One on One (일대일) – ★★★☆☆

One on One (일대일)

One on One (일대일)

While walking home one night from school, a young girl is chased through the streets by a team of men and is brutally murdered. One year later, a mysterious team known as ‘the shadows’ arises. Led by a powerful leader (Ma Dong-seok (마동석) and his deputy (Ahn Ji-hye (안지혜), the shadows begin abducting seemingly random and successful men, demanding a written confession. If the abductees are unwilling, then various forms of torture soon remedy the situation. Yet when Oh Hyeon (Kim Yeong-min (김영민), the first victim to receive punishment from the shadows, begins trailing them, he is alarmed by what he uncovers.

The murder of a school girl begins a chain of torturous events

The murder of a school girl begins a chain of torturous events

One on One (일대일) is quite a refreshing change of pace for director Kim Ki-duk. His past few films, such as Moebius and Pieta, have arguably tended to focus more on excess and shock value rather than storytelling which, as a marketing tactic, has done wonders for his career and international exposure – awards. With One on One director Kim has returned to more traditional filmmaking fare by incorporating a linear narrative framework, while the story itself deals with individuals in the back alleys of Seoul who have fallen through the cracks of contemporary Korean society. Coupled with camera techniques reminiscent of his early works, director Kim has seemingly returned to his roots through this ‘raw’ tale of the circular nature of revenge.

Director Kim has always been a particularly divisive director, yet within his films his consistent desire to explore the social problems in Korea are always present and interesting. For many audiences it’s the manner in which he conveys such issues that raises alarm, however One on One is a much more toned-down affair than his previous efforts, less violent (both psychically and sexually) as well as less gratuitous, although it still contains his indelible stamp. Instead, director Kim allows his characters to express his societal concerns through the dialogue, quite a change of pace considering his tendency to focus his critiques through physicality.

The shadow group abduct and torture men for their criminal past

The shadow group abduct and torture men for their criminal past

Within One on One, the primary issue explored is one particularly unique to Korea – that in order to be successful, a junior must do whatever a senior demands, regardless of the ethics involved. Director Kim examines the socio-cultural phenomenon in an interesting, and ironic, fashion, as ‘the shadows’ simultaneously attempt to take revenge against those who were carrying out orders, yet following those of their leader in order to do so. The narrative impressively links all the characters together through their sense of ‘Han’ (suffering), depicting them all as victims of a cultural system that demands success at any cost, regardless of their wealth and social status. For the shadows, each member has been wronged in a manner that has forced them into poverty, whether by greedy landowners, oppressive spouses, or even the Korean education system. In regards to those comprising the social elite, their very souls have been tainted by what they have undertaken, turning them into fascistic monsters.

However while the film explores some very complex social features – issues that have risen to prominence following the Sewol ferry disaster – the narrative is incredibly overambitious. In scrutinizing such a vast array of issues the result is a rather superficial examination of each area, whereby the suffering of each shadow member is only glimpsed. As such it’s difficult to become wholeheartedly invested in their plight as well as the moral quandary arising from taking revenge. Also contributing significantly to the lack of empathy is the poor dialogue, which at times is quite naïve and simplistic, especially during the scenes spoken in English. Similarly, while Ma Dong-seok provides a powerful performance, and to a lesser extent (boy and girl), the supporting cast range from mediocre to poor which adds to the apathy.

The confessions procured reveal the nature of obeying orders at any cost

The confessions procured reveal the nature of obeying orders at any cost

Verdict:

One on One is something of a refreshing film by director Kim Ki-duk. In focusing on social issues through a traditional narrative framework, and in conjunction with rather ‘raw’ camera techniques, director Kim has crafted an interesting examination that removes the excess of his prior films. However as One on One is overly ambitious as well as containing poor dialogue, the film is difficult to fully invest in, and as such is an intriguing yet flawed addition to his filmography.

★★★☆☆

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Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
The hysterical mother severs her son's penis, sparking a chain of events

Moebius (뫼비우스) – ★★★☆☆

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

The controversy that continually surrounds director Kim Ki-duk (김기덕) ultimately stems from his consistent explorations into the nature of sexuality, and the misogynistic representations that arise through them. Director Kim is clearly aware how such explicit sexual debates generate audience interest, as with each subsequent film he seemingly seeks to outdo himself by exploring ever-darker – and for many, disturbing – areas of desire and pleasure.

Incest appears to be director Kim’s current interest as, following on from his acclaimed and award-winning Pieta, comes Moebius (뫼비우스). Featuring zero dialogue, the film is an extremely literal Freudian interpretation of sexuality within the family unit. The story is interesting but far from subtle as the Oedipus complex, female hysteria and phallus appropriation is viscerally reenacted. Ultimately Kim’s film is intriguing to watch, yet Moebius lacks the depth and finesse of his prior work.

Pushed to breaking point by her husband’s (Jo Jae-hyeon (조재현) infidelity, the mother (Lee Eun-woo (이은우) arms herself with a knife and attempts to sever his penis while he sleeps. Foiled in her attempt, the mother then decides to punish their son (Seo Yeong-joo (서영주) instead, cutting off the boy’s manhood. After the mother runs away in shame, the father and son attempt to rebuild their lives and learn to experience pleasure through pain. However when the mother returns, their lives become increasingly fraught.

The hysterical mother severs her son's penis, sparking a chain of events

The hysterical mother severs her son’s penis, sparking a chain of events

Director Kim has never been most subtle of filmmakers, yet his work often contains interesting symbolism that alludes to the depth of his characters and/or the socio-cultural issues he explores. With Moebius, however, such sensibilities take somewhat of a back seat as Freudian theories are quite literally recreated on screen. This is acutely ironic as Freud’s work is often rooted within symbolic moments of everyday life, notably in this case the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety, yet director Kim seems unconcerned with such motifs and instead directs the actors to perform the frameworks physically. The result is a mixture of intrigue and horror, as ‘the monstrous castrating mother’ fulfills the promise of her title, while the themes of incest associated with the Oedipus complex become increasingly explicit. It’s thoroughly interesting to see Freud’s theories play out, however the absurdity of it all can occasionally be cringe inducing, or worse, comical.

Father and son become close through sadism

Father and son become close through sadism

Roles with no dialogue are challenging at best, but with scenes such as the ones in Moebius it must undoubtedly be extremely arduous. Luckily all three principle actors perform convincingly. Lee Eun-woo is exceptional in her joint roles as an hysterical mother as well as a convenience store clerk. As the mother Lee Eun-woo conveys a powerful raw intensity that is simultaneously frightening yet attractive, while her vulnerability  and inner strength as the clerk is touching. Teenager Seo Yeong-joo also performs admirably as the son who experiences horrific trauma. At 15 years old the role is quite a shocking one given the explicit scenes in which he is required, yet he does very well particularly when conveying the pleasure and pain from sadist acts.

Phallic appropriation abounds as the Oedpius complex plays out

Phallic appropriation abounds as the Oedpius complex plays out

Moebius (뫼비우스) is yet another powerful and disturbing exploration of sexuality from director Kim Ki-duk. In quite literally – and explicitly – interpreting Freudian theories on screen, director Kim has crafted a very interesting film yet due to the far from unsubtle adaptation the absurdity of it all can often be cringeworthy and/or comical. Lee Eun-woo is undoubtedly the breakout star of the film as she performs with incredibly intensity throughout as the monstrous jealous mother. Moebius is not for the faint-hearted.

★★★☆☆

Reviews
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

For exciting new Korean films, the Korean Cinema Today program at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) highlights some of the best and latest productions emerging from the industry.

Korean Cinema Today is separated into two sub-categories – Panorama and Vision. While Vision explores the latest independent films and exciting new filmmaking talent, Panorama showcases some of the big domestic and internationally acclaimed films, as well as more high profile world premieres.

The 14 films in Panorama 2013 contains some of the biggest names working in the industry today. For arthouse fans, Kim Ki-duk’s highly controversial Moebius, as well as two Hong Sang-soo films – Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and Our Sunhi – make appearances. Two directorial debuts are included in the form of superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s Fasten Your Seatbelt, and veteran actor Park Joong-hoon’s Top Star. King of Pigs director Yeon Sang-ho’s latest animation The Fake is featured. There are also exciting new projects that involve crowdfunding, human rights issues, and the debut of K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in a lead role.

For the lowdown on all the films within the sub-category, please see below.

Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

Abbi (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Director: Jang Hyun-soo (장현수)

Synopsis: Abbi – or rather, Twisted Daddy – is a drama about a father whose dedication to his son becomes out of hand. Working hard to ensure his son can study law and become successful, the aging father risks everything.

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Director: Kim Tae-yun (김태윤)

Synopsis: Crowdfunding was sourced to produce this real life legal drama about a woman who contracts leukemia while working at a Samsung factory. The film follows the family’s efforts overcome the disease as well as the corporation responsible.

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완)

Synopsis: The Berlin File was a big hit upon release earlier his year. With an all-star cast including Ha Jeong-woo and Jeon Ji-hyeon, the action-thriller showcased director Ryoo’s style like never before. For the full review, please click here.

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho (연상호)

Synopsis: Following on from his hugely successful film King of Pigs, director Yeon Sang-ho employs his biting cultural critique stylisation to explore corrupted religious officials who are holding a small town to ransom.

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Director: Ha Jeong-woo (하정우)

Synopsis: Fasten Your Seatbelt – or ‘Rollercoaster‘ in Korean – marks superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s directorial debut. The comedy sees mismatched characters collide when their plane encounters a typhoon.

God's Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

Director: Lee Jang-ho (이장호)

Synopsis: Lee Jang-ho was a prominent director during the 1970s and ’80s, and after an 18 year hiatus has re-entered filmmaking with God’s Eye View. The film explores a group of missionaries whose faith wanes after abduction by Islamic rebels.

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Director: Kim Sung-su (김성수)

Synopsis: A co-production between Korea and Japan, sci-fi Genome Hazard depicts a man seemingly losing his sanity following the apparent death of his wife. Director Kim previously worked with Park Chan-wook and Son Il-gon.

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

Directors: Min Yong-keun (민용근), Lee Sang-cheol (이상철), Shin A-ga (신아가), Park Jung-bum (박정범)

Synopsis: Produced by the National Human Rights Commission, this omnibus film represents radically different stories about people living on the fringes of society, and the hardships they endure.

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Director: Kim Ki-duk (김기덕)

Synopsis: Moebius was marred by controversy before it was released.  Kim Ki-duk’s psychosexual thriller examines a family torn apart by adultery, penis dismemberment, and incest.

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

Director: Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)

Synopsis: Town trilogy and The Weight director Jeon Kyu-hwan explores the life of an impulse disorder patient and his long-suffering family in My Boy. cultural attitudes towards mental health and the medical system are examined.

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: University student Haewon feels lonely following her mother’s departure for Canada, and contacts married lover – and professor – Seong-joon. A story of a young woman’s quest for identity.

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: Sunhi is a film student who, wishing to continue her studies in America, seeks a recommendation letter from her professor. Yet in doing so, she unwittingly allows 3 different men attempt to advise her over her future.

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Director: Shin Yeon-shick (신연식)

Synopsis: A sequel of sorts to Rough Cut, Rough Play is concerned with a rising film star who becomes involved with gangsters, leading to a downward spiral. Based on an idea by Kim Ki-duk, the film features K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in the lead role.

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Director: Park Joong-hoon (박중훈)

Synopsis: Veteran actor Park Joong-hoon makes his debut with Top Star, a film about a talent manager who suddenly becomes a superstar. Yet as his popularity increase, so does his arrogance and determination to stay at the top.

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The hysterical mother severs her son's penis, sparking a chain of events

Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius (뫼비우스) – His Most Controversial Film to Date?

Kim Ki-duk's Moebius (뫼비우스)

Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius (뫼비우스)

No stranger to controversy, director Kim Ki-duk’s latest film Moebius (뫼비우스) appears to be pushing more boundaries than ever before. Billed as his most controversial film to date, sexual thriller Moebius explores the themes of incest, genital dismemberment, and dark sado-masochistic desires within a family unit, employing the director’s trademark silent characterisation in emphasising the severity of their actions.

The story depicts a mother (Lee Eun-woo (이은우) who, sick of her husband’s (Jo Jae-hyeon (조재현) constant infidelities, plots her own unique brand of revenge. However the conflict dramatically backfires upon their son (Seo Yeong-joo (서영주), with the resulting shame forcing the mother into exile. While the father and son attempt to build their relationship once again, their lives are once again thrown into turmoil when the mother returns, sparking a dramatic chain of events towards an even darker path.

The poster for Moebius reveals disturbing imagery

The poster for Moebius reveals disturbing imagery

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moebius was initially rejected by The Korean Media Rating Board upon submission, bestowing a ‘restricted’ rating upon the film. Yet as there are no cinemas in Korea that are licensed to screen ‘restricted’ rated films, the decision effectively meant that director Kim’s latest could not be released domestically. In a statement the Board explained, “The story and contents of the movie are highly violent, terrifying and harmful to underage audiences. The unethical and unsocial expressions of sexual activity between immediate family members make it only suitable for screening in limited theaters”. However, after director Kim edited several of the more controversial scenes from the film, Moebius was finally approved for domestic release, which should occur sometime in early September.

Interestingly such issues have not effected director Kim’s reputation abroad, as the film has been selected by both Venice and Toronto for their respective film festivals. Kim’s Pieta was the big winner at last year’s Venice Film Festival, scooping the highly coveted ‘Golden Lion’ award for best film, while this year’s Moebius will be screened as part of the ‘Out of Competition’ category. Toronto Film Festival are due to screen the film under their ‘Masters’ program, describing the film as bearing, “the clear mark of Kim’s singular genius. It’s a modern Greek tragedy bordering on psychological thriller, a pitchblack comedy, a crazy-weird depiction of pain-induced pleasure.”

Love him or loathe him, Kim Ki-duk’s films are consistently fascinating. Audiences will be able to form their own opinions regarding Moebius in early September. Please see below for the trailer.

Film News
The intimacy is created through honest action, rather than empty promises

Poongsan (풍산개) – ★★★☆☆

Poongsan (풍산개)

Poongsan (풍산개)

There has been a noticeable ideological shift in the representation between North and South Korea in recent cinematic productions. While the late ’90s inaugurated a period where the differences between the people were rendered moot (as exemplified by Shiri (쉬리)JSA – Joint Security Area (공동경비구역 JSA)  and Taegukgi (태극기 휘날리며), the past few years have appropriated a nihilistic approach that represents both sides as equally corrupt. The Front Line (고지전)Dance Town (댄스 타운) and even insanely popular TV drama City Hunter (시티헌터) have all subscribed to such representations, depicting government and military officials, and even citizens, as either equally underhanded or worse than their northern counterparts. Poongsan (풍산개) joins this trend, examining the lives of those caught between the ideological conflict in an interesting, albeit haphazard, style.

Poongsan tells the story of an unnamed man who regularly risks his life by crossing the De-Militarized Zone at the request of families on either side. He becomes know as ‘Poongsan’ (Yoon Kye-sang (윤계상) after the brand of cigarettes he smokes, and passes letters, videos, trinkets, and in special cases, people. Concurrently South Korean agents are pressuring a high ranking North Korean defector (Kim Jong-soo (김종수) for information, which he claims he cannot provide without his girlfriend In-ok (Kim Gyoo-ri (김규리) who still lives in The People’s Republic. The agents charge the DMZ runner with finding and retrieving the woman, yet on their dangerous return an unshakeable bond forms between them. On their arrival in the South,the double-crossing South Korean agents and North Korean spies vie for control over the lives of the defector, his girlfriend and the runner, leading to a deadly showdown.

Poongsan and In-ok cross the DMZ to the South

Poongsan and In-ok cross the DMZ to the South

While directed by his protege Juhn Jai-hong (전재홍), Kim Ki-duk’s (김기덕) indelible stamp is firmly cemented in Poongsan due to his dual role as writer/producer. The nameless DMZ runner, who never utters a word of dialogue during the entire course of the film, has more than a little in common with the lead in prior film 3-Iron (빈집). ‘Poongsan’ never talks, rather allowing his actions to convey his personality and pure intentions. If there is an ‘enemy’ in the film it would be ‘words’. The spies within the film continually offer empty promises and the rhetoric they spout is interchangeable. Worse still is that once the rhetoric has finished, both sides engage in horrific barbarous torture methods that reveal a twisted sadism within the agents. Even the past times of the agents are the same; the southern agents visit a hostess bar for the northern prostitutes, and the northern agents frequent a bar for southern working girls. The high ranking North Korean defector is portrayed similarly, initially conveying love and adoration for his girlfriend which later reveals itself as passive-aggressive misogyny. His vital report is also of note, as the defector understands the nature of his situation – once his document is submitted, his own life will be forfeit despite the security insisting otherwise. Only the silent ‘Poongsan’ and In-ok are represented as innocent and genuine, the true victims of the ideological warfare that continues to divide the populace.

Poongsan, In-ok, and the defector are caught between agents from both countries

Poongsan, In-ok, and the defector are caught between agents from both countries

As is often Kim Ki-duk’s style, the narrative veers in different directions unexpectedly yet still serves to emphasise the underlying socio-cultural critique. A wide array of alternating generic features are employed to this end, however they tend to distract from the deconstruction of the north/south opposition rather than enhance it. In addition, leaps are taken with suspension of disbelief in several areas. For example, the romance between ‘Poongsan’ and In-ok begins organically enough yet somehow jumps into a timeless intimate love; similarly, ‘Poongsan’ is a veritable one-man army who seemingly recovers from grave wounds with ease. The final showdown involves the highly idealised event of locking both factions of agents in a room to settle the dispute once and for all, which is an interesting premise yet merely serves to highlight their cowardice and lacks intensity. As the chief protagonist, Yoon Kye-sang (윤계상) gives a competent performance as ‘Poongsan’, a difficult task given the inherent stoicism. Unfortunately ‘Poongsan’ is, in the latter half of the film, relegated to being a supporting actor as the political themes take precedence.

The intimacy is created through honest action, rather than empty promises

The intimacy is created through honest action, rather than empty promises

Verdict:

Poongsan is a very interesting nihilistic examination of the north/south divide, one that embraces wholeheartedly the similarities between both sides in an incredibly pessimistic context. The deconstruction of the agencies of both countries, and the use of language as a tool/enemy is wonderfully executed and brings a new dimension to the political debate within the cinematic realm. The lead protagonists however lack the depth required for them to be believable and fully attract empathy, and in addition to other frivolous/whimsical uses of generic conventions and audience disbelief, detract from the construction of this statement. Poongsan will no doubt be hailed in future discussions of Korean cinema as a film that brought a new dimension to an old debate and is an entertaining, though occasionally disjointed, film.

★★★☆☆

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