The Advocate: A Missing Body (성난 변호사) – or more literally translated as Angry Attorney – has received an English subtitled trailer ahead of its release on October 8th in Korea.
The film stars Lee Seon-gyoon as top lawyer Byeon Ho-seong, an arrogant man with a reputation for winning even the most difficult cases despite the odds. Yet when a new case presents itself, one without any evidence or even a body, he is forced to team with Kim Go-eun’s prosecutor Jin Seon-min, whereby the duo begin to learn of an insidious plot.
The Advocate is the second film by director Huh Jong-Ho, who previously helmed crime thriller Countdown with Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Jae-young.
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 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.
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
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.
Martial arts period drama Memories of the Sword has finally received a teaser trailer with English subtitles.
Originally set for release at the end of 2014, the film was reportedly delayed due to the blackmail scandal involving Lee Byung-hun, yet as the issue has now subsided an August 2015 date has been announced.
The swordplay epic follows the exploits of three warriors during the Goryeo dynasty who instigate an uprising, yet when their plan is finally set to achieve fruition master swordsman Deok-gi (Lee Byung-hun) betrays his comrades. To escape his wrath, Seol-rang (Jeon Do-yeon) flees with her young daughter to a place he can never find them. Eighteen years later, Deok-gi has positioned himself as a powerful ruler while Seol-rang – now blind – trains her daughter Seol-hee (Kim Go-eun) in ways of martial arts, preparing to exact her bloody revenge.
Directed and co-written by Park Heung-sik – who previously worked with Jeon Do-yeon on My Mother the Mermaid (2004)and I Wish I Had A Wife (2001) – Memories of the Sword will be a real test of the combined star power of three of Korea’s top tier actors, as well as a good indicator as to whether Korean cinema-goers have gotten over Lee’s transgressions.
While most film festivals promote themselves as bigger and better every year, the 17th installment of the Busan International Film Festival is certainly living up to the hype. With the first non-Korean hosting the opening ceremony in the form of Chinese actress Tang Wei, with the festival spread out across 10 days (as opposed to 9 in 2011), and with 132 world and international premieres, BIFF 2012 has done an incredible job in cementing itself as one of the key film festivals throughout Asia. The popularity of this years installment is acutely visible, as online tickets sold out rapidly whilst the 20% allocation at the event disappeared by mid-morning.
There were a lot of events to be had during the opening weekend of BIFF 2012. While Haeundae Beach was the host for several interviews and performances, the screenings themselves also often sported Q & A sessions with directors, producers and/or the stars themselves to an unprecedented degree in BIFF’s history. It was also common to walk into or past coffee shops and see film-makers meeting and conversing, creating a very relaxed atmosphere with their approachable demeanor.
On Friday the 5th, a private party was held for those that work within the film industry as well as journalists, while the cast of Kim Ki-duk‘s latest feature, the incredibly successful Pieta (피에타), were also in attendance.
Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party
Saturday the 6th saw two events take place. The Lotte Night Party – Red Secret was hosted by The Servant (방자전) actress Jo Yeo-Jeong and gave awards to those who had contributed significantly over the past year. Among those receiving awards were notable screenwriters and actors, including host Jo Yeo-Jeong and A Muse (은교) actress Kim Go-eun (김고은). Also in attendance were actor/director Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) and his wife, as well as Ahn Seong-gi (안성기), and former BIFF director Kim Dong-ho (김동호). Yet the most memorable event at the Red Secret party was the arrival of now-global-megastar Psy, who performed several of his hits as well as the groundbreaking Gangnam Style to a rapturous crowd.
Psy performs for the emphatic crowd
The second party of the night was held by CJ Entertainment, and the style was markedly different.
Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd
In terms of performers parody group The Wonderboys were amazing fun as well as providing some great music to warm up the crowd for the main act – Kpop superstars Sistar. The quartet sang some of their most famous hits accompanied by their signature dance moves that had the crowd chanting their names. In attendance were a variety of people involved in the film industry including REALies president Kim Ho-seong and renowned editor Lee Sang-min. There were also a whole host of film and television stars, including the cast of period drama-comedy Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) – Lee Byeong-heon (이병헌), Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) and Jang Gwang (장광) – as well as TV star Kim Min-jong (김민종) and As One (코리아 )actor Lee Jong-suk (이종석).
Actress Go A-ra was a delight
However a genuine highlight of the night was actress Go Ah-ra (고아라) (star of Pacemaker (페이스메이커) and Papa (파파)), whowas incredibly kind, courteous and humble, giving genuine insight into the differences in working in the Korean film and television industries.
Sunday night saw the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) event, which saw fellow The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈)actors Song Kang-ho (송강호) and Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) attending, in addition to a myriad of other stars and members of the film industry.
And so ended the first weekend of the 2012 Busan International Film Festival. With the incredible selection of films, variety of events in which the public could have access to members of the film industry, and unprecedented popularity, it is difficult to imagine how BIFF will grow and improve in with future installments but one thing is for certain – the BIFF team will undoubtedly find a way.
An age gap between lovers can make for incredible drama as the couple step outside preconceived notions of what is deemed socially acceptable in a relationship. The seminal film The Graduate (1967) is the most prominent in this regard which, while comical, also conveyed the ideological differences between generations. In Korea such themes have also played out, most notably in Kim Ki-young’s exemplary 1960 classic The Housemaid (하녀), while more contemporary offerings have arrived in the form of Kim Ki-duk’s The Bow (활) and Yang Ik-joon’s Breathless (똥파리). While each film approaches the subject differently they all exhibit the conflict that arises between youth and maturity, attraction and repulsion, desire versus social acceptance.
A Muse (은교), directed by Jeong Ji-woo (정지우), provides a gently poetic, emotionally fraught, and symbolic take on the romantic theme, in keeping with his back-catalogue. The exploration of the relationship between the three central protagonists contains poignant depth, bolstered through an interrogation regarding the nature of age and talent. However, the film is also somewhat hampered by the casting of Park Hae-il as an old man, while the constant fetishization of Eun-gyo’s body – rather than her mind and spirit – undermines the purity of their relationship.
As a poet and national icon, elderly Lee Jeok-yo (Park Hae-il (박해일) has enjoyed incredible success, even preparing for a museum to be constructed in his honor. Yet now is the time for his young apprentice Seo Ji-woo (Kim Moo-yeol (김무열) to shine as his new novel becomes an incredibly popular and rapid bestseller. However their lives, and their relationships, are drastically altered when a young girl named Han Eun-gyo (Kim Go-eun (김고은) visits their home, charming them both with her youthful vitality and curiosity.
17 year old Eun-gyo is a naturally charismatic young woman
While A Muse takes quite some time in establishing the life of poet Jeok-yo and that of his student Ji-woo, the inception of Eun-gyo – also the name of the original Korean title – distinctly elevates the film and gives it direction and purpose. Director Jeong Ji-woo does an incredible job of constructing Eun-gyo as an intoxicating protagonist, a young woman whose youth, energy and curiosity are infectious and spellbinding. However, the most prominent form in conveying such devotion is through the fetishization of her body, featuring close-ups of her skin and various body parts, sexualizing Eun-gyo to the point of worship. With the knowledge that Park Hae-il portrays the elderly poet, such scenes are (despite the misogyny) tender and romantically sexual, yet had an actor of the correct age performed the role perversity would undoubtedly enter critical debate. Luckily Jeong Ji-woo also emphasizes the emotional and spiritual connections between the two, and that Jeok-yo desires Eun-gyo’s youth, purity and innocence as much as her physique, as she is in turn attracted to his depth of character and devotion. Age may suggest otherwise but they are kindred spirits, and sequences in which they strengthen their bond are heartwarming and endearing, particularly during the soft-focus scenes where Jeok-yo imagines himself as a young man. Their relationship is in stark contrast to those involved with Ji-woo, who worships Jeok-yo as a respected surrogate father and idolizes Eun-gyo due to their similar ages and as someone who can heal his loneliness. The director is highly intelligent in constructing each relationship as distinctly different entities, evolving each subtly and with realism as jealousy and desire intermingle with love and affection. However as Ji-woo is certainly the less developed of the three he perhaps unfairly falls into a villainous category, rather than a conflicted young man.
Romance and personal connections inform the exploration of age within A Muse, which is arguably the central concern of the narrative. The depth, symbolism and subtlety are eloquently conveyed as each protagonist gradually reveals their shortcomings seemingly ascribed through age. Jeok-yo, having lost his youth, uses Ji-woo and Eun-gyo as agencies through which to live again, contrasted with Ji-woo’s competitive masculine nature and Eun-gyo’s innocence and curiosity. What is fascinating throughout the narrative are the ways in which each protagonist views things differently and the ways in which they display emotion and respect, allowing audiences to genuinely understand them and their motivations. As such, when the film ends, the tragic fallacies and the impact of events linger and resonate long, long after the final credits.
Jeok-yo and Eun-gyo share intimate moments
Kim Go-eun gives the stand out performance within A Muse as high schooler Eun-gyo and is enthralling. The actress inhabits the role completely, conveying innocence, curiosity and vitality with genuine charisma forcing audiences to adore her as much as the protagonists do. Kim Go-eun’s charismatic performance is such that it is easy to forget her age and occupation, drawing spectators in with her enthusiasm and smile whilst also sympathizing with her as the unwitting catalyst in a love triangle. Passionate scenes are also sincere, and while the constant fetishization of her body occasionally undermines her character Kim Go-eun utilizes her physicality to convey a range of emotions depending on who she is with.
As always Park Hae-il gives a highly competent performance as elderly poet Jeok-yo. His casting is odd but understandable given the sexual scenes and fetishization of his love interest’s body, but it is difficult not to think that an older actor would have lent more credibility to the role. There are certainly a lot of actors of this age group in Korea that are incredibly talented, as Lee Chang-dong’s sublime Poetry, and Choo Chang-min’s Late Blossom, highlighted. In any case, Park Hae-il portrays the stoicism and loneliness of Jeok-yo well, conveying the evolution of the character subtly and organically. However there are several occasions where the actor is clearly trying to act like a senior citizen to the detriment of the scene, distractions in an otherwise competent display.
Kim Moo-yeol, despite receiving the least amount of screen time, portrays the role of jealous young author Ji-woo competently. The driven and arrogant nature of the character is performed well, as is his complete lack of understanding in regards to the depth of both Jeok-yo and Eun-gyo. Ji-woo’s love/hate relationship with them both is also interesting to watch unfold and is never contrived, resulting in a slow build of tension just waiting to erupt.
Eun-gyo also attracts the attention of prodigy Ji-woo
A film of great depth and symbolism, A Muse is an eloquent exploration of the nature of age, love, and relationships. While the fetishization of Eun-gyo’s body tends to undermine the spiritual connection between her and Jeok-yo, with Park Hae-il’s casting simultaneously helping to alleviate the sexualization as well as being an oddity, the film succeeds on the strengths of a wonderfully character driven narrative and a superb debut by actress Kim Go-eun. With the subtle, organic and romantic performances and directorial style, the themes explored within A Muse will undoubtedly resonate with audiences long after the finale.