Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

JIFF 2013: Quick Fire Reviews 1

With such a great variety films to see at the 14th Jeonju International Film Festival, and precious little time to write full reviews, here is the first in a series of ‘Quick Fire Reviews’ from the festival.

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머) ★★☆☆☆

Groggy Summer depicts the life of frustrated teenage poet Min-joon, whose poverty-stricken lifestyle leads him to despair. Misunderstood by his parents, the young man finds solace with his friends who are similarly displaced social outcasts. The story is a very interesting one, and director Yun Su-ik (윤수익) initially does well in conveying the difficulties of being a creative person in Korean society.  As the film continues Min-joon is constantly beaten down by the trappings of capitalist society, where money is the solution at every turn. Yet the film doesn’t really explore any of the features in great detail, instead seeking to add more and more different challenges to Min-joon’s life, which results in a loss of focus and invites predictability. There are also intriguing parallels to be had with his artistic father, which unfortunately are not capitalised on. The major issues with Groggy Summer are the camerawork and editing. While the mixture of close-ups and extreme close-ups creates intimacy and provides a penetrating exploration of emotion, it also makes for uncomfortable viewing as the world in which Min-joon inhabits is not fully portrayed. The intensity of this style helps to convey frustration, but when used in conjunction with highly kinetic hand-held camera movement the result is dizziness and nausea. The editing also detracts from the story as it noticeably jumps in several areas. The story has a lot of potential and shows promise, yet the filmmaking techniques detract from the experience.

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨) – ★★★☆☆

A mockumentary about an aspiring but lazy director, Cheer Up Mr. Lee is a very funny examination of Korean dramas and documentaries. Based on the life of the director, Lee Byeong-hun (이병헌), the film wonderfully pokes fun at the contrived cinematic conventions to be seen in Korean media in a variety of ways. The central protagonist and his friends are very amusing as they are all losers who berate each other for fun instead of working hard to achieve their dreams, while the frustrations of the documentary team as the follow them are comedic. This postmodern sensibility extends to the awareness of filmic conventions, as Byeong-hun berates the film crew for employing techniques such as music during crises. Yet while the film begins strongly the narrative and comedy aren’t consistent, and as such the film often flits between fun and dull points as the focus is repeatedly found then lost. The second act suffers acutely in this regard, especially as the team travel to Busan. Luckily the film picks up towards the end, where the director pokes fun at short film and art film conventions, as he makes his debut in a very comedic manner. A fun film that often loses focus, yet very entertaining.

Karaoke Girl

Karaoke Girl

Karaoke Girl – ★★★☆☆

Thai director Visra Vichit Vadakan has produced a fascinating insight into the life of young Thai women who find themselves working in the seedy bars of Bangkok. The film explores the life of Sa, a 22 year old woman who moved from the country to the capital in order to find work and money, yet did so at the expense of her happiness. Karaoke Girl is not a depressing effort however, as while Sa is treated terribly by her on-again-off-again boyfriend director Vadakan portrays the young woman as strong and passionate, and that she understands she deserves more than what life has provided for her. Sa’s spirit drives the film, and the actress is talented and engaging throughout. The director also wisely steers clear of any sexual content that could have so easily been included and instead focuses on Sa’s journey as she becomes stronger. Yet Karaoke Girl suffers from the mixture of drama and documentary techniques that occur throughout, never managing to fully blend them into a coherent whole which ultimately detracts from the viewing experience. The film jumps from following Sa’s life, which is utterly engaging, to interviewing her family in the countryside, and draws the audience out of the film. This is a genuine shame as Sa is an intriguing character/real life subject.

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년) – ★★★★☆

With a story concerned with the abandonment of youth, Juvenile Offender is a highly poignant and engaging drama. Director Kang Yi-kwan (강이관) explores several very important and timely social issues within Korean society, including teenage pregnancy, parental abandonment, poor social care, unfair legal system, and misunderstood youth. The film follows Jin-gu, a teenage who lives with his elderly grandfather. Falling into the wrong crowd and with anger problems, Jin-gu quickly earns a criminal record and finds himself in a detention center. When his mother, who was thought to be dead, surfaces to take him in, their relationship is explored as the two struggle to overcome their own strife as well as to forge a relationship. Director Kang deftly sidesteps any melodrama and the film emerges the stronger for it, while the powerful performances by both Seo Yeong-joo (서영주) as Jin-gu and Lee Jeong-hyeon (이정현) as his mother are captivating. While it feels unfair to comment negatively on appearance, Lee Jeong-hyeon’s quite obvious plastic surgery detracts from her role as a teenage mother with a criminal past. The youthfulness of her face appears similar to her son, which invites some oedipal anxieties at certain points. The film also somewhat loses track as it draws to a close, seemingly unsure how to wrap up so many issues and ends rather abruptly, yet it is also quite fitting. A powerful and timely film.

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Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013: Korean Films in Competition

JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013

The 14th Jeonju International Film Festival is almost upon us, kicking off on the 25th of April and running for a week through to the 3rd of May. After the huge controversies surrounding the festival last year, JIFF is reinventing itself with new programmers and staff as well as holding additional events due to take place nearby.

As always JIFF will screen a great variety of film talent focusing specifically on the independent sector. Opening with the joint French/Canadian film Fox Fire (폭스파이어) by director Laurent Cantet, a host of new film-making talent will be on display until closing film Wajida (와즈다), by Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al Mansour, is screened.

For the full list of films being shown at JIFF 2013 please follow the link provided here, which amongst other things features a wonderful focus on Indian films in a category titled ‘Beyond Bollywood’. Yet as Hanguk Yeonghwa is concerned with Korean films specifically, here’s a rundown of the ten ‘Korean Films in Competition’.

51+

51+

51+

Director: Jung Yong-taek (정용택)

Synopsis: 51+ explores the lives of musicians who perform in the famous Hongdae area of Seoul, a hotspot for indie bands and emerging talent. Yet as the area has become more popular and big businesses have moved in, aspiring musicians are forced out and must take opportunities where they can.

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Director: Lee Byeong-hun (이병헌)

Synopsis: The film follows Byeong-heon, a young aspiring film-maker who endures seemingly constant disappointment as he attempts to establish himself. The film purports to be something of an amalgamation of docu- and mockumentary set in the film world.

Dancing Woman (춤추는 여자)

Dancing Woman (춤추는 여자)

Dancing Woman (춤추는 여자)

Directors: Park Sun-il (박선일), Park Jun-hee (박준희), Ryu Jae-mi (유재미), Jo Chi-young (조지영), Choo Kyeong-yeob (추경엽)

Synopsis: Dancing Woman is an omnibus comprised of a variety of different genres and themes. Apparently, the film employs modern dance techniques during each narrative, and looks to be an interesting experimental piece.

Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)

Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)

Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)

Director: Kang Ji-na (강진아)

Synopsis: Employing a mixture of fantasy and reality in exploring love and death, Dear Dolphin looks set to be one of the more surreal offerings from the festival. The trailer can be viewed below:

December (디셈버)

December (디셈버)

December (디셈버)

Director: Park Jeong-hoon (박정훈)

Synopsis: December (디셈버) is an exploration of relationships and how they shift and change over time. At 73 minutes it’s quite short for a feature, yet as one of the few films focusing primarily on relationships it could be one of the more interesting dramatic films at the festival.

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Director: Lee Hyun-jung (이현정)

Synopsis: The description of Echo of Dragon is quite ambiguous, even labelled as a ‘peculiar drama’. With it’s off-the-wall themes – including repressed desires – and ‘twisted’ imagery, the film has the potential to be a boundary-pushing wildcard.

Grandma-Cement Garden (할매-시멘트정원)

Grandma-Cement Garden (할매-시멘트정원)

Grandma-Cement Garden (할매-시멘트정원)

Director: Kim Ji-gon (김지곤)

Synopsis: The human rights orientated Grandma-Cement Garden explores the forced relocation of elderly citizens in Busan. Their trials, lifestyles and memories are portrayed until their inevitable move, and as such could be a success with its political scandal/human interest angle.

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Director: Yun Su-ik (윤수익)

Synopsis: Groggy Summer is concerned with the pressures of Korean society, and their impact on a creative wannabe poet. The dissection of culture and pressure on Korean youth is an intriguing and timely premise, and could tap into cultural anxieties.

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Director: Jung Young-heon (정영헌)

Synopsis: The description of Lebanon Emotion is incredibly vague, but it appears to be an exploration of a variety of human emotions that occur in different situations. Director Jung has helmed several short films during his career, so it will be interesting to see what he achieves with feature length material.

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

Director: Park Moon-chil (박문칠)

Synopsis: My Place is an interrogation of the differences between contemporary and traditional Korea, focusing on one particular family unit. The ideological differences between generations isn’t particularly original, yet as single-motherhood forms part of the film it could signal a fresh approach on the subject.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2013