Seoul Int. Women’s Film Fest Announces Short Film Line-up

SIWFF LOGOThe 17th Seoul International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) has unveiled the finalists for the Asian Short Film and Video Competition, as well as the ‘I-TEENS’ program.

3 Year 3 Month Retreat

3 Year 3 Month Retreat

According to festival officials SIWFF 2015 received more submissions than at any point their history for the competition, eventually selecting the final 21 films – 13 Korean and 8 non-Korean – from 415 entries from over 20 Asian nations.

Oh Lucy!

Oh Lucy!

Of the finalists, four will be selected for prizes. The Sungjoo Grand Prize (alongside $9,000 cash) will be awarded to the best film, while two Sungjoo First Prizes (as well as $4,500 each) will be bestowed upon the runners up. Through audience ballots conducted throughout the festival, a film will also be chosen for an Audience Award.

That Day of the Month

That Day of the Month

Meanwhile the I-TEENS category, now in its second year, will screen seven films produced by Korean teenage females.

SIWFF will run from May 27th to June 3rd at Megabox in Sinchon.

For the full list of finalists, please see below.

SWIFF Asian Shorts

SWIFF I-TEENS

Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Seoul International Women's Film Festival (제 17회 서울국제여성영화제)

Jeonju Int. Film Festival 2015 – Hot Picks

The 16th Jeonju Int. Film Festival

The 16th Jeonju Int. Film Festival

The 16th Jeonju International Film Festival, which will run from April 30th through to May 9th, has unveiled the full lineup of Korean and foreign films to be screened.

In terms of Korean cinema, in addition to the already previously announced Korean Competition and Korean Competition for Shorts that features new and emerging talent, films from the peninsula will feature within Korean Cinemascape and Korean Cinemascape for Shorts, as well as in other select programs.

With so many independent productions from which to choose, selecting quality films can be somewhat of a daunting task. As such, here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Hot Picks for the upcoming festival.

Jeonju Digital Project 2015

Samnye (삼례) – Director Lee Hyun-jung (이현정)

Samnye

Samnye

Director Lee’s previous JIFF film, Echo of Dragon, appeared in the 2013 Korean Competition and proved her art-house sensibilities. Samnye tells the story of a struggling screenwriter, who meets a charming yet strange girl. Art cinema fans should definitely take a look.

Snow Paths (설행 눈길을 걷다) – Director Kim Hee-jung (김희정)

Snow Paths

Snow Paths

Described by JIFF Head Programmer KIM Young-jin as, “undervalued in the Korean film industry,” director Kim (Grape Candy) returns with Snow Paths, a film exploring the life of an alcoholic seeking solace in the mountains who befriends a nun.

Korea Cinemascape

Black Stone (블랙스톤) – Director Roh Gyeong-tae (노경태)

Black Stone

Black Stone

Black Stone premiered at Rotterdam earlier this year. A Korean/French co-production, the film depicts highly controversial issues in contemporary Korea, involving inter-racial families and abuses within the Korean military.

Death in Desert (붉은 낙타) – Director No Zin-soo (노진수)

Death In Desert

Death In Desert

Director No has been busy recently with Total Messed Family (JIFF 2013), The Suffered (JIFF 2014), and The Maidroid (Yubari Fantastic Festival 2015). With Death in Desert, he explores an obsessive relationship between a couple who just can’t let go of each other.

Made in China (메이드 인 차이나) – Director Kim Dong-hoo (김동후)

Made In China

Made In China

There’s been plenty of buzz around the Kim Ki-duk produced Made in China, which premiered at Tokyo in 2014. Featuring stars Park Ki-woong and Han Chae-ah, the story involves a Chinese eel farmer and a cold-hearted Korean food inspector.

Speed (스피드) – Director Lee Sang-woo (이상우)

Speed

Speed

Director Lee is notorious for tackling controversial subject matter within his films, as exemplified by Mother is a Whore, Barbie, and Fire in Hell. Following short film Exit at JIFF 2013, he returns with Speed, a tale of four friends whose lives are intertwined.

Trap (덫, 치명적인 유혹) – Director Bong Man-dae (봉만대)

Trap

Trap

Director Bong’s Han River premiered at Busan 2014 to praise for exploring suicide with dark comedy. With Trap, a miserable screenwriter travels to an inn to finish a script, yet falls for the charms of a seductive teenage girl with increasingly dark ambitions.

Korea Cinemascape for Shorts

The Running Actress (여배우는 오늘도) – Director Moon So-ri (문소리)

The Running Actress

The Running Actress

Legendary actress Moon So-ri steps behind the camera for The Running Actress, a 24 minute short film. In it, Moon plays a woman trying to balance domestic life and hardships while attempting to forge a career on screen.

Outdoor Screening

Like a French Movie (프랑스 영화처럼) – Director Shin Yeon-shik (신연식)

Like a French Movie

Like a French Movie

Director Shin has a rare ability to helm films both mainstream (Rough Play) and artistic (The Avian Kind, The Russian Novel). In Like a French Movie, which seems to be one of the director’s artistic endeavours, the protagonists all embody the traits of characters within a French film.

For more information of the films playing at Jeonju International Film Festival, please follow the link here.

16th Jeonju International Film Festival (제16회 전주국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2014

2014 FinalWith the end of the year almost upon us, it’s time to revisit the films released over the past 12 months in order to discern the best offerings from the Korean film industry for 2014.

First, however, a quick review of the year is in order to chart the highs and lows from the peninsula, as it was a tumultuous time for Korean cinema indeed.

For those who cannot wait, please scroll down to find the top ten of 2014.

2014 – In Review

2014 was, by all accounts, a rather lacklustre year for Korean cinema.

Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

The beginning of the year was undoubtedly dominated by Hollywood. While the release of several high profile Korean films including Plan Man, Man in Love, Hot Young Bloods and Venus Talk occurred, none of them performed particularly well, especially when faced with the gargantuan success of Disney’s Frozen. Things changed at the end of January with the release of Miss Granny, thanks largely to positive word of mouth. Starring Shim Eun-kyeong as an elderly woman transformed into twenties, the mild-mannered comedy was a fairly big success scoring over 8.6 million admissions. Controversial independent film Another Promise also performed impressively. Concerned with people stricken with cancer after working at a Samsung factory, the film was all but rejected from multiplexes causing outrage from critics as well as accusations of insider suppression, even prompting an article from UK outlet The Guardian.

For the next few months, Korean cinema continued to stagnate until things went from bad to worse in the wake of the tragic Sewol Ferry disaster on the 16th of April. With the entire nation reeling from the loss of so many lives – mostly high school students – cinemas, understandably, largely remained empty. For the next few months, with the population still in a collective state of mourning, attendance and revenue was considerably down compared to the year prior, with audiences also tending to stay away from violent films such as No Tears For The Dead and Man On High Heels.

Indie success came in the form of Han Gong-ju. Released in April, the film scored over 60,000 admissions during its first four days, and eventually surpassed 160,000 during its box office run to become one of the most successful independent films in the history of Korean cinema. Han Gong-ju was also an enormous hit on the international film festival circuit, achieving several top honours as well as acclaim from cinema maestro Martin Scorsese.

Internationally, good news also came in May as A Girl At My Door, A Hard Day, and The Target all gained invitations to the Cannes Film Festival.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

Things turned around considerably in late July. Upon release, KUNDO: Age of the Rampant broke the record for opening day admissions and helped to breath new life into the industry…until that record, and virtually every achievement in Korean cinema, was decimated by historical naval epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents. Shortly thereafter the final two tentpole summer films – The Pirates and Haemoo – also graced screens to moderate success. Fears that the blockbusters would fail due to narratives that contain deaths at sea, and thus touching on the still sensitive issue of the Sewol tragedy, luckily proved to be unfounded.

The next big news to hit the industry came in the form of controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol. Premiering at the Busan International Film Festival, Sewol depicted the ineptitude of the government in failing to save so many lives during the disaster. Park Geun-hye’s administration responded by demanding the withdrawal of the film from the festival, as well as threats of funding cuts. BIFF refused, and it remains to be seen what ramifications the decision will have on subsequent festivals.

The year ended on a high note, particularly for independent cinema, as positive word of mouth led to documentary My Love, Don’t Cross That River (님아, 그 강을 건너지 마오) attracting over 1 million viewers and knocking Hollywood films Interstellar and Exodus from the top spots at the box office. It currently stands as the second most successful documentary in Korean cinema history.

The Best of 2014

Honourary Mention – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Before beginning the top ten countdown, it would be impossible to exclude any discussion of Han Gong-ju. Rated in joint first place in last year’s ratings (due to its premiere at BIFF), director Lee Su-jin’s directorial debut is bold, powerful, and emotionally resonating. Featuring an outstanding performance by Chun Woo-hee – who won Best Actress at the Blue Dragon Film AwardsHan Gong-ju is based on the true story of a high school girl who is forced to relocate to a new area following an horrific event. As she attempts to rebuild her life, Gong-ju discovers that she cannot outrun her past however much she tries. Appearing at over 15 international film festivals and receiving acclaim from Martin Scorsese himself, Hang Gong-ju is not to be missed.

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2014

No. 10 – Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits is a beautifully stylised, wonderfully constructed documentary that is emblematic of the new artistic approach being employed to genre. Directed by artist/filmmaker Park Chan-kyong, Manshin presents the life and times of renowned shaman Kim Keum-hwa through a startling array of storytelling devices, all in the aesthetic of traditional Korean culture. Periods from shaman Kim’s life are gorgeously reconstructed featuring three prominent actresses – Kim Sae-ron, Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong and Moon So-ri – which, while interesting in itself, is also a story that explores the cultural identity of Korea in the rapid transition from one of the poorest nations in Asia to the economic powerhouse it is today.

No. 9 – Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Amalgamating several real life stories that have transpired over the years, Korea’s most prominent queer director, Lee Song Hee-il, released arguably his most compelling film to date in the form of Night Flight. Poignantly depicting the relationship of two teenage gay Seoulites and their desire to escape their oppressive environment, director Lee Song goes beyond focusing primarily on the romance by profoundly developing the world they inhabit. The harsh education system, the class divide, single parent families and social injustice all feature, and as such homosexuality is naturalized as simply another facet of identity that youths struggle with, resulting in an insightful and compelling drama.

No. 8 – Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Let's Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Documentary Let’s Dance is concerned with the topic of abortion in Korea. Director Jo Se-young brilliantly interviews a variety a women who have undergone the procedure, inquiring about their thoughts, reasons and feelings about the controversial subject matter. Yet the film is far from bleak; in fact it’s quite the opposite. During the refreshingly frank conversations the women laugh, joke and cry about their experiences, while dramatic recreations of comical events are interlaced within, making the documentary a genuinely funny, enlightening, and empowering film. The film also hilariously pokes fun at male ignorance on the subject, including lack of awareness regarding contraception and even the length of pregnancy. Inspirational viewing.

No. 7 – Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Director Boo Ji-young’s insightful second feature film Cart premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim, and for good reason. Based on the true story of unfairly dismissed supermarket employees who began strike action to be reinstated, Cart is a consistently impressive exploration of worker’s rights, women’s issues, and single parent families in contemporary Korea. The provocative drama explores each facet from several distinct perspectives and never fails to be engaging. It also has the distinction of being almost entirely female-centered to great effect, with acting duties from a host of incredibly talented actresses of all ages, combining to produce a moving, courageous and provocative socially-conscious drama.

No. 6 – Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

South Korea has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD. Thread of Lies tackles such difficult subject matter by exploring the lives of those effected in the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide, and is a powerfully provocative film in that the story not only depicts bullying and depression, but also delves into the problematic realm of accountability. Driven by the need for answers, Man-ji begins investigating her younger sister’s suicide, with the conclusions proving to be a painful experience. Thread of Lies is also notable for having a stellar all-female cast, a real rarity these days, with the array of talent combining to produce an understated yet deeply resonating examination of an important social issue.

No. 5 – The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Easily the most controversial Korean film of the year, documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol premiered at the Busan International Film Festival to uproar. Under pressure from government officials and the mayor of Busan/Festival Chairman Seo Byung-soo himself to remove it from the schedule, BIFF ultimately refused and screened it anyway to reveal a highly emotional and courageously critical exploration of the administration’s disastrous rescue efforts following the Sewol tragedy. Through the investigative approach of director Ahn Hye-ryong and journalist/director Lee Sang-ho, the documentary is a powerful tribute to not only the victims of the event but also the ongoing debate of accountability, and the collusion between the state and mass media.

No. 4 – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

If there’s one genre synonymous with Korea cinema, it’s the thriller. Yet over recent years thriller films have tended to fall a little flat, a result of over-saturation combined with a lack of ingenuity. Not so with director Kim Seong-hoon’s A Hard Day. Premiering at Cannes Film Festival, the action extravaganza is perpetually riveting entertainment and a wonderful example of great popcorn cinema, so much so that the 2 hour 30 minute running time simply flies by. Featuring an exciting array of set pieces throughout, A Hard Day is a constant mix of excitement and tension that serves to keep the audience guessing – due in no small part to the phenomenal editing – while the ironic dark humour laced within the story always hits the mark.

No. 3 – Haemoo (해무)

Haemoo (해무)

Haemoo (해무)

Nominated as Korea’s official entry for the Academy Awards, Haemoo – or Sea Fog – is based on the horrific true story of illegal immigration gone wrong. Director Shim Seong-bo’s directorial debut is a thrilling visual tour de force, expertly capturing the fraught claustrophobia of life on a small fishing vessel and the abject horrors that occur. Produced by Bong Joon-ho and featuring cinematography from Hong Kyeong-pyo (Snowpiercer), the drama expresses a profound and distinctive aesthetic throughout, as well as great performances from the stellar cast and particularly from up-and-comers Han Ye-ri and Kpop star Park Yoochun. As such, Haemoo is certainly one of the best Korean thrillers in recent years.

No. 2 – Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

After seemingly years of performing authoritarian cameo-esque roles, Ahn Sung-gi once again revealed why he’s considered one of the best in the business with an outstanding return to form in Revivre. Veteran director Im Kwon-taek‘s 102nd film, Revivre explores the life of a middle-aged vice president whose wife is stricken by a terminal illness, yet while he struggles to balance his responsibilities a beautiful new deputy manager begins working in the office who captivates him. What could easily be yet another typical male fantasy is given extraordinary emotional depth due to director Im’s and Ahn Sung-gi’s seasoned hands, both of whom combine to depict a man torn between duty and desire with striking sincerity.

No. 1 – A Girl At My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

Director July Jung’s directorial debut A Girl At My Door premiered to a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, which in itself states the incredible power of the film. Produced by famed brothers Lee Chang-dong and Lee Jun-dong, the drama beautifully explores the themes of alienation and discrimination in contemporary Korea, featuring phenomenally understated performances by Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, as well as accompanied by some of the most exquisite cinematography seen all year. The sensitive and poignant story wonderfully captures the issues faced by those on the fringes of Korean society with incredible sincerity, and as such occupies the top spot in the list. Highly recommended and essential viewing.

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In an iconic scene, Sang-goo begins protesting in central Seoul

Another Promise (또 하나의 약속) – ★★★☆☆

Another Family (또 하나의 약속)

Another Promise (또 하나의 약속)

Another Promise (AKA Another Family) (또 하나의 약속) arrived in Korean cinemas in February on a wave of controversy. Based on the true story of a young woman who contracted leukemia while working at a Samsung semiconductor plant, and her father’s subsequent battle to bring the chaebol (conglomerate) to justice, the film was mired in difficulties before it even began. With production companies refusing to fund the film writer/director Kim Tae-yoon (김태윤) turned to crowdfunding, and the resulting flood of private donations helped Another Promise to become the first film in Korean cinematic history to be fully fund in this manner. Furthermore, popular actors including Park Cheol-min and Kim Gyoo-ri offered to appear in the film for free which helped to generate even greater public interest.

Premiering at the 2013 Busan International Film Festival to favourable reviews, Another Promise received global attention for challenging the most powerful company in Korea, prompting an article from The Guardian which went viral amongst Korean film enthusiasts. Later, when the film was finally granted a nationwide release, Another Promise was again the victim of controversy when it became widely reported that Megabox and Lotte Cinema, two of Korea’s biggest cinema chains, were accused of suppressing the number of screens on which the film was to be played. Despite huge public interest and advance ticket sales, The Hankyoreh reported that Megabox reduced the number of screens from 15 to 3 two days before release (which subsequently changed after public outcry), while Yonhap News stated Lotte Cinema allocated a measly 21 out of 99 theaters to showing the film and that most screenings occurred during early morning or late at night. Yet despite being being shown on a paltry 192 screens throughout February (in contrast, Miss Granny had 1024), Another Promise was the 8th biggest film of the month which is a remarkable achievement indeed. Yet controversy aside, is Another Promise any good?

Taxi driver Sang-goo teams with labor rights worker Nan-joo to take on the conglomerate

Taxi driver Sang-goo teams with labor rights worker Nan-joo to take on the conglomerate

Taxi driver Sang-goo (Park Cheol-min (박철민) is thrilled when his daughter Yoon-mi (Park Hee-jeong (박희정) is offered a job at the Jinsung semiconductor plant. As one of the leading companies in Korea, to be a worker at Jinsung is considered a great boon particularly for a humble family. Yet when Yoon-mi returns home months later extremely ill her worried family take her to hospital, where she is diagnosed with leukemia. As representatives from Jinsung arrive demanding paperwork to be signed and using money as bribes, Sang-goo is determined to discover the cause of his daughter’s disease. Teaming up with labor rights worker Nan-joo (Kim Gyoo-ri (김규리), the duo track down other sick workers and informants in a desperate attempt to finally bring the conglomerate to justice.

Another Promise is a film that very much wears its heart on its sleeve, which is both a blessing and a curse. As it is based on a true story, Another Promise is of course a highly emotional film that undoubtedly resonates strongly, particularly with Korean audiences. However director Kim’s decision to employ melodrama at almost every opportunity undermines the strength of the film’s message, which is a great shame. The most powerful scenes are also the most understated, in which the shocking abuses of power and the traumatized expressions of victims are allowed to speak for themselves, effectively conveying the full strength of the story. Yet far too often melodramatic devices are utilised, and over-simplified caricatures of ‘the perfect family’ and ‘the villain’ are expressed, which tends to make the film feel contrived while the direction and camerawork are competent yet akin to a TV film, also serving to weaken the importance of the story. That said, when scenes are done well they are utterly compelling and poignant, rarely failing to be tear-inducing.

In an iconic scene, Sang-goo begins protesting in central Seoul

In an iconic scene, Sang-goo begins protesting in central Seoul

Holding the film together is veteran actor Park Cheol-min, who arguably gives a career-best performance as the bereaved father. Park has a tendency to overact and has often been typecast in goofy supporting roles due to this, yet he carries Another Promise on his shoulders extremely well. He occasionally slips into his old habits early in the film yet he hits his stride shortly after, providing a remarkably restrained and emotionally charged performance. His speeches are particularly effective as he solemnly fights for justice, and Park’s sincerity continually forces the film to be compelling.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the supporting cast who are generally given quite meager roles. Kim Gyoo-ri is surprisingly given sparse screen time as labor rights worker Nan-joo, particularly given her status, although she competently fills the role with the little she’s been given. Other supporting actors fare less well as they tend to serve the purpose of siding with either party, with attempts to expand their backstories proving rather unengaging as there are so many of them it’s impossible to form emotional connections with them all.

Sang-goo gives compelling speeches about the importance of justice and accountability

Sang-goo gives compelling speeches about the importance of justice and accountability

Another Promise (AKA Another Family) (또 하나의 약속) is an important landmark in Korean cinematic history as the first fully crowdfunded film, and it’s clear writer/director Kim Tae-yoon had no choice but to do so given the subject matter. Based on the true story of a girl who contracted leukemia by working at a Samsung plant and her father’s fight for justice, the film has been mired in controversy from the beginning. The result is a highly emotionally charged drama that is often tear-inducing, yet the addition of melodramatic contrivances tends to undermine the film’s message. Yet thanks to a career best performance by Park Cheol-min, Another Promise is a consistently compelling film.

★★★☆☆

Reviews
The entry into the psychedelic classroom is a surrealist nightmare

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Most Memorable Moments of 2013

Beware – spoilers ahead!

One of the great things about being a fan of Korean cinema is that the industry is continually inventive. Whether in mainstream or independent film, Korean filmmakers constantly generate shocks and thrills aplenty, featuring some truly memorable moments that resonate long after the final credits have rolled.

As the title of this feature implies, 2013 was no exception. Shocking scenes frequently appeared throughout a variety of genres, and here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s most memorable – disturbing, shocking, or just plain awesome – moments of the year.

Final warning – spoilers ahead!

Azooma (공정사회) – Dental Revenge

Disillusioned with patriarchal institutions, the ajumma prepares for her own brand of justice

Disillusioned with patriarchal institutions, the ajumma prepares for her own brand of justice

There have been a number of films in recent years that have explored the serious crime – and soft punishment – of pedophilia in Korean society. Few however can attest to providing such violent revenge as indie thriller Azooma.  Rejected by police as well as the child’s playboy father, the ‘ajumma’ (azooma) enlists the help of local gangsters to abduct the criminal and tie the pervert into a dentist chair. Employing her skills as a dental nurse, the ajumma exacts her bloody and brutal – and incredibly cathartic – vengeance by drilling the teeth to the bone without anesthetic. Even better however is that the surgery belongs to the child’s absent father, allowing mother and daughter to walk away and learn to heal.

Han Gong-ju (한공주) – The Internet Video

Gong-ju's trauma apears on the internet for all to see

Gong-ju’s trauma apears on the internet for all to see

Heartbreaking and tragic, director Lee Su-jin’s break-out film centers on high school student Gong-ju who conceals an extremely traumatic event in her past. While hints continually suggest that she was sexually assaulted, the truth is even worse – she was gang raped by dozens of her peers. The depiction of the event is truly haunting. However, as the film reaches its climax, Gong-ju’s unaware friends finally learn the truth about her suffering as a video of the assault appears on the internet. Unable to move or speak, Gong-ju’s best friend can do nothing but watch in horror.

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서) – Dr. Swalski

Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

One of the most vibrant and enjoyable rom-coms in recent years, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is brilliantly original largely due to one character – the mysterious Dr. Swalski. In his audacious 1970s apparel, the doctor brilliantly gives advice on how to manipulate men to naive assistant director Choi Bo-na with superb comic timing, even appearing within her life when things don’t quite work out the way they should. With wonderful tongue-in-cheek wit, Dr. Swalski is a fantastic creation from the mind of director Lee Won-seok.

Intruders (조난자들) – The North Korean Spy

Suspicions rise but the culprit comes out of left field

Suspicions rise but the culprit comes out of left field

Director Noh Young-seok’s (노영석) film about a screenwriter seeking solitude in the mountains is a quirky story, with the slow build of suspense brilliantly executed as the murdered bodies begin piling up and suspicions rise. When the survivors find a hidden basement full of victims tensions reach fever-pitch – until a short North Korean spy jumps out of a closet. Simultaneously hilarious and shocking, the spy displays director Noh’s dark-comic sensibilities and adds a surprising element in an otherwise straightforward thriller.

New World (신세계) – Battle Royale

Jeong Cheong viciously battles his way through assassins

Jeong Cheong viciously battles his way through assassins

Through gangster epic New World, Chinese-Korean wiseguy Jeong Cheong – superbly portrayed by actor Hwang Jeong-min – is little more than a loser, a joker more interested in fake goods than in cementing his position within the crime syndicate. That is, until a rival seeks to take him out of the running permanently. Surrounded by assassins, Jeong Cheong displays stunning ferocity as he battles for his life pummeling his adversaries into submission, culminating in a brutal knife fight in an elevator. And in the end, only one man is left standing.

Pascha (파스카) – The Abortion

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Busan Film Festival winner Pascha depicts the relationship between 40-something screenwriter Ga-eul and her 17 year old lover. The slow-moving indie drama presents their struggles to stay together, particularly after the news that Ga-eul is pregnant. Forced to have abortion by her family, the deeply depressed screenwriter undergoes the procedure. Yet as she leaves, something compels her to turn back and demand to see the remains. The controversial scene has divided critics, but the haunting image resonates long after the credits.

Snowpiercer (설국열차) – The Classroom

The entry into the psychedelic classroom is a surrealist nightmare

The entry into the psychedelic classroom is a surrealist nightmare

Director Bong Joon-ho’s epic sci-fi has several noteworthy moments, including the shattering of an iced-arm and discussing how babies taste, but the entry into the disturbingly bizarre school is so surreal it tops them all. After battling through dark and grimy carriages in an extremely bloody and violent revolution, the next door opens to reveal a disneyfied classroom on acid full of psychotic fervour. Alison Pill is phenomenal as the fanatical teacher, while the brainwashed students religiously chant the train driver’s name as if he is a deity. With exceptional work by production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, the classroom is a disturbing reminder of the power of bias education on impressionable minds.

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – The General 

The general's hat is all that remains as Yoon becomes frantic

The general’s hat is all that remains as Yoon becomes frantic

Newsroom drama The Terror Live was a big hit in Korea due to the open and frank exploration of corruption within the social elite, and the exploitation of workers. As reporter Yoon Yeong-hwa (expertly performed by Ha Jeong-woo) converses with the terrorist who destroyed a bridge live on air, a military general comes to the studio and joins the debate. The general rapidly makes the situation worse, goading the terrorist with lies and defamation building unbearable tension until a bomb in the general’s earpiece explodes splattering blood everywhere.  A shocking moment, yet also a victory for exploited workers.

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Jiseul (지슬)

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, so it becomes time to discuss the best releases from the Korean film industry from the year.

It’s been quite  year for Korean film. According to the Korean Film Council the industry crossed over the 200 million admissions mark for the first time in history, averaging just over 4 films per person; recently released drama The Attorney (변호인), based on former president Roh Moo-hyun’s early career, broke the box office record for single day admissions in December attracting over 540,000 moviegoers upon opening; Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (설국열차), the most expensive film in Korean cinema history, was released to critical and commercial acclaim; and Moon Byung-gon’s Safe (세이프) won the short film Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first time the award has been bestowed upon a Korean director.

But back to the issue at hand – the top ten. ‘Best of’ lists always feel somewhat disingenuous as it’s impossible to have seen simply everything to emerge from the industry over the past 12 months. This also unfortunately applies to this particular list, particularly in regards to films released over the past month. So, in the interest of full disclosure, here are some great films that could potentially have been included in the top ten had they been seen – Moebius (뫼비우스)Hope/Wish (소원), Way Back Home (집으로 가는 길), and The Attorney.

However, without further ado, let’s press on with Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2013:

Joint 1st – Jiseul (지슬)

Jiseul (지슬)

Jiseul (지슬)

While Jiseul premiered at Busan in 2012, it was officially released nationwide in 2013 and for that reason jointly takes the number 1 spot. Director O Muel’s breathtaking film about the 1948 Jeju Island ‘Uprising’ (or rather ‘Massacre’) is one of those rare films that transcends the medium into art. The stunning cinematography is exquisitely captured through the black and white tones, while the realism-inducing long takes convey the atrocities endured by the Islanders with palpable melancholy. Shockingly, Jiseul was not submitted as Korea’s entry for the Academy Awards (with the honour instead going to Juvenile Offender), a presumably political decision due to the negative manner in which the Korean military are portrayed – a genuine shame as Jiseul is one of the best Oscar contenders Korea has produced in quite some time. Nevertheless, director O Muel’s beautifully haunting tribute is an absolute must-see. (See the full review here).

Joint 1st – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju is without a doubt the best new film of 2013. Staggering powerful, heartbreaking and courageous, the film tells the story of high schooler Gong-ju who is forced to relocate to a new school due to a secretive event in her past. Director Lee Su-jin has crafted an incredible film that wonderfully captures many of the social issues in contemporary Korea, confronting the themes of selfishness and corruption directly and in doing so evokes a maelstrom of emotional resonance. It is no stretch to say that Han Gong-ju is like a raw Lee Chang-dong film, one full of maturity and awareness yet with added indignation. Staggeringly, the film is also director Lee Su-jin’s feature-length directorial debut and, should he continue to helm films of this quality, Korea will have a new auteur in the making.

2nd – Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Director Shin Su-won proves her win at Cannes for Circle Line (순환선) was no fluke with the release of the masterful Pluto. A former teacher before her venture into filmmaking, director Shin deftly employs her knowledge of the insanely-competitive Korean education system in exploring how students can become increasingly amoral in the bid for perfect grades  and an all-important university placement. What makes Pluto so special is not only the examination of corruption within the system but also the character development as Joon – wonderfully acted by Lee David – gradually succumbs to violent ambition. (See the full review here).

3rd – My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

The best kind of documentaries are the ones that serve to enlighten, yet director Park Moon-chil goes one better with My Place in that he too is on a quest for knowledge. Initially believing that his sister is somewhat irresponsible for wishing to be a single-parent, director Park attempts to understand his sibling by investigating her past, which in turn leads to startling discoveries about his entire family. Through exploring cultural and generational differences as well as revealing – and attempting to heal – family trauma, My Place is a wonderful testament to family and forces audiences to address how well they know their own relatives. (See the full review here).

4th – Snowpiercer (설국열차)

Snowpiercer (설국열차)

Snowpiercer (설국열차)

A pulse-pounding thrill-ride from start to finish, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is a momentous sci-fi epic. Based on the French comic Le Transperceneige, the film depicts a world devoid of life due to global warming with the last remnants of humanity hurtling around the world on the perpetually moving train ‘snowpiercer.’ What makes the film so fascinating is the manner in which  the class system is explored, examining the nature of revolution, the brainwashing inherent in education, as well as the potent symbolism laced throughout – particularly from Tilda Swinton’s brilliant channeling of Margaret Thatcher as the villainous Mason. Snowpiercer is also a triumph of production design, and ranks among the best science fiction films to emerge from the industry. (See the full review here).

5th – The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Brutally intense and profoundly disturbing, The Fake is a phenomenal indictment of the fraud that exists within society. The Korean title ‘Saibi’ is specific to religion, and potent symbolism abounds; the looming threat of a flood sends the local populace into a religious fervour as they compete for the ‘limited’ places in heaven. Interestingly director Yeon Sang-ho marries such weighty material with the generic conventions of the western, and the result is extraordinary – should the audience align with the fraudulent man of God, or the truthful-yet-devilish western anti-hero? (See the full review here).

6th – New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

Taking a cue from Coppola’s The Godfather, director Park Hoon-jeong’s gangster epic New World is among the best examples of the genre in recent memory. As a screenwriter on I Saw The Devil and The Unjust director Park has experience in weaving bloodthirsty thrillers, and his vision in constructing a tale of vengeful gangsters attempting to fill a power vacuum is brilliant. The double-crosses and Infernal Affairs-esque clashes between men on both sides of the law are made all the more powerful with the stunning cinematography and visual finesse. (See here for the full review).

7th – Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

A remake of Hong Kong action-noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a vastly different adaptation set in the shimmering metropolis of Seoul. The slick thriller is incredibly entertaining not only for the great pacing and exhilarating cat-and-mouse chase sequences, but also for the wonderful casting. Han Hyo-joo, so often relegated to being a pretty love interest, is excellent as the bold, smart and independent rookie, while Jeong Woo-seong is great as the steely and manipulative villain. (See here for the full review).

8th – The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File marks a genuine stage in evolution for director Ryoo Seung-wan. His previous films have typically been highly entertaining action-thrillers often serving to revere classic sequences of yesteryear; however with The Berlin File the high-octane set-pieces, kinetic camera movement and rapid editing combine to create his most exhilarating film to date. With an all-star cast featuring Ha Jeong-woo, Jeon Ji-hyeon, Han Seok-kyu and Ryoo Seung-beom, The Berlin File is one of 2013’s great genre films. (See here for the full review).

9th – How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

2013 was full of cliched and generic rom-coms – which made How to Use Guys with Secret Tips even more refreshing. Criminally under-seen due to a release date alongside Miracle in Cell No. 7 and New World, director Lee Won-seok’s debut is simply bursting with colour, vitality, inventiveness, and most importantly – brains. Spinning the cliches upside down, director Lee continually pokes fun at modern masculinity as well as highlighting the sexism that exists in contemporary Korea in a uniquely humourous fashion, combining to produce one of the most enjoyable and downright fun rom-coms in quite some time. (See here for the full review).

10th – Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Premiering at the Jeonju International Film Festival, director Jung Young-heon’s Lebanon Emotion was far and away the most interesting and engaging drama to appear. Initially a potent tale of grief and despair, the film transforms into an otherworldly story of togetherness, revenge, and danger. Director Jung’s history as a cinematographer is apparent in every scene, featuring gorgeously haunting landscapes alongside some great character development and quirky humour. Bizarrely missing out on the top prize at JIFF, Lebanon Emotion was rewarded at Moscow by scooping the best director award, and he is certainly a talent to watch. (See here for the full review.)

Film News
Seoul Independent Film Festival (서울독립영화제)

SIFF 2013: The 39th Seoul Independent Film Festival 2013

Seoul Independent Film Festival (서울독립영화제)

Seoul Independent Film Festival (서울독립영화제)

Independent film lovers rejoice, for the Seoul Independent Film Festival will commence from Thursday the 28th of November, running through to the 6th of December.

Now in its 39th edition, SIFF 2013 will celebrate Korea’s independent film industry by showcasing the best examples from the year, and will primarily be held at the CGV theater in Apgujeong although screenings will also take place at Indiespace located in Gwanghwamun.

Film fans will also undoubtedly be interested to learn that many of the films due to be screened were previously shown at other big festivals including Jeonju, Busan, and the DMZ Docs film festivals respectively. As such SIFF 2013 presents a great opportunity to catch the years independent offerings before the end of the year.

Within the Competition – Features category are some great award winning indie films, that deftly  tackle contemporary social issues in Korea. Highlights include director Park Moon-chil’s documentary  My Place (마이 플레이스) which explores gender inequality and family issues; Han Gong Ju (한공주), a film concerned with teenage trauma; Non Fiction Diary, a documentary examining pivotal criminal events in the 1990s; and Shuttlecock (셔틀콕), a road trip drama concerned with teenage angst, greed, and (ir)responsibility.

Special Invitation – Features also contains some of the years best indie films. The plight of foreign brides in the countryside is examined in drama Thuy (안녕, 투이)Busan closing film The Dinner (만찬) depicts family and elderly concerns; documentary Tour of Duty (거미의 땅) explores the trauma of being a sexual slave during the Korean War; National Human Rights production If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선) is concerned with citizens on the fringes of Korean society; and Busan award winner Pascha (파스카)which tackles age-related relationship issues.

For more details, including the screening schedule, please visit the official SIFF 2013 website here.

Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The 5th DMZ Docs Film Festival

DMZ Docs: The 5th DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival

The 5th DMZ Docs Film Festival

The 5th DMZ Docs Film Festival

The 5th DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival – or DMZ Docs for short – is due to commence this Thursday the 17th of October and will run through to Wednesday the 23rd.

While the opening ceremony will take place at the DMZ as usual, the rest of the festival has been moved to Lotte Cinema in La Festa, next to Jeongbalsan Station, Ilsan.

DMZ Docs will feature 119 films from 38 countries during its run, all of which are divided within various programs bringing focus to social issues from around the world. There are three competition categories – International, Korean, and Youth – while the non-competition arena includes sections such as Global Vision, Docs For All! and Masters respectively.

Opening the 2013 installment of DMZ Docs will be Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신) by director Park Chan-kyong (박찬경), who has made quite a reputation for himself helming films such as Night Fishing (파란만장) and Day Trip (청출어람) alongside his brother Park Chan-wook.

For the official DMZ Docs festival trailer, as well as information on opening film Manshin, please see below.

Opening Film

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Director Park Chan-kyong explores the life of shaman Kim Geun-hwa in Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신). Ever since the end of the Korean War, Korean culture has had a tumultuous relationship with the past and the present. In order to develop and establish the country as an economic powerhouse,  traditions have often been swept aside in the ferocious adoption of capitalist ideology – shamanism included. Despite such oppression, shaman Kim has established herself as one of the country’s leading figures in the arena, earning the title of National Shaman. The film stars actresses Kim Sae-ron, Ryoo Hyoun-Kyoung, and Moon So-ri in the role of shaman Kim as the autobiographical story presents her complex and traumatic life.

For the full listing of all the programs and films due to take place at DMZ Docs, please visit the official website here.

Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Tensions build as Tae-sik and Won-joon clash in the bid for superiority

Top Star (톱스타) – ★★☆☆☆

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Actor-turned-director Park Joong-hoon (박중훈) has crafted a highly polished and glitzy directorial debut with Top Star (톱스타).

The heavyweight actor – who has hit films including Haeundae (해운대)Radio Star (라디오 스타) and Nowhere To Hide (인정사정 볼 것 없다) in his back catalogue – has clearly exercised his connections within the industry as Top Star features an assortment of high profile names from Korean cinema.

Unfortunately however, while there is enjoyment to be had in watching the beautiful faces, lavish lifestyles and celebrity scandals, there is precious little substance beneath the glamour. Director Park has clearly aimed his debut at a broad audience and in doing so he has produced a competent, though unremarkable, film about the nature of stardom.

Diligent manager Tae-sik helps superstar Won-joon at every turn

Diligent manager Tae-sik helps superstar Won-joon at every turn

Superstar Won-joon (Kim Min-joon (김민준) has it all – good looks, a career in film and television, an expensive lifestyle, and a beautiful girlfriend named Mi-na (So I-hyeon (소이현). Yet behind all the glitz and glamour, Won-joon is taken care of by an agency, particularly by diligent manager Tae-sik (Eom Tae-woong (엄태웅). Tae-sik’s adoration of Won-joon leads him to help cover up scandals and, in helping in one case of some magnitude, Tae-sik suffers great personal distress. Stunned by his selflessness, Won-joon grants Tae-sik a sizeable role in his latest television series and is happy to see his ambitions of becoming an actor finally materialize. Yet in discovering fame, Tae-sik begins to change, leading him into a rivalry with Won-joon.

One of the great benefits of having a veteran actor step behind the camera for Top Star is that the portrayal of the world of celebrity is convincing. The conversations and behind-the-glamour events clearly come from a person of experience, from discussions in limousines and public-relations meetings to relaxation at home portrayed with insight. Director Park does well in balancing the realms of stardom and downtime, conveying the former as merely attractive but shallow superficiality and working to build character in the latter. It generally works well, although the script routinely employs cliches and contrivances that have been utilised better before, as in 200 Pounds Beauty (미녀는 괴로워). Foregrounded, however, is the rivalry that develops between Tae-sik and Won-joon that occurs in both worlds, which is also where the more interesting events transpire.

Tensions build as Tae-sik and Won-joon clash in the bid for superiority

Tensions build as Tae-sik and Won-joon clash in the bid for superiority

The initial friendship between Tae-sik and Won-joon is articulated well, as the manager idolises his talent by helping to cover up scandals with no questions asked. Yet the story does become somewhat absurd as Tae-sik suffers a great personal burden in order to provide an alibi for one particular scandal, one that stretches believability almost too far. As Top Star is clearly marketed towards family audiences, director Park omits psychological exploration of Tae-sik’s adoration, yet while it is arguably ‘dark’ material it is depth that is sorely required as the film is so concerned with his unstable personality. Still, sequences in which Won-joon advises Tae-sik on the merits of acting are enjoyable and humourous as their camaraderie deepens on the set of their TV show. Yet just as the story begins to get interesting the film jumps years into the future, bypassing all the fascinating moments that have transpired to trouble their relationship and instead placing audiences in the distressed middle period.

As such Top Star loses all momentum, and the film is forced to reestablish itself once more by reintroducing characters and their new situations. It’s an event from which the story never fully recovers and as the film once more sets up events and attempts to take a belated darker tone, they lack the potency they would otherwise have contained. Additionally the (again belated) inclusion of melodrama amongst all the protagonists is horribly cliched and detracts from the viewing experience. One of the major benefits of Top Star‘s second half however is the greater screen time afforded to actress So I-hyeon as TV producer Mi-na. The role is wafer thin and one-dimensional with So I-hyeon very much required to be just a pretty face, although the actress stretches the material as much as she can and is quite charismatic. Yet undermining everything is the manner in which the story wraps up, as it is far too neat and with little – if any – ramifications despite all the wrongdoing. Top Star is great in representing the glitz and glamour of the movie business but, try as it might to explore the nature of celebrity, the film crucially lacks any depth to do so.

Tae-sik's longing for Mi-na and Won-joon's life in general clouds his judgement

Tae-sik’s longing for Mi-na and Won-joon’s life in general clouds his judgement

Top Star (톱스타) is a highly polished and glamourous directorial debut from veteran actor Park Joong-hoon (박중훈). The film attempts to explore the nature of celebrity as a talent manager turned actor desperately works to retain his fame, even creating a rivalry with his idol. As director Park aims Top Star squarely at family audiences however, he doesn’t delve into the psychology of his protagonists resulting in a film that is wonderfully glitzy, but lacking in any real depth.

★★☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – ★★★★☆

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

A slick and pulse-pounding thriller, Cold Eyes (감시자들) is a consistently engaging cat-and-mouse cop drama by co-directors Jo Eui-seok (조의석) and Kim Byeong-seo (김병서). Gaining an impressive 5.5+ million admissions during its run, Cold Eyes has remade the 2007 Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky in a distinctly Korean fashion, eschewing the hard boiled noir in favour of highly polished Seoul landscapes and state of the art technology.

The strengths of the film lie in the kinetic sequences and exhilarating pacing, as well as the performances by the lead actors who have been wonderfully cast-against-type. Cold Eyes is not without flaws however, largely involving fleshing out the supporting cast and a third act that isn’t quite sure how to resolve everything. Yet such issues are easy to overlook when a genre film such as this is so engaging and enjoyable, and is quite the thrill ride throughout.

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Rookie Yoon-joo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Trained in the skills of surveillance and endowed with an incredible photographic memory, rookie Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo (한효주) works hard to join an elite government agency under the watchful eyes of Chief Hwang (Seol Kyeong-gu (설경구). Yoon-joo’s arrival is timely, as a group of expert criminals have been stealing from notably high profile targets, constantly getting away without leaving a shred of evidence. Yet during their latest crime a small but significant clue has been discovered. Joining Chief Hwang’s unit, recruit Yoon-joo – now code-named ‘piglet’ – must put her skills to the test and follow the trail of breadcrumbs to the mastermind behind the operations, the cold and calculating ‘Shadow’ (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성).

Immediately upon opening, Cold Eyes establishes itself as a cool and slick thriller. The futuristic metallic surfaces of the subway and high rise commerce zone in Seoul are highly impressive as Yoon-joo follows her target, turning the capital into a character in itself. The sequence is also exemplary in the construction of Yoon-joo as a rookie surveillance operative, as she works hard to notice and remember every minute detail no matter how insignificant, yet still makes enough mistakes to be believable and sympathetic. Not content with such a compelling opening, directors Jo and Kim follow it up shortly after with an engaging bank heist by uber-criminal Shadow. Clearly the co-directors have been influenced by the Joker’s bank job in The Dark Knight, and while Cold Eyes never reaches those heights, it is still thoroughly entertaining. The manner in which the criminals orchestrate their robberies is also quite thrilling, as Shadow watches from the rooftops to ensure a clean getaway while his henchmen busy themselves with the mission at hand, allowing for a duel perspective on events as well as providing even more polished cinematography of the Seoul skyline.

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

Another great strength of the film is undoubtedly the A-list cast who have been brilliantly cast against type. This is acutely the case for Han Hyo-joo who has been consistently cast as the love interest in several mediocre melodramas. In Cold Eyes the actress shines as an intelligent, skilled, and powerful operative, and it is a genuine delight to see a woman occupying such a role in a Korean film. Han Hyo-joo’s famed attractiveness is refreshingly never focused upon throughout the film with attention instead bestowed on her prowess, and the actress clearly relishes the role. Meanwhile Sol Kyeong-gu also excels as disheveled mentor Chief Hwang. Sol initially portrays the team leader with a commanding stoicism and intellectual fortitude, yet as story progresses it is primarily due to him that comedy enters the film thanks to his eccentricities. Naming every member of his team rather unflattering animal code-names is genuinely funny – particularly when designating their rotund target ‘thirsty hippo’ – yet such unorthodox methods are also crucial as he carves and maneuvers animal chess pieces on missions. As the ruthless and manipulative ‘Shadow’, Jeong Woo-seong is great. Typically cast as a romantic lead and/or inherently ‘good’, Jeong is surprisingly adept at playing the role of a cold-hearted villain with a penchant for murdering with a fountain pen. While he has the least to do of the three performers, every scene he is in is constantly engrossing and it’s a tribute to the actor that more screen time is desired.

For much of the running time Cold Eyes is an incredibly engaging cat-and-mouse thriller, and the entertainment derived from both sides attempting to outsmart each other is consistently high. Yet there are moments, most notably in the final act, that somewhat undermine all the great character work with silly coincidences in the attempt to tie up the story neatly. This is quite a shame considering what came before. Cold Eyes also fall into the trap of having too many underdeveloped secondary characters, with the belated attempts to flesh them out falling short. That said, the speedy pace of the film combined with the compelling story means that such concerns are never dwelt upon for long, with the open ended nature of the finale guaranteed to raise a smile.

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Verdict:

Cold Eyes is a slick and riveting thriller from co-directors Jo Eui-seok and Kim Byeong-seo. A remake of hard boiled Hong Kong noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a quite different film due to the focus on a seemingly futuristic Seoul and state of the art technology. The A-list cast, who have all been superbly cast against type, excel in their roles, particularly Han Hyo-joo as a highly intelligent and skilled rookie operative. With a highly engaging story and rapid pacing the film is consistently entertaining and, while some silly coincidences and over-abundance of secondary characters detract somewhat, Cold Eyes is a wonderfully compelling cat-and-mouse thrill-ride.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews