Seoul International Women’s Film Festival 2015

SIWFF POSTERThe Seoul International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) is due to be held from May 27th to June 3rd, at Megabox Sinchon and Arthouse Momo theaters near Ewha Women’s University.

Now in it’s 17th edition, the festival continues to feature successful categories such as New Currents, Polemics #IAmAFeminist, and Queer Rainbow that explore the lives of contemporary women around the globe.

Yet this year SIWFF organisers have added an extra element to help promote the event for the first time in the festival’s history – an honorary ambassador titled ‘Feminista.’ The first Feminista is actress Kim Ah-joong, the star of films including 200 Pounds Beauty and My P.S. Partner.

SIWFF 2015 will open with Berlinale Crystal Bear winner My Skinny Sister, which leads nicely into this year’s special focus program, The Equal Power of Swedish Women’s Cinema, which contains an impressive 21 titles.

However, let’s take a look at some of the Korean films due to be screened at SIWFF 2015.

New Currents

21& – director Kim A-ra (김아라)

Disillusionment for those in their early twenties is rife

Disillusionment for those in their early twenties is rife

Young filmmaker Kim A-ra explores the disillusionment and frustrations of Koreans in their early twenties in documentary 21&. After studying extremely hard in Korea’s brutal education system, the youngsters are looking forward to working towards achieving their ambitions…but is it possible?

A Girl at My Door (도희야) – director Jung July (정주리)

Do-hee is a victim of terrible domestic abuse in the country town

Do-hee is a victim of terrible domestic abuse in the country town

Premiering at Cannes in Un Certain Regard before appearing at Toronto and Busan, A Girl at My Door is an incredible and empowering drama exploring the lives of those on the margins of contemporary society. Featuring outstanding performances by actresses Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, and with confident and assured direction under the gaze of July Jung, this is a great opportunity to catch the film again on the big screen. Read the review here.

Heart of Snow, Heart of Blood (눈의 마음: 슬픔이 우리를 데려가는 곳) – director Kim Jeong (김정)

Korean descendants born in Uzbekistan have a complex history

Korean descendants born in Uzbekistan have a complex history

Documentary Heart of Blood, Heart of Snow follows the life of Alex Kim, a descendant of Koreans who were forcibly relocated to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Yet while there his family wealth is confiscated, and he becomes the owner of a restaurant. Director Kim Jeong uses Alex’s story to examine the turbulent history of those who fled the Korean War, only to become struggling nomadic migrants.

The Liar (거짓말) – director Kim Dong-myeong (김동명)

Ah-young's lies explore the materialism of society

Ah-young’s lies explore the materialism of society

Talented independent actress Kim Kkob-bi takes centre stage in drama The Liar. The film examines the importance of social status, material wealth and physical appearances in Korean society through the lies told by Ah-young, the central  protagonist who dreams of a life of luxury away from her current reality. Director Kim’s drama premiered at Busan Film Festival last year.

Polemics #IAmAFeminist

Cart (카트) – director Boo Ji-young (부지영)

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

Based on a true story, Cart depicts the outcry and shocking abuse of workers rights as the managers of a supermarket chain attempt to fire their staff and replace them with part-timers. Yet many of the current workforce are struggling single mothers, students, or those nearing retirement. Premiering at Toronto before screening at Rotterdam and Busan, Cart is an impressive social drama. Read the review here.

The Emotional Society on Stage (감정의 시대:서비스 노동의 관계미학) – director Kim Sook-hyun (김숙현), Cho Hye-jeong (조혜정)

The roles we perform come under scrutiny

The roles we perform come under scrutiny

Experimental documentary The Emotional Society on Stage examines the roles people are forced into within society, and notably if it’s possible to break such cultural forms through performance. The 24 minute film previously appeared at the 2015 Jeonju Film Festival, as well as The Seoul Independent Documentary Film and Video Festival in the same year.

Queer Rainbow

Sinchon Bouncy Ball (신촌탱탱볼) – director Lee Min-jeong (이민정)

Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Korea

Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Korea

 World premiere. Documentary Sinchon Bouncy Ball presents the issues concerned with sexuality in modern Korea through following student Rau as she prepares to complete a school project regarding gender identity. In examining the various areas of the debate Rau comes to develop her ideas on the nature of sexuality, love and identity.

Barrier Free Screening

How to Steal a Dog (개를 훔치는 완벽한 방법) – director Kim Seong-ho (김성호)

Can Ji-so steal a dog and help her family?

Can Ji-so steal a dog and help her family?

How to Steal a Dog was a successful indie film in Korea earlier this year, and has been selected for the ‘barrier free screening’ event, presented for both visually and hearing-impaired audiences.

The film depicts the tale of Ji-so and younger brother Ji-suk who spy a poster offering a big cash reward for finding a missing dog.

For more information, please visit the official SIWFF website here.

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Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Seoul International Women's Film Festival (제 17회 서울국제여성영화제)

Cart (카트) – ★★★★☆

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

With only 3 months more service until she becomes a regular employee, supermarket cashier Seon-hee (Yeom Jeong-ah (염정아) works diligently for the position that will enable her to provide greater stability for her family. Despite the difficulties of raising wayward teenage son Tae-yeong (Do Kyeong-soo (도경수) and a young daughter (Kim Soo-an (김수안) alone, Seon-hee strives to make ends meet for them all. Yet when the supermarket officials decide to layoff all the workers in favor of cheaper labor, the mostly female staff – many of whom have worked with the company for years – are outraged. Led by fellow cashier Hye-mi (Moon Jeong-hee (문정희) and cleaner Soon-rye (Kim Yeong-ae (김영애), the women begin to unionize and issue demands for reinstatement. However when their efforts are ultimately ignored, the women decide that more drastic strike action is necessary for their voices to be heard.

Seon-hee witnesses abuse at work, yet her desire for job stability keeps her silent

Seon-hee witnesses abuse at work, yet her desire for job stability keeps her silent

Based on a true story, director Boo Ji-young’s (부지영) Cart (카트) premiered to high acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as later back home in native Korea at Busan. The drama is an incredibly impressive exploration of the issues plaguing the temporary workforce in contemporary Korea. From the very moment Cart begins director Boo effectively portrays the grueling monotony of menial labor, employing a brilliantly washed out colour palette in conjunction with fluid camerawork that depicts workers performing machine-like tasks under the watchful eyes of aggressive management, evoking the same sensibilities as Charlie Chaplin’s classic Modern Times. Rather than individuals, the workers are consistently framed as cogs in a machine hurriedly operating the factory-esque supermarket whilst robotically repeating phrases such as, “We love you, customer!” Director Boo wonderfully juxtaposes such hard work and empty slogans with the awful humiliations dealt by the customers and executives, while the workers themselves tolerate such human rights abuses simply in order to keep their jobs.

The contrast between such scenes and the representation of the characters personal lives offer a powerful, provocative glimpse at class and gender warfare as well as social injustice in modern Korea. As the vast majority of the workers are underprivileged women, the film depicts the daily struggles of the female workforce as they endure abusive employment in order to desperately stave off poverty, emphasising an array of feminist issues with potent insight. Director Boo has crafted an empowering social rights drama, one which is a true rarity in both current Korean and international cinema. The range of characters within the film, each with their own dilemmas, poignantly capture the challenges facing modern women in society. While Seon-hee and Hye-mi struggle to raise their children alone, Soon-rye exposes the plight of the elderly, while the inclusion of married protagonists as well as disaffected graduate Mi-jin (Cheon Woo-hee (천우희) convey the breadth and scale of discourses effecting contemporary women. Cart is a truly refreshing alternative to male-centered narratives, one that unequivocally portrays working class women as heroines in their own right.

The mostly female workers keep in good spirits as they demand reinstatement

The mostly female workers keep in good spirits as they demand reinstatement

The power of Cart lies in the conflict between the mostly female workers and the male executives, as the unfair dismissals result in unionization, and the ignorance of which in turn spurs strike action. Director Boo structures the escalation of hostilities between both sides with skill, as the workers who stage peaceful protests with colourful clothes and slogans are confronted by the dark bullying tactics of the company. In so blatantly portraying the corruption and underhand manner of the corporation, director Boo has produced a challenging and provocative film that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers amongst the conservative upper classes, who are depicted offering bribes, employing gangsters, and hurting innocents in the bid to continue profits and to save face. Yet director Boo also implicates government agencies in the scandal, particularly the police force and their unnecessary brutality, as the women peacefully demonstrate against injustice, making Cart not only an insightful film but a courageous one too.

Cart does however suffer from a case of over ambition as too many protagonists feature, which ultimately makes it difficult to invest in all of the narrative threads that arise. All the characters certainly add a perspective on the discourses through the film, yet as there are so many tangents it’s difficult to invest in every one. Screen time is mostly ascribed to Seon-hee and her family, and an impressive contrast is made between her and her difficult son Tae-yeong, implying the conditioning of the populace as automatons as one that begins from a young age. However Tae-young’s story line, in which he becomes attached to prospective girlfriend Soo-kyeong (Ji Woo (지우), is a little trite and appears to be a device to attract teenage audiences. Scenes such as these, and others that feature the quite cheesy musical score, sometimes threaten to put Cart in TV drama territory, yet director Boo never lets the story stagnate and consistently keeps the drama moving apace.

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

Verdict:

Cart is moving, provocative glimpse at class and gender warfare as well as social injustice in modern Korea. In depicting the unfair working conditions and the incredibly strong women attempting to stave off poverty, director Boo Ji-young has crafted an empowering social rights drama, one that examines the status of human rights and feminist issues with insight and sincerity. A powerful film, Cart is a real rarity in both contemporary Korean and international cinema.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014

BIFF 2014 – Gala Presentation, Open Cinema, New Currents, and Documentary Showcase

The 19th Busan International Film Festival

The 19th Busan International Film Festival

It’s almost time for the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) to begin, and as such it’s a great time to check out the Korean productions due to be screened.

While programs such as Korean Cinema Today – Panorama/Vision and Korean Cinema Retrospective: Reminiscing the Timeless Filmmaker, Jung Jin-woo conveniently brings together films from the peninsula for fans to browse, there are also other categories within which Korean films appear, and are well worth seeking out.

Below are some of the exciting new projects from Korean filmmakers being screened at BIFF 2014, handily gathered together for your convenience.

Gala Presentation

Revivre (화장) – director Im Kwon-taek (임권택)

Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

After a 4 year hiatus, film maestro Im Kwon-taek returns with Revivre, his 102nd feature film. The film received very positive responses following its premiere at Toronto, with many critics praising not only a return to form for director Im but also lauding screen legend Ahn Seong-gi for his powerful performance.

Revivre explores the life of senior salaryman (Ahn) whose wife (Kim Ho-jeong) is dying of cancer. However the arrival of a beautiful young new office worker (Kim Gyoo-ri) in his department challenges him for his affections, causing a huge strain on his personal life.

Open Cinema

Cart (카트) – director Boo Ji-young (부지영)

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Cart is the second feature by director Boo Ji-young, and is a timely examination of corporate abuse and the power of protest in contemporary Korea. Featuring an incredible cast including Yeom Jeong-ah, Moon Jeong-hee, Cheon Woo-hee and Kpop star Do Kyeong-soo, Cart was also widely praised at its Toronto premiere for its unflinching take on exploitation and sexism in the Korean workplace.

Mother of two Sun-hee works alongside single mum Hae-mee as cashiers, and are friends with janitor Soon-rae and manager Dong-joon, the only only male representative for the union. When a series of lay-offs begin, the friends band together with the other workers and fight the unfair dismissals.

New Currents

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다) – director Baek Jae-ho (백재호)

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다)

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다)

We Will Be Ok is an independent film following the lives of wannabe filmmakers as they attempt to fulfill their ambitions. It will be interesting to see how director Baek Jae-ho differentiates his film from the other recent examples that have emerged, such as Director’s CUT at JIFF, that also explore the problems of indie filmmaking.

End of Winter (철원기행) – director Kim Dae-hwan (김대환)

End of Winter (철원기행)

End of Winter (철원기행)

Director Kim Dae-hwan’s family drama explores the tensions that exist between relatives following the shock announcement that the father, who is retiring, wants to divorce his wife. Due to heavy snowfall the family must stay together for a few days, and despite all the negative feelings are forced to confront the issues that beset them.

Documentary Showcase

My Fair Wedding (마이 페어 웨딩) – director Jang Hee-seon (장희선)

My Fair Wedding (마이 페어 웨딩)

My Fair Wedding (마이 페어 웨딩)

With gay issues unfortunately still very much taboo in Korea, the wedding of two prominent CEO’s caused plenty of controversy when they tied the knot in 2013. In her third documentary director Jang follows the celebrations and conflicts, as well as the very vocal discrimination, that arise from having a gay wedding in contemporary Korea.

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) – directors Lee Sang-ho (이상호) and Ahn Hye-ryong (안해령)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Aka Diving Bell, the film explores the largely failed recovery effort involved in the Sewol tragedy. Co-directed by journalist Lee and documentary filmmaker Ahn, they approach the controversies in an interrogative manner, and are particularly brave to do so given the clamp down on information and prosecution of those who attempt to uncover the truth.

Little Pond in Main Street (거리 속 작은 연못) – director Lee Kang-gil (이강길)

Little Pond in Main Street (거리 속 작은 연못)

Little Pond in Main Street (거리 속 작은 연못)

Street vendors in Korea are almost like a national institution, they are so widespread and relied upon. In Little Pond in Main Street a group of vendors band together to create a community radio station but come into conflict with other groups,as well as the government trying to shut them down.

Parallel (우리는 썰먜를 탄다) – director Kim Kay (김경만)

Parallel (우리는 썰먜를 탄다)

Parallel (우리는 썰먜를 탄다)

In production for 3 years, Parallel explores the lives of the Korean Paralympic ice hockey team. Despite the country having very little awareness that the team even exists, the athletes continue to train, work hard, and compete against other sporting nations. The film follows their turbulent lives as they strive to live their dreams.

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014