BiFan 2015 – Korean Feature Films Part 1

BiFan 2015From July 16th~26th, the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) will commence its 19th edition.

Asia’s biggest genre film extravaganza, BiFan (previously called PiFan) boasts a larger scale than ever before which is sure to please cineastes. Out of the 235 films due to be screened, 62 are world premieres while 61 will receive their Asian debut.

BiFan 2015 hosts an incredible range of programmes including staples such as Bucheon Choice and World Fantastic Cinema, in conjunction with more specialised categories that honour particular filmmakers and creative output as with I’m (not) Sono Sion, Mexican Genre Film Showcase, and Excellent Actor, Nice Guy Simon Yam.

Amongst all the international films to be screened, Korea will also make its presence known through a variety of genre offerings, as well as closing the festival as has occurred in previous years with The Terror Live and My Ordinary Love Story.

To see the Korean films being featured at BiFan, please see below.

For PART 2 of our BiFan profile, please click here.

Closing Film

The Chosen: Forbidden Cave (퇴마: 무녀굴) – director Kim Hui (김휘)

A psychologist must discover a secret to perform an exorcism

A psychologist must discover a secret to perform an exorcism

BiFan 2015 will close with a horror/thriller, based on Shin Jin-oh’s 201- novel ‘Moonyeogool.’ The film follows exorcist/psychologist Jin-myeong as he works on a case to free a client from a potentially dangerous spirit, yet to do so he must uncover a powerful secret. The Chosen is directed by Kim Hui, whose previous work includes Horror Stories 2 and Neighbours, and early buzz is particularly strong.

Bucheon Choice: Feature

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운) – director Han Jun-hee (한준희)

The matriarch of a criminal empire has big plans

The matriarch of a criminal empire has big plans

Urban crime drama Coin Locker Girl was a surprise hit upon release in April, grossing over $10 million. The film is visually impressive and features a wonderfully transformative performance by Kim Hye-su, as she adopts the role of a crime boss matriarch who turns on an enforcer (Kim Go-eun), and as such finds itself in competition at BiFan. You can read the review here.

Tattooist (타투이스트) – director Lee Seo (이서)

Soo-na notices something strange about a client's tattoo

Soo-na notices something strange about a client’s tattoo

The second Korean film in competition is thriller Tattooist. Soo-na, a beautiful yet somewhat disturbed tattoo artist, is asked to design the mythical character Medusa on a new client’s back. Yet she begins to notice a correlation between the ink and a murder case involving young girls. Tattooist features renowned TV drama actors Yoon Jun-hee and Song Il-gook.

World Fantastic Cinema

Boy From Wonderland (앨리스: 원더랜드에서 온 소년) – director Huh Eun-hee (허은희)

Hye is haunted by nightmares and seeks the truth

Hye is haunted by nightmares and seeks the truth

Appearing to amalgamate fantasy, horror and thriller conventions, Boy From Wonderland depicts nightmare sufferer Hye-joong (Jung So-min) whose dreams have become so severe that they threaten her very life. To find the source of her terrors she travels to a lodge she visited 24 years prior and meets the mysterious Hwan (Hong Jong-hyun).

Malice (멜리스) – director Kim Yong-woon (김용운)

Ga-in's jealousy becomes out of control

Ga-in’s jealousy becomes out of control

Ripley’s Syndrome informs the central premise of director Kim Yong-woon’s thriller, as a young woman becomes obsessed with her best friend’s life and begins to try and assume her very identity, including seducing her husband and stealing her child. Malice stars glamorous actress Hong Soo-ah as the psychologically unstable Ga-in.

Super Origin (시발, 놈 – 인류의 시작) – director Baek Seung-gi (백승기)

Unique beings arise 40,000 years ago

Unique beings arise 40,000 years ago

Director Baek Seung-gi made a name for himself with comedy-fantasy Super Virgin, and he returns with another quirky offering in the form of Super Origin. 40,000 years ago a light appeared in the sky and as a result strange beings appeared in the land, and start to form a civilisation, the likes of which has never been seen before.

The Masters

Angry Painter: Director’s Cut (성난 화가 디렉터스 컷) – director Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)

Passion, love and anger inform th epainter's world

Passion, love and anger inform the painter’s world

A co-production between Korea and Estonia, Angry Painter tells the tale of two men who operate as violent bounty hunters. When a US soldier kills one of the men and his girlfriend, the remaining partner goes on a violent rampage for justice that takes him into the heart of Europe. Starring Yun Jun-sang.

For PART 2 of our BiFan profile, please click here.

For the full BiFan screening schedule, please follow the link here.

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운) – ★★★☆☆

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운)

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운)

Abandoned by her biological mother in a coin locker in Seoul, a baby girl is discovered by a passing vagabond and brought up on the streets by the homeless community. Named ‘Il-yeong’ after the number ’10’ compartment in which she was discovered, the youngster shows remarkable resilience to her situation, a trait which proves useful when a corrupt cop abducts and sells her to a criminal organisation headed by sinister matriarch Mama (Kim Hye-soo (김혜수). Years later, Il-yeong (Kim Go-eun (김고은) has grown to become an enforcer and debt-collector for the organisation based in the seedy underbelly of Chinatown. Yet when Il-yeong is forced to collect a payment from kind-hearted Seok-hyeon she becomes conflicted, leading to a violently catastrophic showdown with those she has come to regard as family.

In Chinatown, Il-yeong collects debts for criminal matriach 'mom'

In Chinatown, Il-yeong collects debts for criminal matriarch ‘Mom’

Visually attractive and featuring a mesmerising performance by Kim Hye-soo, Coin Locker Girl – or the more pertinent Korean title Chinatown – is a narratively lacking yet impressive directorial debut by Han Jun-hee.

Director Han wonderfully employs colour to startling effect throughout the crime drama, utilising stunning shades of green in conveying the eerie, mysterious, and threatening world dominated by intense mob boss Mom, yet he also keeps the film grounded through the use of monotone shades of brown in conveying the drab existence his protagonists lead. In conjunction with skewed camera angles that generate surreal intensity, Coin Locker Girl is quite the stylised urban fable. The film is also a particularly refreshing break from the overabundance of testosterone in cinema, featuring two strong central females leads who are more than capable of emerging victorious over their male counterparts.

Where Coin Locker Girl falters however is primarily due to the weak narrative. While competent, and certainly a big step up from director Han’s writing duties on disappointing thriller Gifted Hands, the crime drama simply lacks the impetus required to make the events compelling. The film is often referred to as ‘A Bittersweet Life with women’ due to the very similar narrative structure, yet whereas director Kim Ji-woon spent time developing his central character’s foibles and making him someone audiences could emotionally invest in, the same cannot be said for Il-yeong’s trajectory due to a host of logic lapses and superfluous scenes involving underdeveloped supporting roles, a rival gang, as well as contrived motivations designed purely for plot progression. Il-yeong’s story, while interesting, doesn’t resonate as it should and as such ironically villainess Mama steals the limelight.

Mom is an intense, deadly force to be reckoned with

Mama is an intense, deadly force to be reckoned with

As underworld matriarch Mama, Kim Hye-soo is fascinating. Her transformative performance is easily a career highlight for the venerated actress, who exchanges the feminine glamour for which she is renown for a dowdy, masculine charisma with ease. Combined with her often disturbingly intense stares and danger-filled silences, Kim is wholly believable as a ruthless Chinatown kingpin. Every time Mama appears onscreen she dominates the proceedings, providing sorely needed suspense and compulsion to the narrative and is by far the most intriguing character within the film.

Kim Go-eun, however, has been completely miscast as gang enforcer/debt collector Il-yeong. While she is undoubtedly a charismatic actress, as exemplified in A Muse, Kim’s perfectly white and unblemished face in conjunction with her waif-like physique simply don’t convey the required gravitas the role requires and stands in stark contrast to the efforts employed by Kim Hye-soo. Though not a fault of her making, Kim Go-eun – as well as love interest Park Bo-geum – also falls victim to the oddities within the script and while she performs admirably, it’s difficult to emotionally invest in her journey.

Narrative peculiarities also particularly effect the supporting cast. Jo Bok-rae (C’est Si Bon) is criminally underused as corrupt cop Tak and he, along with the other male roles, seem to be present purely to engage in violent scenes that ironically tend to force Il-yeong to the sidelines. As adopted sister Song, Lee Soo-kyeong is present merely to be attractive although a scene in which she stabs herself in the arm with heroin, rather than injecting it into her veins, is quite laughable and destroys sympathy for the wayward antagonist. As the supporting roles are so underdeveloped, it is always a relief when Mama returns to the screen for she is the driving force behind Coin Locker Girl and the reason it’s an engaging viewing experience.

Il-yeong begins her quest for revenge

Il-yeong begins her quest for revenge


Coin Locker Girl is a visually impressive debut by writer/direcor Han Jun-jee, who employs striking colours and skewed camera angles to generate the intensity of the criminal underworld in Chinatown. Narratively however the crime drama is weak, yet the film is saved by a fascinatingly transformative performance by Kim Hye-soo who brings palpable gravitas to the role and provides the necessary compulsion to make Coin Locker Girl an entertaining effort.