Miss The Train (미성년)

Miss The Train (미성년) – ★★☆☆☆

Miss The Train (미성년)

Miss The Train (미성년)

So-jin (Park Joo-hee (박주희) lives a relatively humble life in the countryside with her mother, a shaman. When her mother dies, instead of embracing the role of the local shaman So-jin decides to leave everything behind and start afresh in Seoul. Yet she is stopped by a man whose son has gone missing, and demands her help in locating the youngster. Worse still, So-jin’s mother had promised the man that she knows the whereabouts of his son and would help, and becomes angry when she states otherwise. Desperate the flee the violent people of the village and catch the train, So-jin slowly begins to understand that destiny isn’t always of her choosing.

Miss the Train (미성년) is a highly atmospheric offering from director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭). The drama is a slow-burning and occasionally poetic film due to the muted colour palette, which works well in conjunction with the cinematography to capture the sense of hopelessness in a dilapidated rural village. Miss the Train is quite a departure from director Lee’s previous short Mr. Vertigodisplaying a genuine stylistic and aesthetic evolution.

Problems arise however through the extremely muddled and oft-confusing story. Director Lee and screenwriter Kim Ja-ryung have attempted to craft an intriguing and mysterious coming-of-age tale, yet they continually seem to get caught up within their own narrative and as such events become increasingly more puzzling and often don’t make a lot of sense.

So-jin meets mysterious strangers on her quest to escape the village

So-jin meets mysterious strangers on her quest to escape the village

Miss The Train features not only multiple characters but realms as well, with the crossover between them a continual source of confusion. The intent is clearly to build layers of mystery and arouse curiosity, but the narratives devices employed to do so fail to generate suspense and are generally trite. Furthermore the plot is so full of holes that they tend to draw audiences out of the film, while the central story is fundamentally quite silly. The narrative certainly has potential, however it becomes clear rather quickly that the ideas within require further development.

Actress Park Joo-hee gives a competent performance throughout Miss The Train and tries her best to hold the film together, however her role is generally to draw audience focus during the mystery and as such she isn’t particularly stretched. She does well in conveying a mixture of strength and vulnerability, as well as building empathy, yet is often quite limited by the story itself. It will be interesting to see how Park Joo-hee fares in a more demanding role, as she displays potential throughout Miss The Train that is never fully explored.

So-jin contemplates her destiny

So-jin contemplates her destiny

Miss the Train (미성년) is an atmospheric indie drama by director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭), who displays a genuine evolution in style from his previous work through his melancholy cinematography. Yet even so, the muddled and puzzling story is a continual source of frustration as the attempt to generate mystery and intrigue becomes lost within itself. Actress Park Joo-hee competently holds the film together, but even she cannot compensate for the various plot holes and contrivances that occur.

★★☆☆☆

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

JIFF 2014: Korean Competition

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival

The Korean Competition at the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) always contains a selection of rare gems of independent cinema.

Last year the big winner of the competition was December which was honoured with the Grand Prize, while Dear Dolphin and Lebanon Emotion won the CGV Movie Collage Awards, respectively. The Audience Critics Prize went to documentary My Place. Interestingly, out of all of the winning films the most successful were Lebanon Emotion – which earned Jung Young-heon the Best Director prize at the Moscow International Film Festival as well as appearing in Vancouver and London – and My Place, which has earned several domestic accolades including the Jury Prize at the Seoul International Film Festival and was invited to the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.

At JIFF 2014 there are eleven films vying for the coveted Grand Prize. Among the eight features and three documentaries are nine world premieres, which is certainly an impressive lineup. Below is the Korean Competition trailer which features highlights from all the entrants, before more detailed profiles of each film in the program.

Korean Competition

A Dream of Iron (철의 꿈)

Director Park (Kelvin) Kyung Kun (박경근)

A Dream of Iron

A Dream of Iron

A Dream of Iron

A Dream of Iron

Documentary A Dream of Iron arrives as the most celebrated film in the category following a premiere at Berlinale and being awarded the NETPAC prize (alongside Non-Fiction Diary). Unable to understand his partner’s decision to become a Buddhist monk, director Park begins searching for something tangible and awe-inspiring, leading him to Korea’s POSCO steelworks. Contrasting differing ideas of religion and majesty, A Dream of Iron contains stunning cinematography of the country’s struggle with modernity.

A Fresh Start (새출발)

Director Jang Woo-jin (장우진)

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start marks director Jang Woo-jin’s  feature debut. The film depicts youngsters Ji-yeon and Hye-rin, two lonely individuals who meet regularly at a literature club. When their relationship unexpectedly turns sexual, everything is fine…until Hye-rin discovers that she is pregnant. With both of them already suffering from family-related problems, school issues and the all-too-common depression that afflicts Korean youth, Hye-rin and Ji-yeon struggle with what they should do in such a difficult situation. Furthermore their unsure feelings towards each other are forced into the spotlight as they struggle to find a solution.

Highway Stars (악사들)

Director Kim Ji-gon (김지곤)

Highway Stars

Highway Stars

Highway Stars

Highway Stars

Highway Stars is another documentary entry in the competition, following the life and times of Band Udambara. The ensemble are a fascinating group consisting of former nightclub performers and a Buddhist monk, and the film explores how they make a living by taking night gigs. Nightclubs, it should be noted, are different from clubs in Korea as they are extremely male orientated and often are fronts for illegal activity. Director Kim Ji-gon, whose documentary Grandma Cement-Garden appeared at JIFF last year, returns to explore more individuals forced to the margins of society.

Miss the Train (미성년)

Director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭)

Miss the Train

Miss the Train

Miss the Train

Miss the Train

Director Lee Kyung-sub has previously helmed a number of short films including last year’s JIFF Cinemascape entry Mr. Vertigo, starring Oh Dal-su. With Miss the Train director Lee upgrades to feature length in depicting the story of So-jin, who grieves the death of her mother, a former shaman. When a strange man forces So-jin to help him find his missing child as he believes she is part of a prophecy, she desperately seeks an escape from the pressures in her life. Yet when she runs away to lie low in a warehouse, she encounters another odd man, and her grasp on reality becomes evermore tenuous as spirits seem to appear before her.

Monkeys (몽키즈)

Director Jung Byeong-sik (정병식)

Monkeys

Monkeys

Monkeys

Monkeys

Monkeys is Jung Byeong-sik’s directorial debut, after working on other films including 2012’s A Confession of Murder and Action Boys in 2006. Monkeys revolves around Gong-hyeok, a man who once had future ambitions of becoming renowned in the music and film industry. Yet now in his late twenties and in dire need to support his family, Gong-hyeok is still no closer to achieving his dreams. Yet when he reconnects with an old friend who has just debuted as a film director, Gong-hyeok cannot help himself and old quarrels suddenly start to reappear and drive a wedge between them. The film is in both colour and black and white.

One For All, All For One (60만번의 트라이)

Director s Park Sa-yu (박사유), Park Don-sa (박돈사)

One For All, All For One

One For All, All For One

One For All, All For One

One For All, All For One

Issues of discrimination are of paramount concern in rugby drama One For All, All For One. The sporting film depicts a Korean rugby team in Osaka who are very successful despite encountering prejudice from society at large. However their indomitable spirits and strong sense of camaraderie help them to overcome any discrimination that comes their way. Sporting dramas are often quite successful in Korea especially as they typically involve national pride, particularly when the opponents are Japanese. Director Park Don-sa is a third generation Korean living in Osaka, while director Park Sa-yu has focused on discrimination against Koreans in Japan in her previous work.

Pohang Harbor (포항)

Director Mo Hyun-shin (모현신)

Pohang Harbor

Pohang Harbor

Pohang Harbor

Pohang Harbor

Drama Pochang Harbor explores the notions of life and death, in conjunction with human development and behaviour, in what looks set to be the most experimental offering in the category. When his father mysteriously goes missing, a man returns to his hometown in order to find him. Yet the man also has alternative reasons for coming home. Following years of working dead-end labour jobs and not settling any roots, the man is searching for something more than the life he has forged. In her feature debut director Mo Hyun-shin employs a host of long shots and keen cinematography to examine the human condition.

Sookhee (숙희)

Director Yang Ji-eun (양지은)

Sookhee

Sookhee

Sookhee

Sookhee

Sookhee tells the story of a conservative, workaholic philosophy professor named Yoon. Unable to take the stress any longer Yoon suffers a stroke and, as his wife is unable to cope, a free-spirited caregiver named Sookhee nurses him to health. Yet her treatments are far from orthodox as she employs a mixture of kindness, fear, and sexual excitement to force Yoon on the road to recovery. Furthermore, the maternal instincts she employs enact a dramatic reversal of traditional gender roles, provoking extreme reactions from the once uptight philosophy professor. Sookhee is director Yang Ji-eun’s first feature film and due to the exploration of sexual issues is described as a ‘daring debut.’

The Wicked (마녀)

Director Yoo Young-seon (유영선)

The Wicked

The Wicked

The Wicked

The Wicked

The competition would be lacking without a new thriller, and luckily director Yoo Young-soon’s debut The Wicked fulfills the criteria. When Se-yeong begins working at a company, her senior I-seon quickly becomes concerned. Se-yeong’s threatening behaviour, as well as her fascination for sharp objects ranging from scissors to small knives, frightens I-seon…particularly as she learns more about her new colleagues unsavory past. Could Se-yeong truly be as wicked as she seems?

The Youth (레디 액션 청춘)

Directors Kim Jin-moo (김진무), Park Ga-hee (박가희), Ju Seong-su (주성수), Jung Won-sik (정원식)

The Youth - Wonderwall

The Youth – Wonderwall

The Youth - Play Girl

The Youth – Play Girl

The Youth is an omnibus of four short stories, each one exploring the lives of Korean youths. The segments are entitled The Rumor, Wonderwall, Enemies All Around, and Playgirl. Within each short film the directors examine the worlds of Korean youngsters as they struggle to discover their identities as well as retain their innocence and hope, even when facing external issues including violence and peer pressure. Director Kim Jin-moo is a hot property after the release of Apostle, a film based on North Korean human rights issues. The film was even selected for overseas screenings at the UN. Furthermore directors Park Ga-hee and Jung Won-sik all have a history in helming shorts, while Ju Seong-su has previously worked in the production departments of several features.

You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어)

Director Lee Won-hoi (이원회)

You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire

Quirky romantic-comedy-drama You Are My Vampire seeks to capitalise on supernatural relationships that are so popular in contemporary culture. Director Lee Won-hoi employs a playful and energetic style in depicting the story of struggling screenwriter Gyu-jeong, who encounters a mysterious black-clad figure who bears an uncanny resemble to a vampire…or he could just be the strangest man she’s ever met. The film features an eclectic supporting cast who, to Gyu-jeong’s dismay, also begin behaving strangely after the arrival of the pale-skinned man.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014
Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

JIFF 2013: Quick Fire Reviews 2

Quick fire reviews from the 14th Jeonju International Film Festival.

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정) – 8/10

Lebanon Emotion is without a doubt one of the best films at the festival, and certainly a strong contender for best film in the Korean Film Competition category. Director Jung Young-heon (정영헌) has cemented his position as a film-making talent to watch, following his best director win for short film Hard Boiled Jesus at JIFF 2012. In Lebanon Emotion the director explores a great variety of themes throughout the drama/thriller narrative including suicide, guilt, survival, and purpose, against the backdrop of winter in the countryside. Director Jung’s prior history with cinematography is clearly apparent as the landscapes and settings are very attractive throughout. Yet what makes the film so powerful is the characterisation, and the wonderful performances given by the central cast who are continually poignant and compelling. Recommended viewing.

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술) – 5/10

Mr. Vertigo promised to be one of the more quirky offerings at the festival, yet only partially succeeds. This is wholly due to actor Oh Dal-su who performs the role of a roguish ‘air-walking’ master who takes on a new student. Oh Dal-su has played plenty of similar characters in the past and while he tries to squeeze as much out of the master as he can, there isn’t really enough material for him to do so. The main protagonist is actually his disciple, a frustrated bookish young man who seeks something new and fulfilling. Again however, director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭) doesn’t provide much information or fully convey his anxieties, resulting in a lack of engagement. A mildly entertaining film that doesn’t capitalize on its premise.

Timing (타이밍)

Timing (타이밍)

 Timing (타이밍) – 5/10

As the title implies, Timing features some of the ironic features of life that tend to occur at the most inconvenient of moments. The narrative conveys the frustrations of a career woman recently diagnosed with cancer, and the events that transpire as a result. She explodes at her boss in a business meeting; an ex-lover appears out of concern; financial and health issues, and so forth. The film becomes quite episodic due to this approach, and as such it’s difficult to really align with the protagonist and feel the anguish she endures. The character is also not particularly likable due to her initial selfishness. However director Kim Ji-Yeon (김지연) manages to cram an awful lot of material into the 21 minute running and is quite insightful at times, although she could have benefitted much more by making it a feature.

The Woman (그 여자)

The Woman (그 여자)

The Woman (그 여자) – 5/10

With the transsexual experience vastly underrepresented in Korean cinema, The Woman had the potential to shine a light on important issues yet only partially succeeds. The narrative follows Yoon-hee as she goes about her daily life, until her older brother pays a visit to inform her of their mother’s illness. Unfortunately director Jo Mee-hye (조미혜) takes nearly all the running time just to get to this point, generally meandering as Yoon-hee delivers milk on her rounds. There is a wealth of material within the film that is just never explored – Yoon-hee’s status as an outsider, her obviously fraught relationship with her husband, the extremely strained familial history – and as such only scrapes the surface of the potential on offer. The Woman is an interesting yet superficial film, and a missed opportunity.

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Echo of Dragon (용문) – 3/10

Fans of experimental and art house cinema will find much to love with director Lee Hyun-jung’s (이현정) Echo of Dragon, due to the highly symbolic features that run rampant throughout. For everyone else, the film is pretentious, self-indulgent and utterly absurd. The film does feature moments of beautiful cinematography although they are often sporadic, while narrative elements are started and dropped without any warning. Ironically it is a different director, Lee Sang-woo, who steals the show in his performance as a possibly mentally unhinged drifter. He provides much-needed levity and focus to the film, and is genuinely funny yet also hints at a greater depth that goes unexplored. The film is highly symbolic, but also frustratingly bizarre.

Garibong (가리봉)

Garibong (가리봉)

Garibong (가리봉) – 5/10

Director Park Ki-yong (박기용) has produced a documentary in the very literal sense of the word with Garibong, as he ‘documents’ areas within the titular district in which Chinese immigrants reside. The cinematography is superb, capturing the sense of dislocation of the area from the surrounding Seoul districts and the squalid, dilapidated buildings convey palpable depression. Often, he film evokes scenes from sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Yet despite the attractive visual prowess, the film is quite dull as there are no people or stories to follow, and therefore no opportunity to become fully engaged within the world of Garibong. The static camera is both a blessing and a curse, as while it captures the alleys and lifestyle there is always a distance between it and the residents. Ultimately the documentary is visually attractive, but lacking compulsion.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013: Korea Cinemascape

JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013

As part of the build up towards the 2013 installment of the Jeonju International Film Festival, last time here at Hanguk Yeonghwa the ten selected independent films that form the ‘Korean Films in Competition’ were profiled. What they highlight is that JIFF is still continuing to seek out new and fresh film-making talent as the directors are all relatively unknown, raising the possibility for ‘discovering’ quality productions and act as a potential springboard for future festival runs.

Yet JIFF 2013 is also featuring some of the more commercial films to emerge from Korea under the banner of ‘Korea Cinemascape’. In keeping with the festival tradition the themes are quite broad in scope allowing for a range of diverse projects to appear, from star-studded gangster and action epics through to more low-key dramatic pieces. Here are the films announced as part of the ‘Korea Cinemascape’.

Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible (연소, 석방, 폭발, 대적할 이가 없는)

Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible (연소, 석방, 폭발, 대적할 이가 없는)

Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible (연소, 석방, 폭발, 대적할 이가 없는)

Director: Kim Su-hyun  (김수현)

Synopsis: A title that’s almost a story in itself, Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible charts the life of actor Kim Sang-hyun and the unfolding drama. Described as ‘bohemian and arty’, the 53 minute drama sounds like an interesting exploration of the acting world.

Fist of Legend (전설의 주먹)

Fists of Legend (전설의 주먹)

Fists of Legend (전설의 주먹)

Director: Kang Woo-seok (강우석)

Synopsis: Blockbuster action film Fists of Legend features several A-list stars including Hwang Jeong-min and Yoo Joon-sang, and helmed by the mighty Kang Woo-seok who has been responsible for a string of hits both as producer and director. Word of mouth is positive on this tent-pole actioner, which sees three middle-aged friends reunited in a fighting contest for a large cash prize. As JIFF is mostly concerned with independent features, Fists of Legend will offer a change of pace for those seeking big-budgeted action. Check out the trailer below:

Garibong (가리봉)

Garibong (가리봉)

Garibong (가리봉)

Director: Park Ki Yong (박기용)

Synopsis: This documentary feature by director Park Ki-yong explores the immigrant experience of workers residing in Garibong-dong. Stories involving foreigners and the difficulties of cultural assimilation have become more prominent in recent years, and Garibong could offer a fresh perspective.

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Director: Kang Yi-kwan (강이관)

Synopsis: Juvenile Offender made waves upon its release in 2012, with its story of disaffected youth, crime, and familial relationships. The film from director Kang, who previous helmed the Moon So-ri starring Sakwa (사과), premiered in Vancouver and won the coveted Special Jury Award and Best Actor for Seo Young-ju at the Tokyo International Film Festival. With the focus on human rights (indeed, it was partly funded by The National Human Rights Commission of Korea) and timely examination of socio-cultural issues it’s great to see the film get more exposure at JIFF. See below for the trailer:

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Director: Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭)

Synopsis: Renowned character actor Oh Dal-su stars in Mr. Vertigo, a story about a man seeking to add excitement and difference to his boring life. At 25 minutes long, the film has the potential to be one of the more off-beat and humourous short stories at the festival.

My Paparotti (파파로티)

My Paparotti (파파로티)

My Paparotti (파파로티)

Director: Yoon Jong-chan (윤종찬)

Synopsis: Since its release, My Paparotti has been quite successful earning around 1.45 million admissions (at the time of writing), despite mixed critical reactions. Featuring rising star Lee Je-hoon alongside Han Seok-kyu, the comedy-drama charts the relationship between a washed-up music teacher and  young gangster who sports an exceptional singing voice. See the trailer below:

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

Director: Park Hoon-jung (박훈정)

Synopsis: Gangster epic New World has been incredibly well-received both domestically as well as internationally, selling to multiple territories with its tale of violence and paranoia. Directed by Park Hoon-jung, the writer behind hits I Saw the Devil and The Unjust, the film also features heavyweights Choi Min-shik, Hwang Jeong-min, Lee Jeong-jae and Song Ji-hyo. New World has been likened to Infernal Affairs/The Departed which is high praise indeed. Check out the trailer below:

Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트)

Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트)

Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트)

Director: Baek Seung-woo (백승우)

Synopsis: When he ROKS Cheonan was sunk in 2010, escalating tensions between North and South Korea, several conspiracy theories appeared despite the official verdict that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo. Documentary Project Cheonan Ship explores the events as well as the reactions by Korean society.

Shibata and Nagao (시바타와 나가오)

Shibata and Nagao (시바타와 나가오)

Shibata and Nagao (시바타와 나가오)

Director: Yang Ik-june (양익준)

Synopsis: The 19 minute Korea/Japanese co-produced drama explores the final moments of a couple as they are about to separate. Director Yang Ik-june is the reason to be excited for this film as his exemplary drama Breathless proved his abilities behind the camera.

Talking Architecture, City:Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀)

Talking Architecture, City:Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀)

Talking Architecture, City:Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀)

Director: Jeong Jae-eun (정재은)

Synopsis: The controversial City Hall project in Seoul has been fraught with difficulty since day one, and this documentary shines a light on the issues that occurred throughout construction. It looks to be an interesting piece, especially in the conflict of old (Japanese) versus new (Korean).

Timing (타이밍)

Timing (타이밍)

Timing (타이밍)

Director: Kim Ji-Yeon (김지연)

Synopsis: Timing looks set to be a sensitive drama, as a woman attempts to resolve loose ends before she moves abroad to study. In doing so she discovers the complex emotions of the sadness of letting go of the past and the fear of starting afresh.

To Be Reborn (환생의 주일)

To Be Reborn (환생의 주일)

To Be Reborn (환생의 주일)

Director: Hwang Qu-doek (황규덕)

Synopsis: To Be Reborn is a documentary that follows the director himself, as he pursues another avenue in life when frustrated with the film industry. The film-making frustrations depicted could resonate well with the independent audiences and prove to be a success.

Total Messed Family (오빠가 돌아왔다)

Total Messed Family (오빠가 돌아왔다)

Total Messed Family (오빠가 돌아왔다)

Director: No Zin-soo (노진수)

Synopsis: The oddly titled Total Messed Family appears to be a more traditional family comedy-drama offering in which a group of mismatched personalities are forced to come together during a crisis. This certainly has the potential to be one of the ‘feel-good’ films at the festival.

The Woman (그 여자)

The Woman (그 여자)

The Woman (그 여자)

Director: Jo Mee-hye (조미혜)

Synopsis: The only film to feature the transsexual experience in the category, The Woman portrays the story of Yoon-hee whose life is thrown into turmoil when her brother informs her of their mother’s illness. It will be very interesting to see how such issues are explored, as Korean culture is still quite conservative.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2013