Gong-ju's trauma apears on the internet for all to see

Han Gong-ju (한공주) – ★★★★★

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주) is undoubtedly the best Korean film of 2013. Bold, unflinching, insightful and powerful, director Lee Su-jin (이수진) has crafted an exceptional film about serious social issues that exist within contemporary Korea. What makes the film such an exemplary piece of cinema is the manner in which such issues are conveyed. Through the experiences of traumatised teenage protagonist Gong-ju, her world opens to reveal a broad array of socio-cultural problems ranging from absentee parents to corrupt institutions, from high school bullying to mid-life crises, as she simultaneously attempts to reconcile with her own tragic past. Employing an impassioned sense of social injustice in conjunction with a skillfully balanced narrative structure, director Lee Su-jin evokes the spirit of a raw Lee Chang-dong which is mighty praise indeed.

Gong-ju attempts to start her life over, yet keeps everyone at a distance

Gong-ju attempts to start her life over, yet keeps everyone at a distance

For reasons unknown, high school student Gong-ju is sent to a new school far from her hometown. The extremely quiet yet polite student is constantly treated as a burden by teachers, parents, as well as her new carer – her teacher’s lonely single mother. As Gong-ju attempts to rebuild her life in new surroundings by learning to swim and taking on a part-time job, new friends emerge and discover her beautifully melancholy singing ability. Yet in revealing her talent, Gong-ju’s horrifying past catches up to her with disastrous results.

Treated as little more than a burden, Gong-ju attempts to start her life anew

Treated as little more than a burden, Gong-ju attempts to start her life anew

Han Gong-ju is a rare gem and a stunning debut feature from director Lee, whose previous shorts Papa (2004) and Enemy’s Apple (2007) were both award recipients. The social issues that are explored throughout the film are not new in neither mainstream nor independent Korean cinema, but nonetheless are incredibly powerful and emotive due to the strength of the central protagonist alongside a gripping flashback structure. As the heart of the film, Gong-ju is a very complex character; melancholy yet passionate, distant yet likable, her tragic story is one of shocking trauma and inspirational strength. Indeed, it is Gong-ju’s courage that forces confrontation with further injustices – including a runaway mother and corrupt authority figures – that serve to make her an increasingly endearing and admirable young woman. Director Lee wisely employs editing to accentuate audience empathy, gradually revealing tidbits of information into Gong-ju’s elusive past until neither she, nor the audience, can hide from the truth any longer. In doing so director Lee not only conveys his skill as a storyteller, but also potently exposes the contentious role of parents in crime and punishment.

As Gong-ju, actress Cheon Woo-hee (천우희) gives an incredible performance. The role itself is subtle and nuanced, and she delivers wonderfully. Simultaneously innocent yet worldly-wise, Cheon Woo-hee conveys the agony of the troubled teenager mixed with a sense of hope and inner-strength that is staggering to behold. In lesser hands Gong-ju would be either cold and unlikable or overly pitiable, yet Cheon balances both realms effortlessly.

Gong-ju attempts to let people into her world, with disastrous results

Gong-ju attempts to let people into her world, with disastrous results

Verdict:

Undoubtedly the best Korean film of 2013, Han Gong-ju is a rare gem of independent cinema. Director Lee Su-jin has crafted an extraordinary tale of a girl struggling to reconcile with a traumatic past, who courageously confronts further social injustices in her attempt to do so. Beautifully performed by Cheon Woo-hee, the actress balances the inner strength and turmoil of the character to produce one of the most emotive and powerful cinematic experiences of the year. Bold, insightful and heart-wrenching, Han Gong-ju is the must-see film of the year.

★★★★★

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Reviews
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Korean Cinema Today – Vision

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The Korean Cinema Today – Vision program at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) aims to highlight some of the independent film making talent emerging in 2013.

While the Panorama section explores big budget affairs (see here for the full profile), Vision is often a very exciting category due the fresh and distinctive approach new directors take, while the films themselves are often quite creative due to their low budget nature. Typically, there are a few gems to be found as talented film makers use Vision as a springboard for their careers.

For BIFF 2013, there are a number of interesting works on offer. Several directors make their respective debuts, while there are a surprising number of genre films including gangster, thriller, and comedy, present within. There are also a number of films that tackle challenging social issues such as surrogate mothers, teenage problems, and the experiences of foreign wives.

For profiles of all the films within Korean Cinema Today – Vision, please see below.

Korean Cinema Today – Vision

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Director: Jeong Hyuk-won (정혁원)

Synopsis: Revenge thriller Dynamite Man is director Jeong’s debut film. When two brothers betray their gang, one is brutally tortured. Filled with rage the surviving brother targets those responsible – with dynamite.

Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물)

Director: Moon Si-hyun (문시현)

Synopsis: Based on an idea by Kim Ki-duk, the film is a modern nativity of sorts. A young girl plans to exchange her baby with a couple, but complications arise from the men in their lives.

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자)

Director: Yoo Won-sang (유원상)

Synopsis: In his debut film, director Yoo tells the story of an ex-fireman whose daughter is kidnapped. For the girl to return unharmed, he must do the unthinkable and kidnap a boy for an exchange.

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Director: Lee Su-jin (이수진)

Synopsis: Student Gong-ju starts a new school, making new friends and becoming involved in after school classes. However when a group of meddling parents discover Gong-ju’s whereabouts, her troubled past is revealed.

Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders (조난자들)

Director: Noh Young-seok (노영석)

Synopsis: Receiving a world premiere at Toronto, director Noh’s (Daytime Drinking) Intruders follows a screenwriter who travels into the country to complete his screenplay. Yet when mysterious strangers arrive, violent events are set in motion.

The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

The King of Jokgu (족구왕)

Director: Woo Moon-gi (우문기)

Synopsis: Sports comedy The King of Jokgu tells the story of a team passionate about foot volleyball, a popular past-time in Korea. When their request for a court is rejected, the team fight to make it happen.

Mot (못)

Mot (못)

Mot (못)

Director: Seo Ho-bin (서호빈)

Synopsis: Sung-pil tragically lost his younger sister in a motorcycle accident. Years later, Sung-pil meets the man responsible forcing painful emotions to resurface.

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Director: Lee Yu-bin (이유빈)

Synopsis: Following the death of their parents, a huge insurance payout is given to Eun-ju, but when she disappears half-brother Min-jae attempts to find her.

The Stone (스톤)

The Stone (스톤)

The Stone (스톤)

Director: Cho Se-rae (조세래)

Synopsis: When a mob boss losses a game of baduk (Go) to a young prodigy, the two begin to form a relationship as they continue to play each other.

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Director: Kim Jae-han (김재한)

Synopsis: Another debut film, Thuy depicts the life of a Vietnamese girl living in the country with her in-laws. When her husband fails to return home, Thuy’s enquiries attract the wrong kind of attention.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013