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
JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013: Short! Short! Short! (숏!숏!숏!)

JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013

Since 2007, the Jeonju International Film Festival has produced the Short! Short! Short! (숏!숏!숏!) series, a collection of 2-3 short films united by a particular theme. Each year, 2-3 talented Korean directors are chosen and given free reign to explore the theme in a manner of their choosing, yet for the 2013 edition each film-maker is connected through the works of novelist Kim Young-ha.

For this years installment of Short! Short! Short!, the directors selected are quite diverse in their respective approaches. Lee Sang-woo (이상우) is arguably the most prolific, responsible for often controversial films including Mother is a Whore (엄마는 창녀다), Father is a Dog (아버지는 개다), and Barbie (바비). Brothers Park Jin-sung (박진성) and Park Jin-seok (박진석) are credited with writing horror films Epitaph (기담) and Evil Spirit: VIY (마녀의 관), the latter of which saw director Park Jin-sung make his debut as a director. Finally, director Lee Jin-woo (이진우), responsible for Sundays in August (팔월의 일요일들) and several other successful short films, rounds out the selection. The film-making talent is quite diverse, and it will be interesting to see how each director takes on the work of Kim Young-ha in their own unique vision.

The Body

The Body

The Body

Directors: Park Jin-sung (박진성), Park Jin-seok (박진석)

Synopsis: The Body looks set to be an interesting interpretation of Kim’s The Last Visitor. The directors have a history in the horror genre and the story, which blurs reality and fantasy between three people on New Year’s Eve, has the potential to be a shocking short film.

Exit (비상구)

Exit (비상구)

Exit (비상구)

Director: Lee Sang-woo (이상우)

Synopsis: No stranger to controversy, particularly in regards to sex and gender, director Lee Sang-woo’s adaptation focuses on a criminal fascinated with a tattoo located on his girlfriend’s genitalia, dubbed ‘the emergency exit’. Lee’s films are often polarizing so it will be interesting to see what he achieves with the material.

Waltzing on Thunder (번개와 춤을)

Waltzing on Thunder (번개와 춤을)

Waltzing on Thunder (번개와 춤을)

Director: Lee Jin-woo (이진우)

Synopsis: Adapting Kim’s The Lightning Rod, director Lee has created a romantic drama involving people who have been struck by lightning, focusing on central protagonist Mi-jung. The film promises to be one of the more quirky offerings in the category.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2013
Soon-yeon looks after her sickly younger sibling

Barbie (바비) – ★★★★☆

Barbie (바비)

Barbie (바비)

Director Lee Sang-woo (이상우) has earned the moniker of the ‘ogre of independent cinema’, a title which he is interestingly in favor of. The titles in his filmography attest to his desire to explore controversial subjects, notably Mother is a Whore (엄마는 창녀다) (2009) and Father is a Dog (아버지는 개다) (2010), both of which scrutinize the Korean family unit. As such, the influential director’s films are fascinating insights into taboo subjects often ignored by mainstream cinema.

With Barbie, the topic of international adoption is broached yet throughout the narrative director Lee Sang-woo also examines the concept of the ‘American dream’, the materialism within Korean society, and the poverty and human rights abuses that impact those living on the fringes of contemporary society. The film is a fascinating perspective on such an array of controversial subjects and, while it does takes some time to establish the story, Barbie is an incredibly compelling and poignant production.

Soon-yeong  (Kim Sae-ron (김새론) and her sickly younger sister Soon-ja (Kim Ah-ron (김아론), live with their mentally ill father on the coast of Pohang city. Life is extremely difficult for the family, and while Soon-yeong diligently takes care of everyone her sister dreams of escape. Their uncle Mang-taek  (Lee Cheon-hee (이천희) exploits them all in running his coastal motel where drunks and vagrants frequent. Yet everything changes when Mang-taek’s associate, an American named Steve (Earl Jackson) arrives with his daughter Barbie (Cat Tebo) with an offer to take Soon-yeong back to the USA for ‘a better life’. With the family thrown into chaos, and Steve’s motivations becoming increasingly unclear, Soon-yeong and Soon-ja must make decisions that will change them forever.

Soon-yeon, Soon-ja and their father have their lives turned upside down by Mang-taek

Soon-yeon, Soon-ja and their father have their lives turned upside down by Mang-taek

The world of Barbie  – the coastal area of Pohang City – is expertly constructed as a nihilistic purgatory by director Lee Sang-woo. The bleakness of the surroundings and the poverty that afflicts Soon-yeon’s family is palpable, while the vagrants and sexual predators that move in and out of their lives bring a genuine sense of danger to their well-being. The director constantly challenges the family with the society and culture that surrounds them, allowing for a slow-paced yet highly interesting examination of those struggling to survive in contemporary Korea. With no mother and a mentally ill father, it’s down to Soon-yeon to take on the roles of mother for her sibling Soon-ja, as well as wife and bread-winner as she sells home-made accessories and prepares meals. Yet the real tragedy lies in the fact her efforts are never appreciated, as her father cannot articulate his affection while Soon-ja has grown to despise the life into which she has been born, fantasizing of an escape of make-up and pretty dresses. Such protagonists are complex and acutely difficult to portray, yet the casting of real-life sisters Kim Sae-ron and Kim Ah-ron is an absolute masterstroke. The two young actresses are simply wonderful in conveying not only their poverty-stricken lifestyle, but also how it has forged them into very different beings. Kim Sae-ron, who has honed her talent through films such as The Man From Nowhere and Neighbors, is startlingly poignant throughout Barbie as her indomitable spirit overcomes the heartache before her. Yet younger sister Kim Ah-ron continually threatens to steal the show with her vehement bitterness towards those around her and the desperate attempts to make her fantasy of becoming a princess a reality. However, Soon-ja’s poor health always brings her back to the homestead and Soon-yeon’s care, adding further layers of nuance in exploring the family unit.

Soon-yeon looks after her sickly younger sibling

Soon-yeon looks after her sickly younger sibling

The notion of escape is ultimately provided by uncle Mang-taek, and his associate Steve. Mang-taek is a shockingly awful parental figure due to his abusive language and the manner in which he treats the young girls, bullying and insulting them to get what he wants. His awareness of their plight, and his refusal to share the burden, adds further animosity to his untrustworthy nature. His relationship with Steve is complex to say the least, with the two secretive men disliking and reviling yet needing one another, allegorizing the nature of Korean and American ties. While Mang-taek curses Steve with racial slurs and offenses under his breath, Steve openly displays his detest of Korea in a similarly offensive fashion, highlighting their mutual dislike and lack of cultural understanding yet are forced to work together. Furthermore, director Lee Sang-woo continually emphasises the wealth gap between them through contrasting the luxurious arenas in which Steve and daughter Barbie inhabit, with the extreme poverty occupied by Soon-yeon’s family. Hope appears, however, through the burgeoning friendship between Soon-yeon and Barbie. While they cannot communicate there is an unspoken mutual respect which the director uses to explore the generational ideological differences.

The crux of Barbie’s narrative is the adoption of Soon-yeong by Steve, yet her friendship with his daughter angers him to an unreasonable degree. The plot takes an incredibly long time to explore why this is the case, yet when it finally arrives the film shines as one of the most compelling and poignant pieces of independent cinema of 2012. The contrast between Soon-yeon, who wishes to stay, and Soon-ja, who wishes to go, is central in exploring the concept of the Korean family as well as the dream of America as a land of opportunity and escape. The bittersweet nature of both philosophies are wonderfully conveyed by director Lee Sang-woo, and his approach leaves a lasting and indelible impression.

Soon-ja dreams of America as an escape from poverty

Soon-ja dreams of America as an escape from poverty

Verdict:

Barbie is a highly compelling and poignant drama from director Lee Sang-woo that explores an incredible array of social issues within contemporary Korea. As with the director’s previous work the focus is squarely on interrogating the family unit, yet the inclusion of international adoption allows for an expansion in highlighting a variety of socio-cultural themes and issues. While it takes the film quite some time to get going, Barbie serves as a powerful reminder of the issues facing those in poverty and leaves an indelible impression.

★★★★☆

Reviews