships between people and about love. But I also want to explore in general what makes people sad, afraid, lonely… and that can be done through different genres. I’m interested, for example, in making a criminal drama.

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In Worst Woman, relationship strife is the source of both comedy and drama.

When you go to the cinema to watch a movie, what kind of film do you usually watch?

Depends on my mood. Sometimes when I want to get rid of stress, I would watch something that is easy to take in, that doesn’t make me think too much. But when I am about to start a new project, I look for movies that can inspire and motivate me.

There are film people who completely reject the idea of watching blockbuster movies. They don’t regard them as “art” or as “cinema.”

Movies are both art and industry. Blockbuster movies are the ones that most people enjoy and have stronger commercial value. So it is only natural to make them. It’s impossible not to have them. But! If there were to be only such movies, it would be kind of “too lonely.” There must be movies that explore other themes. But also, it is not possible only to have independent art films. It is hard to make them profitable.

Is there communication or cooperation between Korean independent and commercial filmmakers?

There are people who start by making independent movies and then go into big, commercial projects as well as the other way around.

We have big budget movies with high artistic values such as The Handmaiden by director Park Chan-Wook, and we have low budget independent movies like Dongju: Portrait of a Poet by director Lee Joon-Ik (who also made blockbuster The Throne) that became a commercial success.

Of course there are people who identify themselves as only independent film directors. But most filmmakers, including me, don’t carry with themselves the identity of “an indie film director.” When starting a new project, we write about a subject that is important to us. That “thing” can turn into both a blockbuster or an art-house film.

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Actress Jung Yoo-Mi in a scene from the movie The Table.

You have worked on several occasions with the same actresses – Han Ye-Ri and Jung Yoo-Mi. Why is that?

I also like working with new actors and crew. On one hand if I work with the same people, I could go deeper in terms of film, but on the other hand my colors could blend into only one. Working with different people allows me to broaden up my spectrum, but working with the same ones allows us to get used to each other and there is some feeling of security in that.

But even if I cast actors I have worked with before I say to them not to act in the same way as before. For my part, I also try to cast them in films in which they can show a different side of themselves.

For example the first time I worked with Jung Yoo-Mi was in the 2004 short film How to Operate a Polaroid Camera. The next time we worked together was in the 2010 film Come. Closer. The character I entrusted her the 2nd time was so different from her 20 something personality – much more melancholic. Then in my last film The Table I showed her as quite a strong woman who faces her first love. I really like trying out things like that.

The first time I worked with Han Ye-Ri was also for a short film. Then we made Worst Woman together where she plays a woman who carries a kind of self-irony in herself but is also quite cool. In The Table the feeling is a bit different. There is irony in her part there too, but her character is more of a person who doesn’t feel guilt when lying.

When you are working with your actors, is it easier to give directions and communicate with female or male actors?

When working together, both sides – actors and directors – have to kind of match their style. But it’s not a matter of gender whether and how this will work out. It just depends on the person’s specificities, character. For me the most important thing is to have real conversations, to exchange views and ideas with my actors.

최악의 여자 스틸#1

Worst Woman ironically tells the story of a woman that is not ‘the worst’.

Finally, ever since I watched Worst Woman, I wanted to ask you why you chose that title since the Korean one is Worst Day?

When we presented Worst Woman at the Jeonju International Film Festival last year, I thought such a title, both in English and Korean, had some charm in itself. To the male characters in the film she might seem as the worst woman, but ironically I wanted to tell the story of a woman that is not ‘the worst.’ So while watching the movie, people would have the title in their mind and would constantly ask themselves “Why is she ‘the worst woman’?” But our marketing team thought that the audience might feel uncomfortable with that title since it carries some prejudice in itself. So in Korean we changed it to Worst Day. As for the English one, on one hand there were films with such title and also most of the people working on the film thought it just sounds better, so we left it like that.

 

Our sincere thanks to director Kim Jong-kwan for taking the time to answer our questions.

Huge thanks also to our good friend Song Tae-Eun for helping with the transcription of the interview in Korean.

Festival News Interviews/Q&As

Blue Butterfly Effect (파란나비효과) – ★★★★☆

Blue Butterfly Effect

When the Korean and American governments announce that the military THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system is to be located in the rural county of Seongju, residents quickly become alarmed. As the local citizens begin researching the issue further they become increasingly politically aware, ultimately organising protests against THADD that continue to grow in strength and number. Blue Butterfly Effect (파란나비효과) documents the protests against THADD, from its grass-roots origins through to the nationwide coverage the issue generated.

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The protests grow throughout the province

Director Park Moon-chil, who debuted with the wonderfully sensitive and empowering My Place (2013), returns with an inspiring tale of protest in Blue Butterfly Effect and in doing so cements his status as one of the best documentary filmmakers currently working in Korean cinema.

Blue Butterfly Effect proves to be so engaging largely due to the central subjects at the core of the story, as housewives, farmers, seamstresses et al from the community come together to explain how they became aware of THADD, detailing the passion and outrage it generated that ultimately led to forming a protest movement. Such scenes are brilliantly executed, providing not only an informative piece on the nature of the issue but also an insightful commentary on protest culture within contemporary Korea.

Director Park wisely goes beyond purely representing their opinions of THADD however, as he delves into the subjects’ voting habits, regional identity, and the increasing political and historical awareness each member experiences, unveiling acute character development. No matter how big the challenges over THADD become, the film never loses focus of the personal dimensions of the conflict, making the story an intimate portrait of nationwide debate and virtually demands audience investment.

In documenting the manner in which the THADD protests and responses escalate, director Park goes where few filmmakers dare to tread in depicting the ‘dirty tricks’ employed by those in favour of the military technology. In presenting the ways local politicians change stance and ‘spin’ alternative narratives, the collusion between the government and big business, as well as featuring elitist prejudice – misogynistic comments, and the head of the Education Ministry’s comment that 99% of Koreans are “like dogs and pigs” – combine to produce a startling portrait of modern politics, one that taps into the zeitgeist of anti-conservatism sweeping the country following President Moon Jae-in’s inauguration.

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As politicians spin narratives, public outrage and peaceful protests increase

Verdict:

Blue Butterfly Effect is a powerful testament to the spirit of Korean people and the power of protest, as well as an important cultural text in its own right. Director Park Moon-chil again proves his talent as a documentarian to watch, for Blue Butterfly Effect is a film that, for current and future generations, and those interested in the politics of the peninsula, demands to be seen.

 ★★★★☆

 

Reviews

Yourself and Yours (당신자신과 당신의 것) – ★★★☆☆

Yourself and Yours (당신자신과 당신의 것)

Synopsis: When aspiring artist Young-soo (Kim Joo-hyuck) discusses his intention to marry Min-jung (Lee You-young), the idea is laughed at by a close friend (Kim Eui-sung). Clearly offended, Young-soo demands answers – and hears of the rumours that Min-jung has been meeting and drinking with different men around the neighbourhood. Deeply hurt, Young-soo confronts Min-jung about the rumours – all of which she denies – and following the fight she decides to leave. Young-soo desperately wants to make things right with Min-jung – but what is the truth?

Young-soo hears rumours his girlfriend is meeting other men

Notions of truth, jealousy and trust are playfully explored through director Hong Sang-soo‘s Yourself and Yours, with the film navigating such potentially dramatic material with the charismatic whimsy audiences have come to expect from the celebrated auteur. Whereas director Hong’s previous film Right Now Wrong Then explored the ramifications of truthfulness in a relationship, Yourself and Yours takes a markedly different approach. While Young-soo’s suspicions initially drive the couple apart, Min-jung is presented in the sequences that follow in completely different personas, seemingly not recognising past acquaintances and behaving erratically.

The film doesn’t provide any simple answers for the situations that arise – perhaps Min-jung has a disorder; perhaps the sequences are purely from Young-soo’s jealous mind – but that’s seemingly not particularly important as audiences are swept along the journey due to the quirky interactions and comedically awkward moments. What the narrative does appear to embrace is that control within a relationship is folly and that compromise is a necessity, while identity is a fluid construct that alters depending on how a person wishes to present themselves. Traditional answers are not the ultimate goal of Yourself and Yours, rather, it’s a charismatic journey of discovery and one that fans of director Hong will undoubtedly appreciate.

Min-jung meets writer Jaeyoung at a cafe, yet her behaviour is erratic

Verdict:

Yourself and Yours is a whimsical exploration of identity and trust within modern relationships, featuring charismatic performances by all involved yet particularly by Lee You-young. Those unfamiliar with director Hong Sang-soo’s work might be a little perplexed, but for the converted Yourself and Yours is real treat.

★★★☆☆

Reviews

Hong Sang-soo Brings ‘The Day After’ and ‘Claire’s Camera’ to Cannes

Having a film selected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival is an incredible achievement – having two is quite extraordinary. Yet that is precisely what director Hong Sang-soo has done, as The Day After (그 후) and Claire’s Camera (클레어의 카메라) are due to be screened, with both films starring actress Kim Min-hee.

Selected for the ‘In Competition’ category, The Day After will premiere on May 22nd.

Synopsis: “It is Areum’s first day of work at a small publisher. Her boss Bongwan loved and recently broke up with the woman who previously worked there. Today too, the married Bongwan leaves home in the dark morning and sets off to work. That day Bongwan’s wife finds a love note, bursts into the office, and mistakes Areum for the woman who left.”

Claire’s Camera is located within the ‘Special Screenings’ section, and will premiere on May 21st. The film was shot last year while the Cannes Film Festival was operating, and stars celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert. This is the duo’s second film together following In Another Country (다른 나라에서) in 2012.

Synopsis: “On a business trip to the Cannes Film Festival, Manhee is accused of being dishonest, and fired. A teacher named Claire goes around taking photos with a Polaroid camera. She gets to know Manhee and sympathizes with her. Claire is like a person who can see Manhee’s possible future or past selves, through the mysterious power of the beach tunnel. Through taking photos, Claire has acquired the ability to look slowly at things, and to transform objects. Now, Claire goes with Manhee to the café where she was fired.”

Film News

‘The Villainess’ Receives Action-Packed Trailer Ahead of Cannes Debut

The Villainess (악녀) has received an explosive trailer in the run-up to its debut at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21st.

Appearing in the ‘Out of Competition – Midnight Projections’ program, writer/director Jung Byung-gil’s latest features Kim Ok-vin as ruthless assassin Sook-hee. When an assignment goes horribly wrong, Sook-hee finds herself at the mercy of Korea’s National Intelligence Service and is given a sadistic choice – work for the NIS for 10 years, or die.

Director Jung has experience with the genre having previously helmed action-orientated Confession of Murder and Action Boys, while Kim Ok-vin is a black belt in both hapkido and taekwondo. Their combined skill is clearly on display in the adrenaline-inducing trailer (below).

The Villainess screens nationwide in Korea from June 8.

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