The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

PiFan 2013: Puchon Choice

The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

With the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival gearing up for it’s 17th installment, a large variety of films have been selected to showcase the diverse genre filmmaking talent across the globe.

There are some wonderfully titled categories throughout the program that emphasise the dedication to popular cinema, and within each are an eclectic selection of Korean films that highlight the many and varied productions emerging from the country.

This article will explore the films within the ‘Puchon Choice’ category, which contains one current and highly popular feature film from director Jang Cheol-su, and several noteworthy shorts that explore a host of topics through genre frameworks.

Puchon Choice

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Director: Jang Cheol-soo (장철수)

Synopsis: Based on the popular webcomic and still enjoying a healthy run at the box office, director Jang’s Secretly, Greatly has broken several records – biggest opening day (497,560), most admissions in one day (919,035) and the fastest film to cross the one million mark (36 hours) (Source: Kobiz). The success has largely been attributed to the three heartthrob actors within the film, notably Kim Soo-hyun whose star power has increased dramatically. This will be the first showing of the film with English subtitles in Korea, so fans will be quick to get tickets.  Please see below for the trailer.

Buchon Choice: Short 1

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Director: Lee Sang-il (이상일)

Synopsis: There is precious little information about director Lee’s 3 minute short fiction film, but judging from the stills it appears to be an abduction horror/thriller set in an apartment.

Two Boys and a Sheep (소년과 양)

Two Boys and a Sheep (소년과 양)

Two Boys and a Sheep (소년과 양)

Director: Lee Hyeong-seok (이형석)

Synopsis: This 18 minute fiction gets its international premiere at PiFan 2013, and features several protagonists quarreling over the titular sheep. Looks to be one of the more quirky offerings from the festival.

When the Moon is on the Wane (달이 기울면)

When the Moon is on the Wane (달이 기울면)

When the Moon is on the Wane (달이 기울면)

Director: Jeong So-yeong (정소영)

Synopsis: In a village full of tilting houses only one woman – Jae-ah – stays behind to wait for her brother. An intriguing premise that hints at exploring the notion of community and family, as well as history and memory and how they erode over time.

Buchon Choice: Short 2

Dirty Harry (더티혜리)

Dirty Harry (더티혜리)

Dirty Harry (더티혜리)

Director: Lee Yo-seob (이요섭)

Synopsis: Director Lee’s 28 minute short explores teenage pregnancy. When Harry discovers her best friend Crush is pregnant, she tracks down the father – a delivery boy from a local Chinese restaurant.

The Rumblings (밀청)

The Rumblings (밀청)

The Rumblings (밀청)

Director: Choi Ju-young (최주용)

Synopsis: Mi-yeon lives a monotonous life ever since her husband passed away, and one day begins to listen in her neighbor’s conversations. But what started as fun suddenly turns serious.

A Stranger Dream (이몽)

A Stranger Dream (이몽)

A Stranger Dream (이몽)

Director: Tak Sae-woong (탁세웅)

Synopsis: Horror/thriller A Stranger Dream depicts a young woman who witnesses the murder of a man living in a luxurious mansion – in her dreams. They are so vivid, and continually recur, that the woman then decides to seek out the man and warn him.

Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제17회 부천국제판타스틱영화제)
Bin is traumatized by the loss of his parents

Ghastly (기생령) – ★☆☆☆☆

Ghastly (기생령)

Ghastly (기생령)

It’s a sad trait that in order for one lifestyle to become dominant, the previous one must be demonised. This is acutely the case with religion, as the new philosophy supplants older belief systems by aligning it with barbarism, superstition and the occult in order to acquire more followers. This material is explicitly expressed within horror films, including the incredible The Wicker Man (1973) which demonises paganism, while Poltergeist (1982) conveys the horrors of spiritualism, and even The Exorcist (1973) has its origins in middle eastern practices that must be ‘cured’ by Catholicism.

With Ghastly (기생령) the apparent origin of ‘evil’ is aligned with Korean Shamanism and the practices therein. Yet rather than explore the theology/practices and the tense conflict it creates within the family unit, Ghastly opts for shallow and superficial horror, and is a prime example of how not to construct a horror film featuring lazy filmmaking and a substandard narrative.

Ghastly begins with a gruesome opening scene depicting a married couple cutting off their feet and committing suicide in front of their young son Bin (Lee Hyeong-seok (이형석). With no-one to care for him, Bin’s uncle Jang-hwan (Park Seong-min (박성민) and his wife Sunny (Han Eun-jeong (한은정) are given custody, and move into Bin’s house due to financial difficulty. They are joined by Sunny’s younger sister Yoo-rin (Hyomin (효민), a high schooler who becomes increasingly jealous with the attention bestowed upon Bin. As time passes Sunny finds a Shamanist shrine in the garden shed, and Bin’s behaviour becomes increasingly violent, leading to a showdown to uncover the truth of what happened the fateful night of the Bin’s parent died.

Sunny feels uneasy in the new house

Sunny feels uneasy in the new house

Ghastly opens promisingly enough with a horrific scene of self-mutilation and torture and setting up mystery within the narrative. However the film quickly descends following this, with a by-the-numbers narrative rife with cliches and plot holes by Kim Yoo-ra (김유라), and bland and uninspired direction from Ko Seok-jin (고석진). One of the key elements in any horror film is that the threat of violence/horror must be ‘real’ and impact the protagonist(s) in some manner. Yet aside from the opening and closing scenes, the vast majority of horrific scenes take place within Sunny and Yoo-rin’s minds as nightmares. This completely undermines any tension and suspense generated, although the incorporation of bland generic devices does little to install terror initially anyway. Bin’s grandmother (Baek Soo-ryeon, 백수련) is also portrayed as a source of horror with a truly unenlightened representation, conveying her as a mentally ill and a mindlessly chanting shaman. This extends to the blatant misogyny within the film as only the women are ‘punished’ by receiving nightmares. In regards to Yoo-rin (played by K-pop idol Hyomin), the camera continually fetishises her with tracking shots across her body and the perverse gaze of her step-brother, who later slaps her in the face for verbalizing her displeasure at his glances. Her death is also the most horrific as she is virtually boiled alive (after a shower scene featuring several close-ups on her body) in the bathroom, seemingly ‘punishing’ her merely for being attractive.

Yoo-rin is constantly fetishised

Yoo-rin is constantly fetishised

Director Ko Seok-jin (고석진) is generally competent in conveying scenes of horror and drama, but does little to create suspense that lead to such confrontations. The use of close-ups on severed limbs, and the manner in which they are removed, is effectively filmed and the best example of horror within the film. Yet the protagonists are less than compelling due to their lack of character development. By far the most interesting is Sunny, who is portrayed as kind, thoughtful and only person who appears interested in solving the mystery of the murders. However there is very little mystery to be solved as it lacks depth and the clues are not sufficient enough to add intrigue. The only real major clue to be uncovered is the shaman shrine, yet the finale is predictable far before this event. The finale unfortunately also succumbs to generic conventions in that once the true source of horror is revealed, a flashback is inaugurated to reveal events prior but does little to enhance the narrative.

Bin is traumatized by the loss of his parents

Bin is traumatized by the loss of his parents

Verdict:

Aside from the opening scene and scant few additional sequences of horror, Ghastly is an uninspired and generic example of basic horror filmmaking.  The severe lack of character depth, and the absence of any substantial tangible threat due to its confinement within nightmares, vastly reduces the effectiveness of the danger that actually takes place. The level of misogyny is also appalling as the female protagonists are the cause of events, fetishised and beaten. There are far superior Korean horror films available.

★☆☆☆☆

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