Seoul International Women’s Film Festival 2015

SIWFF POSTERThe Seoul International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) is due to be held from May 27th to June 3rd, at Megabox Sinchon and Arthouse Momo theaters near Ewha Women’s University.

Now in it’s 17th edition, the festival continues to feature successful categories such as New Currents, Polemics #IAmAFeminist, and Queer Rainbow that explore the lives of contemporary women around the globe.

Yet this year SIWFF organisers have added an extra element to help promote the event for the first time in the festival’s history – an honorary ambassador titled ‘Feminista.’ The first Feminista is actress Kim Ah-joong, the star of films including 200 Pounds Beauty and My P.S. Partner.

SIWFF 2015 will open with Berlinale Crystal Bear winner My Skinny Sister, which leads nicely into this year’s special focus program, The Equal Power of Swedish Women’s Cinema, which contains an impressive 21 titles.

However, let’s take a look at some of the Korean films due to be screened at SIWFF 2015.

New Currents

21& – director Kim A-ra (김아라)

Disillusionment for those in their early twenties is rife

Disillusionment for those in their early twenties is rife

Young filmmaker Kim A-ra explores the disillusionment and frustrations of Koreans in their early twenties in documentary 21&. After studying extremely hard in Korea’s brutal education system, the youngsters are looking forward to working towards achieving their ambitions…but is it possible?

A Girl at My Door (도희야) – director Jung July (정주리)

Do-hee is a victim of terrible domestic abuse in the country town

Do-hee is a victim of terrible domestic abuse in the country town

Premiering at Cannes in Un Certain Regard before appearing at Toronto and Busan, A Girl at My Door is an incredible and empowering drama exploring the lives of those on the margins of contemporary society. Featuring outstanding performances by actresses Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, and with confident and assured direction under the gaze of July Jung, this is a great opportunity to catch the film again on the big screen. Read the review here.

Heart of Snow, Heart of Blood (눈의 마음: 슬픔이 우리를 데려가는 곳) – director Kim Jeong (김정)

Korean descendants born in Uzbekistan have a complex history

Korean descendants born in Uzbekistan have a complex history

Documentary Heart of Blood, Heart of Snow follows the life of Alex Kim, a descendant of Koreans who were forcibly relocated to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Yet while there his family wealth is confiscated, and he becomes the owner of a restaurant. Director Kim Jeong uses Alex’s story to examine the turbulent history of those who fled the Korean War, only to become struggling nomadic migrants.

The Liar (거짓말) – director Kim Dong-myeong (김동명)

Ah-young's lies explore the materialism of society

Ah-young’s lies explore the materialism of society

Talented independent actress Kim Kkob-bi takes centre stage in drama The Liar. The film examines the importance of social status, material wealth and physical appearances in Korean society through the lies told by Ah-young, the central  protagonist who dreams of a life of luxury away from her current reality. Director Kim’s drama premiered at Busan Film Festival last year.

Polemics #IAmAFeminist

Cart (카트) – director Boo Ji-young (부지영)

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

As tensions escalate, Seon-hee and Hye-mi fight back against their affluent male abusers

Based on a true story, Cart depicts the outcry and shocking abuse of workers rights as the managers of a supermarket chain attempt to fire their staff and replace them with part-timers. Yet many of the current workforce are struggling single mothers, students, or those nearing retirement. Premiering at Toronto before screening at Rotterdam and Busan, Cart is an impressive social drama. Read the review here.

The Emotional Society on Stage (감정의 시대:서비스 노동의 관계미학) – director Kim Sook-hyun (김숙현), Cho Hye-jeong (조혜정)

The roles we perform come under scrutiny

The roles we perform come under scrutiny

Experimental documentary The Emotional Society on Stage examines the roles people are forced into within society, and notably if it’s possible to break such cultural forms through performance. The 24 minute film previously appeared at the 2015 Jeonju Film Festival, as well as The Seoul Independent Documentary Film and Video Festival in the same year.

Queer Rainbow

Sinchon Bouncy Ball (신촌탱탱볼) – director Lee Min-jeong (이민정)

Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Korea

Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Korea

 World premiere. Documentary Sinchon Bouncy Ball presents the issues concerned with sexuality in modern Korea through following student Rau as she prepares to complete a school project regarding gender identity. In examining the various areas of the debate Rau comes to develop her ideas on the nature of sexuality, love and identity.

Barrier Free Screening

How to Steal a Dog (개를 훔치는 완벽한 방법) – director Kim Seong-ho (김성호)

Can Ji-so steal a dog and help her family?

Can Ji-so steal a dog and help her family?

How to Steal a Dog was a successful indie film in Korea earlier this year, and has been selected for the ‘barrier free screening’ event, presented for both visually and hearing-impaired audiences.

The film depicts the tale of Ji-so and younger brother Ji-suk who spy a poster offering a big cash reward for finding a missing dog.

For more information, please visit the official SIWFF website here.

Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Seoul International Women's Film Festival (제 17회 서울국제여성영화제)
After a brief stint in Kpop, Jin-ah now hosts the failing radio show 'Wonderful Radio'

Wonderful Radio (Love On-Air) (원더풀 라디오) – ★★☆☆☆

Wonderful Radio (원더풀 라디오)

Wonderful Radio (원더풀 라디오)

The Korean fascination with K-pop celebrities and the ‘scandals’ that are seemingly inherent within the industry continually appear in a variety of cinematic forms. Comedy 200 Pounds Beauty explored the concept of beauty and image, while horror White: The Melody of the Curse focused on the rivalry between the members and the plagiarism that frequently occurs. Interestingly, with romantic-comedy Wonderful Radio (원더풀 라디오), maturity and life following celebrity status are examined.

Wonderful Radio joins You’re My Pet as the other big star-driven romantic comedy of 2011; and, as with You’re My Pet, offers little more than a vacuous narrative of two attractive yet contrasting people forging an improbable relationship. Save for an interesting but all-too-brief interrogation of the pretense inherent in K-pop, Wonderful Radio is a mildly entertaining yet instantly forgettable experience.

Jin-ah (Lee Min-jeong (이민정) is the radio DJ for the ailing ‘Wonderful Radio’ segment, a show that is hemorrhaging listeners chiefly through her selfish and rude behavior. Jin-ah desperately longs for her past career as a K-pop icon in girl group ‘Purple’, yet her attempts to rejoin the music industry are continually thwarted as younger stars rise in popularity. In a bid to finally axe the show and Jin-ah’s career, manager In-seok (Kim Jeong-tae (김정태) promotes the notoriously difficult producer Lee Jae-hyeok (Lee Jeong-jin (이정진) to helm the show. Yet against the odds, and despite their constant bickering, Jin-ah and Jae-hyeok may have found a way to save ‘Wonderful Radio’ as well as the start of a blossoming romance.

After a brief stint in Kpop, Jina now hosts the failing radio show 'Wonderful Radio'

After a brief stint in K-pop, Jin-ah now hosts the failing ‘Wonderful Radio’

The above comparison between Wonderful Radio and You’re My Pet may seem unfair, yet both films are intended as rather commercially driven efforts to promote the central performers through crowd pleasing romantic tales. Unfortunately for Wonderful Radio, Lee Min-jeong – though a fast rising star – and Lee Jeong-jin do not have the same star power or acting credentials as Kim Ha-neul and Jang Geun-seok, and as such the contrived narrative conveys an even more manufactured sensibility.

As is often noted in any basic film studies and screen-writing course, the opening five-to-ten minutes of any film are crucial in attracting and captivating audience attention; if successful, audiences can forge empathic bonds with the protagonists, with the intensity of the faux-relationship mesmerizing viewers into following the narrative through to its conclusion. Wonderful Radio does not adhere to such a train of thought. The opening act, while admittedly setting up the premise of Jin-ah and her declining show, is utterly directionless with the only driving force being Jin-ah’s intolerable behavior. While she is intended to be something of a ‘princess’ stereotype, full of arrogance and pride, Jin-ah is actually closer to being psychotic as exemplified by her recurring temper tantrums and childish fits. Such scenes may very well be for the sake of comedic entertainment, but when the protagonist becomes quiet and reflective scant moments later it is clear that characterization and narrative structure were something of an afterthought.

Luckily Wonderful Radio finds direction thanks to the timely intervention of a taxi driver – the ever-dependable Jeong Man-sik (정만식) – who adds much needed heart and emotion to the proceedings. With a core theme attached director Kwon Chil-in (권칠인) manages to explore, albeit briefly, the superficial facade of being a K-pop star and promotes ‘authentic’ music, including playing an instrument and removing cheorography, as superior due to the emotional content. While the intriguing topic has incredible potential, it is rapidly jettisoned in favor of returning to the unconvincing love developing between the mismatched lead actors.

Uncompromising new producer Jae-hyeok attempts to make Wonderful Radio a hit

Uncompromising new producer Jae-hyeok attempts to make Wonderful Radio a hit

With such a vapid narrative, the director wisely – or cynically – focuses vast attention on Lee Min-jeong’s undeniable beauty. Indeed, seemingly every few minutes the actress’ face is framed in close up with extreme soft focus, often appearing fragile and on the verge of tears. Lee Min-jeong’s charisma during such moments is palpable and distracting enough to forget the incredible shortcomings of the narrative for an instant, yet disapates almost immediately once her presence is absent. However it is mostly her image that causes such affliction as Lee Min-jeong’s performance is, for the first and second act at least, below par due to the odd behaviorial schizophrenia of her protagonist. The actress is much more comfortable in the final act when her character has calmed, and adequately portrays the character.

The rest of the cast are mostly in supporting roles, with even love interest Lee Jeong-jin as Jae-hyeok something of a secondary character who is woefully underdeveloped and under-represented. The supporting cast enter the narrative seeingly to add people to the scenes and offer very little aside from the occassional moment of comedy. Actor Lee Kwang Soo fares best in this regard as downtrodden Dae-geun, displaying his comedic sensibilities well despite the predicability.

Jina attempts to relaunch herself as a more 'authentic' musician - and human being

Jin-ah attempts to relaunch herself as a more ‘authentic’ musician – and human being


Wonderful Radio is very much a comercially-driven star vehicle for Lee Min-jeong, which would certainly be no bad thing were it not for the directionless, bland and predictable narrative, and the incredibly underdeveloped characterisation. The film does attempt to correct the issues with the introduction of emotional content and an interesting perspective on the world of K-pop, yet these measures are brought in far too late and appear all too briefly to make an impact. As such, Wonderful Radio is a lacklustre romantic-comedy that is instantly forgettable.