The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

PiFan 2013: The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival – or PiFan, for short – is gearing up for its 17th installment commencing this coming July 18th and running through to the 28th.

As is always the case with PiFan, the focus on genre films means a quite eclectic range of screenings from a variety of countries, and the 2013 edition continues the trend. A total of 219 films – 133 feature films and 86 shorts – from 40 countries are on offer, opening with the Asian premiere of animated all-star cast feature The Congress by director Ari Folman, and closing with the World Premiere of Korean film The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) by director Kim Byeong U (김병우).

The Congress

The Congress

Opening Film The Congress

Israeli director Ari Folman, who previously made waves with Waltz With Bashir in 2008, finally returns to the director’s chair with The Congress. An international co-production between Israel, Germany, France, Luxembourg Poland and Belgium, The Congress features an all-star cast in a story that sees Robin Wright ‘sell’ her image to create a digital actress. However in doing so she can never act again, and more importantly, she loses all rights in the control of her very image. Please see below for the trailer:

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

Closing Film The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

PiFan wraps up the festival with the world premiere of Korean film The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브). Director Kim Byeong U’s (김병우) thriller features Ha Jeong-woo (하정우) as disgraced anchorman-turned-radio host Yoon Young-Hwa. When a terrorist calls the show threatening to blow up a bridge, Yoon calls it a hoax – only for the bridge to explode. Believing this to be an opportunity to become a TV anchorman once more, Yoon works hard to become involved in the incident, only for it to escalate even further. Please see below for the trailer:

Furthermore, PiFan will feature several films by some of the most prolific directors working today, including Johnnie To – Blind Detective, Drug War -, Miike Takshi – Shield of Straw, Lesson of Evil – and a special program dedicated to Japanese director Tsukamoto Shinya – Tetsuo, The Iron Man, Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer, Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet, A Snake of June and Kotoko.

Cult films will be present in the Ourselves, Our Robots: The Thin Line Between Human and Robot showcase, featuring the likes of THX 1138, Robocop, Manborg, The Machine, and Computer Chess. Meanwhile Urban Cult: The Dark Side of the City will feature The Warriors, Escape From New York, Maniac, Maniac Cop 2 and Vigilante.

Fo the full line up and timetable of screenings, please visit the official PiFan website here.

Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제17회 부천국제판타스틱영화제)
Hee-soo confronts ex-boyfriend Byeong-woo about his unpaid debt

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루) – ★★★★☆

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루)

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루)

With his non-invasive, realism-infused vision, director Lee Yoon-ki’s (이윤기) films are wonderfully character driven as he explores the fragility and complexity of modern relationships. My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루) is very much set within such a framework, as the director subtly peels away the psychological and emotional layers of two ex-lovers who join forces for a day. With his palpable sensitivity and rejection of cliches, director Lee has crafted a poignant examination of the difficulties of early thirty-somethings in contemporary Korea, and their hopes and desires in forming lasting relationships. While the impetus wanes during the final third of the film, My Dear Enemy is an incredibly charming film bolstered by tender and captivating performances by Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jeong-woo.

 Searching high and low in a betting office, Kim Hee-soo (Jeon Do-yeon (전도연) has almost given up hope of finding ex-boyfriend Jo Byeong-woon (Ha Jeong-woo (하정우). She doesn’t wish to reconcile, however; Hee-soo wants the large sum of money she lent Byeong-woo a year ago and is determined to retrieve it. Finally locating her happy-go-lucky ex, Byeong-woo claims he doesn’t have the money but, with some effort, he can repay her by the end of the day. Afraid he will disappear as before, Hee-soo chaperones Byeong-woo as he collects the money during the course of the day, and as time passes they begin to understand each other more deeply than they thought possible.

Hee-soo confronts ex-boyfriend Byeong-woo about his unpaid debt

Hee-soo confronts ex-boyfriend Byeong-woon about his unpaid debt

Right from the start, director Lee employs his trademark opening long take to absorb the audience into the narrative, following resolute Hee-soo as she traverses a squalid gambling den in search of Byeong-woon. The technique is highly effective in constructing realism as well as provoking curiosity, so that when conflict finally occurs it feels both natural and rewarding. The initial confrontation highlights how wonderfully characterized Hee-soo and Byeong-woon are, with her determination, cynicism and anal retentiveness in stark contrast to his easygoing, considerate, and positive attitude. The differences between them give rise to the question as to why they became a couple in the first place, yet once this minor detail is overlooked what follows are incredibly compelling interactions as the former lovers converse and quarrel, coming to understand each other more clearly than ever before. As Byeong-woon is penniless himself, both he and Hee-soo travel together as he attempts to borrow funds from friends and acquaintances, placing them in a variety of situations that force the duo to re-examine their ideologies and lives. Director Lee uses each opportunity to not only interrogate his protagonists but also contemporary Korean society, and how it has shaped an entire generation now in their thirties. Given the crux of the reunion is debt, financial issues abound in conjunction with marital pressures and gender roles, each explored from an alternative perspective as additional characters are introduced. The subtle sophistication of each encounter is a real delight.

Yet My Dear Enemy is also notable for the captivating performances of A-listers Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jeong-woo. Director Lee’s distinctive sensitivity and compassion calls for a particular style and quality of acting, and the two gifted stars fulfill their roles with the utmost sincerity. Jeon Do-yeon is wonderfully cynical and stubborn as Hee-soo, exhibiting a frosty and distancing demeanor that initially makes her unlikeable. However through Byeong-woon’s positivity and kindness, as well as a re-examining  of priorities due to their shared experiences, the subtle changes that Hee-soo undergoes are deftly exuded by Jeon as she slowly softens into a more considerate person.

Hee-soo spends time with Byeong-woon's family, learning more about his past

Hee-soo spends time with Byeong-woon’s family, learning more about his past

Of the two, Ha Jeong-woo arguably has the more challenging role in portraying the down-on-his-luck yet affable Byeong-woon. His kindness and generosity convey a palpable positivity, yet it is his natural charisma that makes the character so lovable and draws people closer. The actor superbly sidesteps any potential ‘playboy’ implications by emphasising naivety as a trait which is often scorned by Hee-soo, indicating that while the former lovers are quite different their attributes actually help to make each other stronger.

While the performances and the evolving relationship are a joy to watch, the film begins to falter in the final third. Director Lee seems unsure of how to lead the protagonists through to some form of finale, and a series of missteps detract from the journey they’re on. Just as Hee-soo and Byeong-woon begin to learn from and understand one another, their development is suddenly cut short and while such scenes are occasionally romantic, they could have easily been condensed without interrupting the revelations they discover. Yet luckily the film manages to right itself during the final moments, allowing the couple to convey their fundamental changes while also not taking the easy way out. As such, My Dear Enemy a highly poignant and uplifting film, and in-keeping with the compassionate sensitivity for which director Lee is renowned.

Over the course of the day, Hee-soo's priotrities begin to change

Over the course of the day, Hee-soo’s priotrities begin to change

Verdict:

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, displaying some the best Korean filmmaking talent at their most sensitive.

★★★★☆

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Ik-hyeon settles into his 'gangster' role with ease

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대) – ★★★☆☆

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대)

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대)

Gangster ‘epics’ are not films that merely present bad men doing bad things; on the contrary, the ‘epicness’ of the films are due to the ways in which producers tell the story within the wider context of the socio-cultural period, conveying a national uniqueness alongside the themes of brotherhood, betrayal, and the escalation of violence. While there are numerous contemporary directors such as Guy Ritchie, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann that fit this paradigm, the most notable figure in this regard is the legendary Martin Scorsese who besets his conflicted protagonists with problems from all sides, masterfully building tension to a poignant crescendo.

With Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대) writer/director Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) seemingly attempts to emulate Scorsese, featuring a similar rags-to-riches and fall-from-grace narrative structure. Yet there the comparisons end as while the story is distinctly Korean and multi-layered, and the directing competent, the lack of flair, tension and an over-abundance of secondary characters halt Nameless Gangster from achieving excellence. However, alongside the sumptuous costume and set design the film sports a fascinating perspective on the evolution of crime in Korea, and the struggle to combat corruption in contemporary society.

In the month of October, 1990, President Roh Tae-woo launches a crackdown on corruption and crime in South Korea, giving the police and prosecutors special powers to arrest those involved in the criminal underworld. For the port city of Busan this presents an acute problem, and as gangsters are forced to lie low the incarceration of infamous Choi Ik-hyeon (Choi Min-sik (최민식) is an enormous victory for prosecutor Jo Beom-seok (Kwak Byeong-gyoo (곽병규). Yet the criminal simply refuses to admit any wrongdoing despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In order to fully uncover the truth, the journey must begin back in 1982 when Ik-hyeon was a mere corrupt customs official, exploring the relationships that were forged – particularly with notorious criminal Choi Hyeong-bae (Ha Jeong-woo (하정우) – during the golden age of the gangster lifestyle in Korea.

Ik-hyeon settles into his 'gangster' role with ease

Ik-hyeon settles into his ‘gangster’ role with ease

Nameless Gangster is surprisingly less a film about gangsters and more a film about the evolution of corruption in Korean society, personified through smarmy central protagonist Ik-hyeon. Originating as a corrupt customs official, Ik-hyeon – and the entire customs department – are directly in the firing line of the government crackdown on crime, the penalty for which is placed squarely on Ik-hyeon’s shoulders. Yet despite being a dishonest and unscrupulous reprobate, Ik-hyeon is quite a charismatic and lovable rogue due to the performance of acting legend Choi Min-sik. Bizarrely Choi Min-sik exaggerates and overacts the character throughout the film but incredibly manages to convey this as part of Ik-hyeon’s personality, an appealingly silly man who constantly oversteps his boundaries to the chagrin of all involved. The subtly seductive performance blurs the lines between the gangster and comedy genres as Ik-hyeon simultaneously charms and smites those around him, juxtaposing laugh-out-loud moments with brutality, reminiscent of scenes within Scorsese’s Goodfellas from which the film borrows heavily. However these moments never quite achieve the shocking impact they should. Writer/director Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) writes the scenes incredibly well and has highly competent vision, yet somehow fails to capture the tension that such scenes demand, with the slow build of suspense and apprehension curiously absent. Violence, too, is also problematic within Nameless Gangster through the lack of escalation. While it would be absurd to expect Americanized gun crime within such a distinctly Korean gangster film the repetitive nature of the clashes, commonly involving baseball bats and glass bottles, quickly becomes bland and lessens the severity such confrontations should convey.

Violence enters the narrative through the introduction of Choi Hyeong-bae, a lifelong gangster with whom Ik-hyeon shares common ancestry. It is through their relationship that Nameless Gangster truly shines, as the bumbling Ik-hyeon forges ties with an incredible variety of powerful strangers due to mutual heritage – and seniority – in order to create a criminal empire, constructing a fascinating insight into the multifaceted nature of corruption in Korea. Director Yoon Jong-bin’s narrative strength lies in the comically awe-inspiring Ik-hyeon as he weasels his way into the good graces of politicians, law-makers and international crime syndicates, resulting in a meteoric rise from crooked customs official to one of the most dangerous gangsters in Busan. While Ik-hyeon provides the connections it is Hyeong-bae, wonderfully performed by Ha Jeong-woo, who commands the muscle. Hyeong-bae is stoic, authoritative and deadly, conveying restrained violence and potential danger with every movement and gesture, the true gangster of the partnership. The stark contrast between the two, as well as Ik-hyeon’s unerring manner for overstepping boundaries, provides the catalyst for the introduction of a third party in the form of rival gangster Kim Pan-ho (Jo Jin-woong (조진웅). In another nod to past gangster epics in the form of Scorsese-esque triumvirates, Pan-ho ultimately fails to be a convincing protagonist due to serious underdevelopment, undermining him as a credible threat both within the narrative and to consummate gangster Hyeong-bae.

Hyeong-bae is the consummate gangster - stoic, powerful, and deadly

Hyeong-bae is the consummate gangster – stoic, powerful, and deadly

With a strong narrative and competent direction, Nameless Gangster also benefits from having sumptuous costume and set design. The world of 1980s Busan is eloquently portrayed and wonderfully realized, absorbing the audience within the chic decor and lifestyle from humble homesteads to bars to casinos.

In terms of performance both Choi Min-sik and Ha Jeong-woo play off each other well, with the latter giving the stand-out portrayal as hard-boiled gangster Hyeong-bae. The stoicism of the character coupled with the restrained threat of violence is an absolute joy and contributes greatly in conveying tension, which is sadly underutilized within the narrative and direction. Choi Min-sik, on the other hand, is highly charismatic as Ik-hyeon despite being a tad overzealous throughout. The actor conveys the foolish nature of the man incredibly well, yet the scenes in which Ik-hyeon demands power and authority unbecoming to him that are the most revealing, conveying a man desperate for control in a universe which resolutely refuses him.

The rest of the cast are used in supportive roles and are either generally underdeveloped, such as gangster Pan-ho and prosecutor Jo Beom-seok, or simply redundant, such as club Manager Yeo (Kim Hye-eun (김혜은) or brother-in-law Seo-bang Kim  (Ma Dong-seok (마동석). This is unfortunate, as had the roles been greater (or jettisoned) the web of threat and deception would undoubtedly be much stronger as in Ryoo Seung-wan‘s The Unjust; as it stands, they are rather limp additions in an otherwise well-written screenplay about societal corruption.

Through creating links and contacts, Ik-hyeon helps expand the criminal empire

Through creating links and contacts, Ik-hyeon helps expand the criminal empire

Verdict:

Nameless Gangster is a compelling and fascinating film about the nature, and evolution, of crime and corruption in Korea. With an absorbing narrative, wonderful set and costume design, and entertaining performances, the film is generally let down by the lack of tension and suspense, as well as underdeveloped characters. That said, Nameless Gangster is an enjoyable yarn of power and social relationships in a country still struggling to shake off the ramifications of the war on crime.

★★★☆☆

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