Quick fire reviews from the 14th Jeonju International Film Festival.
Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정) – 8/10
Lebanon Emotion is without a doubt one of the best films at the festival, and certainly a strong contender for best film in the Korean Film Competition category. Director Jung Young-heon (정영헌) has cemented his position as a film-making talent to watch, following his best director win for short film Hard Boiled Jesus at JIFF 2012. In Lebanon Emotion the director explores a great variety of themes throughout the drama/thriller narrative including suicide, guilt, survival, and purpose, against the backdrop of winter in the countryside. Director Jung’s prior history with cinematography is clearly apparent as the landscapes and settings are very attractive throughout. Yet what makes the film so powerful is the characterisation, and the wonderful performances given by the central cast who are continually poignant and compelling. Recommended viewing.
Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술) – 5/10
Mr. Vertigo promised to be one of the more quirky offerings at the festival, yet only partially succeeds. This is wholly due to actor Oh Dal-su who performs the role of a roguish ‘air-walking’ master who takes on a new student. Oh Dal-su has played plenty of similar characters in the past and while he tries to squeeze as much out of the master as he can, there isn’t really enough material for him to do so. The main protagonist is actually his disciple, a frustrated bookish young man who seeks something new and fulfilling. Again however, director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭) doesn’t provide much information or fully convey his anxieties, resulting in a lack of engagement. A mildly entertaining film that doesn’t capitalize on its premise.
Timing (타이밍) – 5/10
As the title implies, Timing features some of the ironic features of life that tend to occur at the most inconvenient of moments. The narrative conveys the frustrations of a career woman recently diagnosed with cancer, and the events that transpire as a result. She explodes at her boss in a business meeting; an ex-lover appears out of concern; financial and health issues, and so forth. The film becomes quite episodic due to this approach, and as such it’s difficult to really align with the protagonist and feel the anguish she endures. The character is also not particularly likable due to her initial selfishness. However director Kim Ji-Yeon (김지연) manages to cram an awful lot of material into the 21 minute running and is quite insightful at times, although she could have benefitted much more by making it a feature.
The Woman (그 여자) – 5/10
With the transsexual experience vastly underrepresented in Korean cinema, The Woman had the potential to shine a light on important issues yet only partially succeeds. The narrative follows Yoon-hee as she goes about her daily life, until her older brother pays a visit to inform her of their mother’s illness. Unfortunately director Jo Mee-hye (조미혜) takes nearly all the running time just to get to this point, generally meandering as Yoon-hee delivers milk on her rounds. There is a wealth of material within the film that is just never explored – Yoon-hee’s status as an outsider, her obviously fraught relationship with her husband, the extremely strained familial history – and as such only scrapes the surface of the potential on offer. The Woman is an interesting yet superficial film, and a missed opportunity.
Echo of Dragon (용문) – 3/10
Fans of experimental and art house cinema will find much to love with director Lee Hyun-jung’s (이현정) Echo of Dragon, due to the highly symbolic features that run rampant throughout. For everyone else, the film is pretentious, self-indulgent and utterly absurd. The film does feature moments of beautiful cinematography although they are often sporadic, while narrative elements are started and dropped without any warning. Ironically it is a different director, Lee Sang-woo, who steals the show in his performance as a possibly mentally unhinged drifter. He provides much-needed levity and focus to the film, and is genuinely funny yet also hints at a greater depth that goes unexplored. The film is highly symbolic, but also frustratingly bizarre.
Garibong (가리봉) – 5/10
Director Park Ki-yong (박기용) has produced a documentary in the very literal sense of the word with Garibong, as he ‘documents’ areas within the titular district in which Chinese immigrants reside. The cinematography is superb, capturing the sense of dislocation of the area from the surrounding Seoul districts and the squalid, dilapidated buildings convey palpable depression. Often, he film evokes scenes from sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Yet despite the attractive visual prowess, the film is quite dull as there are no people or stories to follow, and therefore no opportunity to become fully engaged within the world of Garibong. The static camera is both a blessing and a curse, as while it captures the alleys and lifestyle there is always a distance between it and the residents. Ultimately the documentary is visually attractive, but lacking compulsion.