Jan 2016 – K-Film Preview

January 7th

Don't Forget Me (나를 잊지 말아요)

Remember You (나를 잊지 말아요)

Remember You (나를 잊지 말아요)

Director: Lee Yoon-jung

Cast: Jeong Woo-sung, Kim Ha-neul

Distributor: CJ Entertainment

Synopsis: When Seok-won loses the past 10 years of his memory due to an accident, he struggles to piece together his existence and discover the life he once had. However upon meeting Jin-young his memories start to return as love blossoms between them.

The Lowdown: Director Lee Yoon-jung developed Remember You from her celebrated short film Remember O Goddess, initially turning to kickstarter to generate funding before superstar Jeong Woo-sung – whom became friends with director Lee while she worked as a script supervisor on The Good, The Bad, The Weird – came on board as both producer and actor. After around two years of production, Remember You is finally being released alongside a significant advertising campaign from distributors CJ.

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Director: Oh In-chun

Cast: Kim Seung-woo, Kim Jeong-tae

Distributor: OPUS Pictures

Synopsis: When two friends – one a CEO and the other a police officer – have their phone and gun taken by a group of high school delinquents, they must work together to track down the thieves and recover their stolen goods.

The lowdown: Action-comedy Catch Him to Survive seems quite a departure for director Oh In-chun, who previously impressed with horror-drama Mourning Grave. Judging from the trailer (see below) the film looks set to be a madcap caper with promising chemistry from veteran leads Kim Seung-woo and Kim Jeong-tae (who, ironically, was originally cast in Remember You [see above] before leaving the project due to scheduling conflicts). Catch Him to Survive also marks the big screen debut for four young actors, including Hyuk from Kpop band VIXX.

January 14th

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Director: Jo Kyu-jang

Cast: Moon Chae-won, Yoo Yeon-seok

Distributor: Showbox

Synopsis: While on a business trip to Busan, Soo-jung meets lothario Jae-hyun and is instantly repulsed by his suggestion of spending the night together. However when the journey doesn’t go according to plan they are forced to travel together, and the duo find themselves becoming close.

The lowdown: Mood of the Day is another romantic outing for stars Moon Chae-won and Yoo Yeon-seok, who dabbled with the genre in last year’s Love Forecast and Beauty Inside, respectively. Their collaboration appears to be quite a comical take on modern relationships, and it will be interesting to see if director Jo Kyu-jang can avoid the cliches and offer something fresh for audiences.

January

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Director: Lee Ho-jae

Cast: Lee Sung-min, Lee Hee-joon, Lee Honey, Chae Soo-bin

Distributor: Lotte Entertainment

Synopsis: Tragically, Hae-gwan lost his daughter 10 years ago although he refuses to give up on finding the youngster again. Unbeknownst to the distraught father is that an AI satellite with voice-recognition capabilities is circling the globe, and upon crash landing in Korea, helps Hae-gwan to be reunited with his daughter.

The lowdown: With a narrative that is particularly reminiscent of animated tale Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Robot Sori looks set to be a heart-warming family sci-fi drama. Lee Sung-min has starred in a staggering number of films and TV drama series since his debut, though his star power increased dramatically following his turn in hit TV show Missing, resulting in his lead role in Robot Sori.

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

Director: Lee Han

Cast: Siwan, Ko Ah-sung

Distributor: Next World Entertainment

Synopsis: As war ravages Korea during the early 1950s, Second Lieutenant Han Sang-Yeol discovers a village while leading his platoon. Moved by the children of the village who have lost everything, Sang-yeol vows to protect them.

The lowdown: Director Lee Han is back in cinemas after helming impressive family dramas Punch and Thread of Lies, though this outing sees the filmmaker tackling war as a major component. Featuring Siwan, whose star power is steadily rising following roles in The Attorney and TV drama Misaeng, A Melody to Remember – or more literally translated as Thinking of my Older Brother – looks to be a war-era tear-jerker.

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Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말) – ★★★★☆

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Life is good for single mother Hyeon-sook (Kim Hee-ae (김희애) and her two teenage daughters Man-ji (Ko Ah-seong (고아성) and Cheon-ji (Kim Hyang-ki (김향기). Despite the financial hardships of living in a single parent household, the three are like any other typical family. That is, until the day Cheon-ji commits suicide. Devastated by the loss, Hyeon-sook and Man-ji move to a new home and attempt to start afresh. Yet as Man-ji begins to think more and more about her younger sister’s death, as well as the lack of a suicide note, she becomes driven to find the cause behind Cheon-ji’s suffering. As she  questions those close to Cheon-ji, including best friends Hwa-yeon (Kim Yoo-jeong (김유정) and Mi-ran (Yoo Yeon-mi (유연미), Man-ji starts to unravel the elegant lies involved and begins to understand that she may not have known her younger sister as well as she previously thought.

The family are devastated from Cheon-ji (center) commits suicide

The family are devastated from Cheon-ji (center) commits suicide

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말) – or directly translated as ‘Elegant Lies’ – is a powerfully compelling and tender family drama by director Lee Han (이한) and screenwriter Lee Sook-yeon (이숙연). It is a well-documented fact that the suicide rate in Korea is the highest amongst the countries in the OECD – and in particular it’s the leading cause of death amid the younger generations – yet while several films have explored the issue from the perspective of those suffering from depression, Thread of Lies approaches the topic quite differently. By exploring the situation from the view of a family struggling to come to terms with loss, the film effectively captures not only the trauma and guilt generated by losing a loved one to suicide but notably how it’s possible to live with someone and not truly know who they are. Director Lee beautifully conveys the complexity of emotions and relationships in the aftermath of loss with acute sincerity, while also subtly intertwining a critique on the notion of pretense in Korean society. Falsity is presented through a heartbreaking scene in which Cheon-ji arrives late to a birthday party and is bullied on kakao messenger service, within her view and by people claiming to be her friends, and is superbly contrasted with a scene depicting her mother being forced to practice customer service and etiquette at a supermarket. Thread of Lies examines the various ways in which people in contemporary Korea are forced to subsume their true emotions for socially acceptable ones, yet director Lee also superbly manages to balance such weighty material with tasteful light-hearted comedy, infusing the story with positivity and hope as well as tender poignancy .

Cheon-ji is bullied by her entire class, yet keeps her suffering to herself

Outcast Cheon-ji is bullied by her entire class, yet keeps her suffering to herself

Thread of Lies is in many ways an examination of guilt, and the lies told in order to assuage it. Older sister Man-ji is cool to the point of arrogant, yet in her quest to discover Cheon-ji’s motivations she uncovers a web of depression, pain, and half-truths that fundamentally change her, and as such her development into a more mature and aware young woman is a deeply affecting journey. The conversations Man-ji has with Cheon-ji’s classmates Hwa-yeon and Mi-ran are incredibly illuminating, as the young girls reveal a history of bullying and psychological abuse yet desperately remove any notion of their role in the lead up to the suicide. Their interactions are brilliantly contrasted with the truth via flashback scenes depicting the events as they occurred, revealing the full impact of wrongdoing on the young and sensitive Cheon-ji. Director Lee effectively employs such moments to reveal that blame lies not with one singular person, but with a large number of people who are all culpable in the build-up to suicide as they thoughtlessly mistreat those around them. As such, Thread of Lies is a socially-conscious, poignant and sincere examination of a timely issue, and is an exemplary piece of filmmaking.

Man-ji and her mother learn to cope with the loss after discovering the truth

Man-ji and her mother learn to cope with the loss after discovering the truth

Verdict:

Thread of Lies is a powerful and compelling family drama that deals with the aftermath of suicide. Director Lee Han captures the complex emotional and relationship issues within Lee Sook-yeon’s script with sincerity and tenderness, as Man-ji attempts to understand her younger sister’s death. Featuring an exemplary examination of the guilt and lies associated with suicide, and cultural existence of pretense within contemporary Korean society, Thread of Lies is a fascinating and empowering exploration of a timely issue.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Wan-deuk is encouraged to take up kickboxing

Punch (완득이) – ★★★☆☆

Punch (완득이)

Punch (완득이)

The representation of those outside of ‘mainstream’ culture is often problematic within cinema. While their daily struggles against prejudice and other such conflicts are incredibly compelling, it is easy for protagonists to fall into the ‘pitiable’ category and thus undermine their accomplishments.

Punch (완득이) deftly sidesteps such narrative pitfalls with a wonderfully moving and charming story about those on the fringes of society, one that never patronizes those within and instead focuses on the three-dimensional features and ironies of their lives. In a culture – and national cinema – where physical appearance and financial stability are highly regarded, Punch is a refreshing and comical perspective on oft-ignored contemporary issues.

Wan-deuk (Yoo Ah-in (유아인) lives a troubled existence, failing at school and perpetually involved in fights. His father (Park Soo-young (박수영), a hunchback, is ridiculed for his appearance yet supports them as a dancer and entertainer with mentally ill ‘uncle’ Min-goo (Kim Yeong-jae (김영재). Yet the real bane of Wan-deuk’s life is his teacher Dong-joo (Kim Yoon-seok (김윤석), who takes an active interest in the young man and encourages him to stretch and develop in ways unwanted. But when Wan-deuk’s estranged Filipino mother (Jasmine Lee (이쟈스민) arrives requesting time together, the young man is forced to mature and understand the complexities of those closest to him.

Wan-deuk and his family live a meagre existence

Wan-deuk and his family live a meagre existence

Punch – an odd title considering the original is the lead protagonist’s name – succinctly and organically explores an array of societal issues without foregrounding any one in particular, nor ramming any ideological message into the audience. Instead, Punch eloquently depicts the story of a young man at the head of a makeshift and dysfunctional family, suffering from the idiosyncrasies of life on the poverty line with charismatic sincerity. Kim Dong-woo (김동우) has crafted a wonderfully character-driven script that makes it virtually impossible not to empathize with Wan-deuk and his coming-of-age story, which director Lee Han (이한) competently brings to life.

What makes Punch such an interesting and unique offering are the variety of characters within and the ways in which they strive to turn what mainstream society considers to be weaknesses into strengths. Wan-deuk is an incredibly conflicted young man; as a young boy he idolized his hunchback father for his dancing ability alongside his mentally ill ‘uncle’, tragically ignorant to the reality of the entertainment being provided. Without a mother figure in his life, Wan-deuk, his hero-turned-ridiculed father and his kind ‘uncle’ form a makeshift family, relying on the charity of others to live. Wan-deuk’s inner turmoil is wonderfully conveyed through his apathetic stance towards life, simultaneously a class clown and violently entering in fights even when outnumbered, making him likable and engaging. Wan-deuk’s teacher, Dong-joo, is a highly charismatic character with his own conflicts yet strives to find and encourage the potential within everyone around him, an unsung hero in a deprived community. Yet the characters only truly align with the introduction of Wan-deuk’s estranged mother, shocking him with her Filipino nationality and desire to reconnect. The cultural problem of importing wives from developing Asian countries has been slowly encroaching Korean national cinema for the past few years, yet none are as three-dimensional, nor approach the situation from the perspective of the women themselves, as within Punch. The focus on such disparate characters, and the humanity they exhibit and discover as they come together, is undoubtedly what makes the film is so entertaining and life-affirming.

Teacher Dong-joo seemingly enjoys making Wan-deuk's life more difficult

Teacher Dong-joo seemingly enjoys making Wan-deuk’s life more difficult

Yoo Ah-in gives a restrained performance as Wan-deuk, making the character likable with his irregular combination of dumb-struck apathy and belligerence. In lesser hands the role could have disintegrated into melodrama or portray his frustrations as disdainful, yet Yoo Ah-in balances the characterization well.

Yet by far the most engaging, comedic, and heart-warming protagonist is that of teacher Dong-joo, played by Kim Yoon-seok. The actor is wonderful in portraying the modest educator, doing so with sincerity, conviction, and with a great sense of comedic timing. His unorthodox style of teaching and encouraging students is humorous as well as unconventional, prompting his students to expand when others have given up. As such, Kim Yoon-seok forges his role into the soul of the film, with each layer of information revealed making him increasingly more charismatic and interesting.

If Dong-joo is the heart of the film then Wan-deuk’s mother, performed by Jasmine Lee, is the heart. Her introduction within the narrative is the catalyst for the disparate characters to bond together, and Jasmine Lee is excellent in conveying the sincerity of a mother wishing to reconnect with the son she abandoned. The actress performs the role with sincerity and integrity, forging sympathy with audiences yet never descends into pity, and her modesty and plight acutely reflects the difficulties faced by imported wives.

Wan-deuk is encouraged to take up kickboxing

Wan-deuk is encouraged to take up kickboxing

Verdict:

Punch is a charming and heart-warming film about those on outside of ‘mainstream’ society and culture, made compelling by the wonderful characterization within. While the film may not push boundaries, the character-driven script features such an array of protagonists, issues and comedic idiosyncrasies that Punch becomes unique in its alternative perspective on a familial drama, and is highly entertaining.

★★★☆☆

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