I Saw You (너를 봤어)

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) – ★★★☆☆

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화)

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화)

Omnibus film MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) has the notable distinction of featuring not only three of Korea’s top name directors in the form of Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승) and Kim Tae-yong (김태용), but also for serving as the opening film for the 15th Jeonju International Film Festival. The collective work is quite a landmark for an opening film due to the use of 3D, which is, in part, used to emphasis the new vision and production role of KAFA+ (The Korean Academy of Film Arts).

The three segments are each designed to explore human relationships through a connection to a form of popular culture. Director Ryoo Seung-wan helms the first short titled Ghost (유령), about a boy who is addicted to his cell phone; director Han Ji-seung is responsible for I Saw You (너를 봤어), which is concerned with a futuristic zombie apocalypse; and finally director Kim Tae-yong explores the life of a young girl with an autistic brother in Picnic (피크닉).

In the interest of fairness, each short within the omnibus has been reviewed individually, in the order in which they appear onscreen.

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령) –  ★★★☆☆

Ghost depicts teenager Seung-ho (Lee David (이다윗) who is more concerned with the digital world of chat rooms, sms, and computer games rather than reality. When Woo-bi (Son Soo-hyeon (손수현), a girl from his chatroom, claims she is in danger from an abusive boyfriend, Seung-ho teams with Bi-jen (Park Jeong-min (박정민) to help her.

Based on a true story, Ghost is quite a departure from director Ryoo Seung-wan’s typically action-orientated projects, and he ably handles the focus on low-key personal drama. Scenes featuring Seung-ho’s bedroom are expertly filmed and wonderfully convey his fractured relationship with reality, while the social pressures from his school and father are competently expressed. However the tension that a film such as Ghost requires is curiously absent, particularly when Seung-ho and Bi-jen attempt to help Woo-bi. The use of 3D is also quite unnecessary  as the drama rarely features it effectively.

Luckily the ever-reliable Lee David holds everything together well, with his likeable ‘everyman’ charm again forcing audiences to empathise with his plight. That said, the actor is never pushed into new territory and as such his performance doesn’t contain the intensity of his prior work, yet Lee David does what he can with the material on offer. It’s Park Jeong-min, however, who gives a wonderful performance as the socially inept Bi-jen. Complete with thick-rimmed glasses, protruding jaw and nervous ticks, Park’s characterisation is a radical departure from his previous roles conveying angst and social-dislocation with aplomb.

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어) – ★★☆☆☆

In the not-too-distant future, zombies have emerged causing catastrophe in their wake. Yet the arrival of a cure for the affliction has allowed the undead to rejoin society. Factory manager Yeo-wool (Park Ki-woong (박기웅) presides over zombie laborers, pushing them to work harder and harder. When a zombie named Si-wa (Nam Gyoo-ri (남규리) attempts to communicate with him, Yeo-wool begins to understand their connection.

Director Han Ji-seung’s I Saw You is certainly the weakest within the omnibus. Poorly scripted, badly acted, and featuring precious little depth, the superficial rom-com-zom is a hollow experience. Director Han’s ambition is clearly bigger than his budget, yet instead of scaling down the film into a more focused piece he has constructed a poor imitation of a large production, one where the narrative veers wildly resulting in a lack of interest in the central couple. There is an attempt to emphasise the importance of memory as with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yet it becomes lost amongst the various narrative tangents and oddities.

Bizarrely, I Saw You also fails to use the 3D technology effectively. This is the one production within the omnibus where the genre lends itself to fun 3D antics, however the potential isn’t capitalised on, resulting in a rather bland offering.

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉) – ★★★★☆

Su-min (Kim Su-an (김수안) lives a humble life with her seamstress mother (Park Mi-hyeon (박미현) and autistic younger brother. Despite her young age Su-min is often forced to take responsibility for her sibling, and her only respite is to lose herself with the ages of a romantic comic book.

Picnic is a beautifully told, wonderfully charming story of youth and innocence, and is undoubtedly the most accomplished segment with the entirety of MAD SAD BAD. Screenwriter Min Ye-ji has constructed a poignant, sensitive and compelling story regarding those who live on the fringes of society, one which is elegantly depicted by director Kim Tae-yong. Director Kim ‘s uncanny ability to deeply understand and convey his characters motivations is once again apparent as he portrays a frustrated, overburdened young girl with an acute sense of subtly and artistry. Director Kim is also the only director in the omnibus to employ 3D effectively. Picnic features some truly sumptuous cinematography which the 3D technology vibrantly brings to life, particularly scenes of nature as with a pier at sunset and a mysterious forest.

The compulsion of the film rests on young actress Kim Su-an’s shoulders, and she delivers wonderfully. Her performance is continually captivating and displays a quality that belies her youth, proving that her prior films, including Berlinale winner Sprout, were no fluke. Kim’s charismatic performance conveys an adult sense of responsibility and independence alongside a youthful innocence and vitality, generating a deep sense of empathy and that never fails to entertain.

★★★☆☆

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Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 2014 Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) is due to commence from May the 1st through to the 10th.

Now in its 15th installment, JIFF has long been the festival for showcasing up and coming Korean independent talent as well as serving as a platform for international indies to receive attention. This year is of course no exception, as new features have added and programs extended in conjunction with the traditional core categories.

Last year, JIFF provided the launchpad for several notable Korean indie films that later went on to become successful on the international circuit. Family documentary My Place (마이 플레이스) and drama-thriller Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정) were the most prominent, enjoying lengthy festival runs and scooping several awards domestically and internationally while other productions including Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)Talking Architecture, City: Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀), and controversial documentary Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트) also performed well. Breathe Me (울게 하소서) was the most celebrated short film to emerge from the festival, later appearing in Cannes in the prestigious Critics Week category.

This year however sees not only an array of new Korean filmmakers but also some of the most renowned and reputable names in the independent film industry screening their latest work. Furthermore, the festival design is clearly emphasising JIFF as a celebration of elegance and subtle sincerity, as can be viewed in the trailer below.

The big change at JIFF 2014 lies in the greater focus on Korean films. Korea Cinemascape has now become a distinct program in its own right, and while previously more mainstream Korean films were integrated within, the focus has now shifted to more independent and low-budget productions. As such, there are some big names in indie cinema within Korea Cinemascape this year, including Lee Song Hee-il (White Night), Lee Sang-woo (Barbie) and Kim Kyung-mook (Stateless Things), as well as a greater number of world premieres which further cement JIFF’s reputation for discovering new talent.

In addition, two of JIFF’s staple programs – Jeonju Digital Project and Short! Short! Short! – have been amalgamated in order to enhance the overall quality of the productions as well as elevating the films into features. This year, two of of the three films are helmed by Korean directors.

The festival is also now separated into two distinct parts – from May 1st~7th JIFF will operate is normal, while May 8th~10th will focus more on the films in the International Competition. The Closing film has been abolished, and instead the Grand Prize winning film from the International Competition will screen instead.

Opening Film

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) 

Directors Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승), Kim Tae-yong (김태용)

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉)

MAD SAD BAD is a fascinating and exciting departure from traditional opening films. The 3D omnibus is helmed by three of Korea’s extremely talented directors. In Ghost, director Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File) explores the life of a high school student who retreats from the world and instead finds purpose talking with a girl on SNS. The segment stars red hot indie star Lee David (Pluto, Poetry), Kwak Do-wan (The Attorney, National Security) and model Son Soo-hyeon in her acting debut, while the film itself is based on a true story. In futuristic zombie film I Saw You, director Han Ji-seung (Papa) plays with a variety of genres as he portrays the undead as factory workers. Featuring Park Ki-woong (Secretly Greatly) and kpop star See Ya’s Nam Gyoo-ri (Death Bell), the romantic musical horror will certainly be an attractive affair. Rounding out the omnibus is Picnic by director Kim Tae-yong (You Are More Than Beautiful). When a young girl loses her autistic brother on a picnic trip, her frantic search calls forth the realms of her imagination inspired from her beloved comic books. Child actress Kim Soo-an (Hide and Seek) stars.

Please see below for the MAD SAD BAD trailer.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014
Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기) – ★★★★☆

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

Kim Tae-yong (김태용) is one of the few directors working in the Korean film industry who actively gives women a ‘voice’.  Rather than define female protagonists through relationships or position them as objects/commodities, director Kim’s films are consistently compelling through the articulation of fully-formed women’s roles.

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기) fits very much within such a framework. Indeed, the Korean titles literally translates as ‘Her Performance‘, an ironic title referring to both the director’s sensibilties as well as Gong Hyo-jin’s (공효진) outstanding acting talent. The 25 minute Hong Kong co-production is a highly charismatic short film, and despite the limited time frame manages to portray a lovingly nuanced and very entertaining romantic tale.

Upon learning of his terminally ill father’s condition, Jeju Islander Cheol-su (Park Hee-soon (박희순) must quickly return to his hometown to say a final farewell. However, wishing to show his father that he will be taken care of, Cheol-su hires an actress, Yeong-hee (Gong Hyo-jin), to act as his fiancee. Upon meeting the actress at the airport, Cheol-su quickly discovers Yeong-hee’s incredible positivity and charisma as she tries her utmost to fulfill her role.

Yeong-hee and Cheol-su meet at the airport, ready for their roles

Yeong-hee and Cheol-su meet at the airport, ready for their roles

First and foremost, the reason You Are More Than Beautiful is such a lovely short film is due to the superb performance of Gong Hyo-jin. From the moment she enters the film at the airport through to the final credits, the actress is constantly charismatic and it’s impossible not to be won over by her positivity. The title is particularly apt as Gong Hyo-jin is indeed very attractive, yet that is not what defines her character. It is Yeong-hee’s indomitable spirit and her cheeky-yet-playful personality that makes her so compelling to watch. Whether taking pictures in the countryside to reinforce the charade, or simply having a conversation to discover Cheol-su’s personality, Yeong-hee is a beautiful person both inside and out. Yet where the protagonist really shines in in meeting her fake fiancé’s terminally ill father. Her rendition of traditional Korean opera, as well as her interactions with the elderly gentleman, are a joy to behold due to the poignancy and heartwarming comedy embodied by the actress.

Actor Park Hee-soon also provides a great foil as stoic and sombre Cheol-su. The reason for his melancholy seems to go beyond his father’s illness, with the washed out colour palette conveying his depression well. Watching Cheol-su’s reluctance to engage with Yeong-hee’s positivity is wonderfully entertaining, as her zest for life slows chips away at his cold exterior yet he still attempts to keep her at a distance. The mismatched couple convey more heart and emotional connection than most films manage in three times the length, which is an incredible feat.

To flesh out the facade, the couple discover each other's traits

To flesh out the facade, the couple discover each other’s traits

Director Kim has stated that prior to filming You Are More Than Beautiful, all he prepared were the camera and the cast. This is quite surprising as the cinematography is very attractive throughout the film, particularly the manner in which the natural beauty of Jeju Island is captured. The roads and paths, as well as the horse farm, highlight the unspoiled nature of the island and as such conveys the romanticism with which Jeju has become renowned. Similarly, while the great outdoors looks gorgeous, director Kim employs some wonderful symmetrical shots to emphasis different stages of the evolving relationship between Yeong-hee and Cheol-su to great effect.

Yet despite such praise, the film isn’t quite perfect. It’s a credit to director Kim and the actors involved that although a lot of events occur during the 25 minute running time, there is still a desire for more. This certainly could have been achieved with more development ascribed to Cheol-su, whose character isn’t as fully-formed as Yeong-hee. Yet with Gong Hyo-jin on such amazing form it is entirely understandable, as her enthralling charisma and grace make the film so compelling.

Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

Verdict:

You Are More Than Beautiful is a delightful short film by director Kim Tae-yong. As one of the few directors in the Korean film industry creating fully-developed female roles his films are always interesting, and actress Gong Hyo-jin takes full advantage of the opportunity to perform her acting talent. Throughout the film she is utterly compelling and wonderfully charismatic, living up to the title as her passion for life and positivity make her more than an attractive women. A lovely short film.

★★★★☆

 

International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Reviews
Actress Gong Hyo-jin is wonderfully charismatic as Yeong-hee

WFFIS 2013: Quick Fire Reviews 1

The first in a series of quick-fire reviews from the 15th Seoul Women’s Film Festival, 2013:

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기) – 8/10

Director Kim Tae-yong’s (김태용) You Are More Than Beautiful is a wonderfully charismatic short film, due wholly to the performance of Gong Hyo-jin (공효진). The story involves Jeju Islander – and singleton – Cheol-su, who returns to the island upon hearing that his elderly father is seriously ill. To ease his father’s suffering Cheol-su hires actress Young-hee (Gong) to play the role of his fiancee, so that he may leave this world without worrying about his son. While it certainly sounds like weighty subject matter, Gong’s charisma and grace elevate the film into a heartfelt comedy-drama as her playful personality turns all forms of negativity into keen optimism. Indeed, her rendition of traditional Korean opera is poignantly moving and uplifting, emphasising her caliber as an actress.  As one of the few directors in contemporary Korea cinema featuring women in prominent roles, Kim Tae-yong does incredibly well in simply allowing Gong to act, while his vision captures the Jeju scenery beautifully. A lovely short film.

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스) – 9/10

Having already seen My Place at the Jeonju International Film Festival, could director Park Moon-chil’s (박문칠) documentary have the same resonance on a repeated viewing? Absolutely. Experiencing director Park’s evolving perspective on his family is consistently compelling and entertaining, as he changes from a man worried about his sister’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy to a man who comes to admire her strength of character. The personal family trauma that he places on screen is sincere and poignant, and director Park never shies away from the more difficult – and defining – periods from their history. He balances the representation of each family member incredibly well, simultaneously caring yet objective, allowing for each person to openly convey their psychology. An excellent documentary about family hardship and the desire to set things right.

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성) – 9/10

Pluto is, quite simply, an excellent film. Director Shin Su-won’s (신수원) second feature length film is a brilliant exploration of the enormous pressure students experience within the Korean education system, and how the competitive nature to join a prestigious university forges a psychologically unbalanced generation. Director Shin’s vision shines throughout with some truly wonderful shots and compositions, articulating the fragile mental states of the protagonists by featuring superb use of the mise-en-scene. Some critics took issue with manner in which the film changes tone from high school drama to cop thriller, yet while the point is valid the evolving aesthetics and conventions do nothing to dampen the power of the story. In fact in doing so, the potency of the drama is elevated as adult institutions are held accountable, while the inclusion of thriller conventions should guarantee a more mainstream appeal. A powerful drama with an important social message, Pluto is certainly one of the best films of the year and it will very interesting to see audience reaction when it’s released nationwide in July.

Festival News International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
The 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul

GFFIS 2013: Opening Ceremony and Promised Land screening

The 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul

The 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul

On a rainy Thursday the 9th of May, the 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul (GFFIS)  got underway with an opening ceremony at Yonsei University’s Baeyang Concert Hall in Sinchon, Seoul. Hosted by duo Kim Tae-Hun (김태훈) and actress Park Hee-bon (박희본), the event sported several videos celebrating the festival’s now decade long run – including a quite sweet musical video called Have a Cup of Tea, or See a Film! (차라도 한잔, 영화도 한편!) helmed by renowned director Kim Tae-yong (김태용).

Important politicians and policy makers, including Mr. Park Jae-dong, Mr. Yoon Seong-gyu from the Ministry of Environment, and Chairman of the Board of the Korea Green Foundation Mr Lee Se-jung all gave welcoming speeches regarding the importance of the festival and of ecological awareness in general, and their comments were warmly greeted. This was followed by an opening declaration by Mr. Kim Won, the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, who then brought actor Ji Jin-hee on stage to present him with a small plant as part of his acceptance in becoming the latest eco-friend of the festival.

Yonsei University's Baeyang Concert Hall

Yonsei University’s Baeyang Concert Hall hosted the opening ceremony

Legendary festival programmer Kim Dong-won was in attendance

Legendary festival programmer Kim Dong-won was in attendance

The hosts begin the ceremony

The hosts begin the ceremony

Actor Ji Jin-hee accepts his award as an eco-friend

Actor Ji Jin-hee accepts his award as an eco-friend

Director Kim Tae-yong's short film was a fun opening to the festival

Director Kim Tae-yong’s short film was a fun opening to the festival

The hosts and director Kim discuss the film and the festival

The hosts and director Kim discuss the film and the festival

After a short interval, everyone was again seated for the opening film. Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land , which re-teams the director with star Matt Damon after the critically acclaimed Good Will Hunting, sees a duo from an energy company attempt to buy land in the country in order to harvest the natural gas beneath. Yet the residents become concerned due to the process of ‘fracking’, in which chemicals are pumped into the Earth to get the resource, making the prospect a tough sell. The film was very well-received by the audience, and the film itself is a very apt opening due to the debates involving nature, community, big industry, and money. Please see below for the review.

Opening Film

Promised Land

Promised Land

Promised Land – 6/10

Promised Land is, in many ways, a great film to open the festival with. The story sees Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand) as workers for Global, a giant energy conglomerate who wish to obtain the natural gas residing under a farming community in Pennsylvania. Few actors do ‘everyman’ as well as Matt Damon, and that charm is present throughout the film as he is simply a good guy trying to do the best job he can. Unfortunately that job is to buy the land out from under the people, and his naivety  in this regard is perplexing as it’s quite obvious what the ramifications are from the start. To reinforce the point director Gu Van Sant features plenty of establishing shots of the countryside to emphasize what’s at stake, making Promised Land a very attractive film throughout. Despite the quite serious subject matter the narrative is often comedic, featuring some real laugh-out-loud moments as Steve and Sue continually face obstacles ranging from school teachers to the weather. Steve’s journey is an interesting one as he is torn between being a man with working class roots and his desire for (financial) success, although his reasoning isn’t explored nearly enough. Furthermore the narrative is far too ambitious as it attempts to cover too much in the running time, and in doing so lacks any real heart or emotional power. The inclusion of a love interest for Steve tries to address the issue, but she is often jettisoned in favor of returning to the environmental debate. Promised Land is a good, solid film and certainly one of the better dramas to deal with environmental issues, yet the curious lack of heart make the film a thought-provoking, but somewhat emotionless, endeavour.

Festival News Green Film Festival in Seoul (제10회 서울환경영화제) Korean Festivals 2013