Jan 2016 – K-Film Preview

January 7th

Don't Forget Me (나를 잊지 말아요)

Remember You (나를 잊지 말아요)

Remember You (나를 잊지 말아요)

Director: Lee Yoon-jung

Cast: Jeong Woo-sung, Kim Ha-neul

Distributor: CJ Entertainment

Synopsis: When Seok-won loses the past 10 years of his memory due to an accident, he struggles to piece together his existence and discover the life he once had. However upon meeting Jin-young his memories start to return as love blossoms between them.

The Lowdown: Director Lee Yoon-jung developed Remember You from her celebrated short film Remember O Goddess, initially turning to kickstarter to generate funding before superstar Jeong Woo-sung – whom became friends with director Lee while she worked as a script supervisor on The Good, The Bad, The Weird – came on board as both producer and actor. After around two years of production, Remember You is finally being released alongside a significant advertising campaign from distributors CJ.

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Director: Oh In-chun

Cast: Kim Seung-woo, Kim Jeong-tae

Distributor: OPUS Pictures

Synopsis: When two friends – one a CEO and the other a police officer – have their phone and gun taken by a group of high school delinquents, they must work together to track down the thieves and recover their stolen goods.

The lowdown: Action-comedy Catch Him to Survive seems quite a departure for director Oh In-chun, who previously impressed with horror-drama Mourning Grave. Judging from the trailer (see below) the film looks set to be a madcap caper with promising chemistry from veteran leads Kim Seung-woo and Kim Jeong-tae (who, ironically, was originally cast in Remember You [see above] before leaving the project due to scheduling conflicts). Catch Him to Survive also marks the big screen debut for four young actors, including Hyuk from Kpop band VIXX.

January 14th

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Director: Jo Kyu-jang

Cast: Moon Chae-won, Yoo Yeon-seok

Distributor: Showbox

Synopsis: While on a business trip to Busan, Soo-jung meets lothario Jae-hyun and is instantly repulsed by his suggestion of spending the night together. However when the journey doesn’t go according to plan they are forced to travel together, and the duo find themselves becoming close.

The lowdown: Mood of the Day is another romantic outing for stars Moon Chae-won and Yoo Yeon-seok, who dabbled with the genre in last year’s Love Forecast and Beauty Inside, respectively. Their collaboration appears to be quite a comical take on modern relationships, and it will be interesting to see if director Jo Kyu-jang can avoid the cliches and offer something fresh for audiences.

January

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Director: Lee Ho-jae

Cast: Lee Sung-min, Lee Hee-joon, Lee Honey, Chae Soo-bin

Distributor: Lotte Entertainment

Synopsis: Tragically, Hae-gwan lost his daughter 10 years ago although he refuses to give up on finding the youngster again. Unbeknownst to the distraught father is that an AI satellite with voice-recognition capabilities is circling the globe, and upon crash landing in Korea, helps Hae-gwan to be reunited with his daughter.

The lowdown: With a narrative that is particularly reminiscent of animated tale Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Robot Sori looks set to be a heart-warming family sci-fi drama. Lee Sung-min has starred in a staggering number of films and TV drama series since his debut, though his star power increased dramatically following his turn in hit TV show Missing, resulting in his lead role in Robot Sori.

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

Director: Lee Han

Cast: Siwan, Ko Ah-sung

Distributor: Next World Entertainment

Synopsis: As war ravages Korea during the early 1950s, Second Lieutenant Han Sang-Yeol discovers a village while leading his platoon. Moved by the children of the village who have lost everything, Sang-yeol vows to protect them.

The lowdown: Director Lee Han is back in cinemas after helming impressive family dramas Punch and Thread of Lies, though this outing sees the filmmaker tackling war as a major component. Featuring Siwan, whose star power is steadily rising following roles in The Attorney and TV drama Misaeng, A Melody to Remember – or more literally translated as Thinking of my Older Brother – looks to be a war-era tear-jerker.

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Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날) – ★★★☆☆

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날)

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날)

Awaiting (민우씨 오는 날) – or rather, The Day Min-woo Arrives – is part of an omnibus entitled Beautiful 2014, a series of films that explores moments of beauty helmed by some of the most talented filmmakers throughout Asia. Director Kang Je-gyu (강제규), famous for his action/war films including Taegukgi and My Way, is a surprising choice to step up to the microphone for intimate drama Awaiting, yet he has proven himself more than worthy as Awaiting is a beautifully touching and quite lovely short film.

Yoon-hee (Moon Chae-won (문채원) lives alone in Seoul, waiting for her husband Min-woo (Ko Soo (고수) to return home. Every day she is awoken by a phone conversation from Sarah in America, and fills her day with cleaning, shopping, trips to the community center, and making food. Yet Yoon-hee’s memory is slowly beginning to fade, and of late she has taken to writing notes to help get through the day. One day, two people arrive at her home and inform Yoon-hee of some interesting news regarding Min-woo’s whereabouts.

Yeon-hee and Min-woo are a loving couple

Yoon-hee and Min-woo are a loving couple

Awaiting is a wonderfully moving and distinctly Korean examination on the nature of love and loss. Director Kang Je-gyu has impressively evolved during the four years since his last film, wisely moving away from the sweeping epic sensibilities of his prior films to focus on the intimate nature of the story. Yet his indelible vision is still clearly present throughout as he explores the division of the peninsula from a refreshing perspective, while his stunning visual sensibilities and unique sense of melodrama remain in tact, accompanied by a tender musical score.

The drama is also a deviation for director Kang in that Awaiting is female-centered, and he expresses Yoon-hee’s story with a quiet sensitivity. Moon Chae-won provides a restrained yet poignant performance as the lonely woman waiting for her husband’s return, an while she isn’t especially challenged in the role  the actress is quite charismatic and endearing. Yoon-hee’s emotional story is a heartbreaking tale, and one which is elegantly, compassionately, told.

Awaiting 1

Yoon-hee waits for her husband Min-woo to return

Verdict:

Awaiting is a beautifully moving and quite lovely short film by director Kang Je-gyu, who has impressively altered his epic sensibilities to portray the touching story of a woman waiting for her husband’s return. Compassionate, intimate and distinctly Korean, Awaiting is a poignant and endearing tale of love and loss.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Nam-e fights to save his sister and community

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (AKA War of the Arrows) (최종병기 활) – ★★★☆☆

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon

Set in 1636 during the second Manchurian invasion of Korea, Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (AKA War of the Arrows) (최종병기 활) tells the story of Nam-e (Park Hae-il (박해일) and his sister Ja-in (Moon Chae-won (문채원). Forced to watch their minister father’s brutal assassination, the young Nam-e and Ja-in flee to a neighbouring settlement with their father’s prize weapon – a bow and set of arrows – as their only asset. As they become adults, both brother and sister are hardened to life, but  Nam-e’s bitterness leads to the rejection of others. Ja-in on the other hand wishes to live a regular lifestyle, including marrying her sweetheart Seo-goon (Kim Moo-yeol (김무열).

On the day Ja-in and Seo-goon are to be wed, the settlement is attacked by a Manchurian battalion led by fearsome warrior Jyu Sinta (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡). They slaughter any who resist and abduct the rest, forcing their captives to march north out of Korean territory – including Ja-in and Seo-goon.

Arrow is perhaps best described as Robin Hood meets Apocalypto (2006), as skilled archer Nam-e races against time to track down and save his sister and friends from the invaders. Screenwriter/director Kim Han-min (김한민) does a great job in establishing the characters through not only their childhood trauma, but also with a keen sense of comedy once in adulthood. The tension is palpable when the Manchurians attack during the wedding ceremony as the couple are ripped apart, villagers are butchered, babies are thrown down wells, and idyllic lifestyles are shattered. The first encounter between Nam-e and Jyu Sinta is also incredibly well introduced as the archer organically evolves from an annoyance to a threat.

Jyu Sinta and his warriors vow to kill Nam-e

Jyu Sinta and his warriors vow to kill Nam-e

In a film where chasing down the enemy is the focus of the story, Kim Han-min does a masterful job of making each scene as intense and thrilling as possible. The director employs a variety of techniques to this end, using various angles and styles to ramp up the tension to such a degree that the landscape becomes a character itself. As Nam-e comes close to completing his quest, and as the number of enemy soldiers decreases, the director puts a variety of obstacles in their paths that continually keeps the action thrilling and exhilarating.

Nam'e fights to save his sister and community

Nam’e fights to save his sister and community

Unbeknownst to Nam-e, the group of abductees are split into two groups. As Nam-e follows the first group, Jyu Sinta’s battalion pursues Nam-e. The first, comprised mostly of males, is sent to a river crossing; the second, consisting mostly of young females, is sent to the Manchurian prince for his pleasure. A strong sense of nationalism arises in Arrow as the captives are tortured and humiliated. At the riverside, friends and allies are murdered for sport by the Manchurian forces. In a final moment of desperation, Seo-goon picks up a sword and fights for his people and proves his years of military service. Joined shortly after by Nam-e, they inspire a rebellion against their captors and destroy the dock, halting the forced immigration. Secondly, Ja-in is selected for the Prince’s pleasure. As he attempts to assault her, Ja-in picks up a sword and fights against her fate, cutting soldiers and the Prince alike. It’s incredibly refreshing to see such a strong female protagonist, as so often women are relegated to the role of ‘pretty-but-poor-and-needs-a-handsome-man.’ While Ja-in still requires saving, her character is established as a powerful woman who will fight to the last to protect her virtue, which by extension also serves as an allegory as the virtue of Korea. Nationalism is also invoked through the constant references to ‘tiger country’ and the presence of tigers as they are Korea’s national animal.

Ja-in fights for her (and Korea's) virtue

Ja-in fights for her (and Korea’s) virtue

Verdict:

Arrow is an incredibly enjoyable action/adventure film that rises above most other examples of the genre thanks to the ingenuity of director Kim Han-min, who offers refreshing takes on generic conventions. The addition of physical comedy also adds extra enjoyment to the viewing experience. However, Arrow doesn’t quite achieve the level of sophistication that premier examples of the genre, such as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), provide. This is generally due to the fast paced nature of the film where the protagonists must go from A to B, which stifles character development. The cynical reviewer would no doubt call Arrow a ‘commercial’ film, a label that Kim Han-min openly detests, preferring instead ‘popular’ film. The director is correct – it is indeed popular (the highest grossing film of 2011) and fun, and is well worth watching.

★★★☆☆

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