Jiseul (지슬)

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, so it becomes time to discuss the best releases from the Korean film industry from the year.

It’s been quite  year for Korean film. According to the Korean Film Council the industry crossed over the 200 million admissions mark for the first time in history, averaging just over 4 films per person; recently released drama The Attorney (변호인), based on former president Roh Moo-hyun’s early career, broke the box office record for single day admissions in December attracting over 540,000 moviegoers upon opening; Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (설국열차), the most expensive film in Korean cinema history, was released to critical and commercial acclaim; and Moon Byung-gon’s Safe (세이프) won the short film Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first time the award has been bestowed upon a Korean director.

But back to the issue at hand – the top ten. ‘Best of’ lists always feel somewhat disingenuous as it’s impossible to have seen simply everything to emerge from the industry over the past 12 months. This also unfortunately applies to this particular list, particularly in regards to films released over the past month. So, in the interest of full disclosure, here are some great films that could potentially have been included in the top ten had they been seen – Moebius (뫼비우스)Hope/Wish (소원), Way Back Home (집으로 가는 길), and The Attorney.

However, without further ado, let’s press on with Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2013:

Joint 1st – Jiseul (지슬)

Jiseul (지슬)

Jiseul (지슬)

While Jiseul premiered at Busan in 2012, it was officially released nationwide in 2013 and for that reason jointly takes the number 1 spot. Director O Muel’s breathtaking film about the 1948 Jeju Island ‘Uprising’ (or rather ‘Massacre’) is one of those rare films that transcends the medium into art. The stunning cinematography is exquisitely captured through the black and white tones, while the realism-inducing long takes convey the atrocities endured by the Islanders with palpable melancholy. Shockingly, Jiseul was not submitted as Korea’s entry for the Academy Awards (with the honour instead going to Juvenile Offender), a presumably political decision due to the negative manner in which the Korean military are portrayed – a genuine shame as Jiseul is one of the best Oscar contenders Korea has produced in quite some time. Nevertheless, director O Muel’s beautifully haunting tribute is an absolute must-see. (See the full review here).

Joint 1st – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju is without a doubt the best new film of 2013. Staggering powerful, heartbreaking and courageous, the film tells the story of high schooler Gong-ju who is forced to relocate to a new school due to a secretive event in her past. Director Lee Su-jin has crafted an incredible film that wonderfully captures many of the social issues in contemporary Korea, confronting the themes of selfishness and corruption directly and in doing so evokes a maelstrom of emotional resonance. It is no stretch to say that Han Gong-ju is like a raw Lee Chang-dong film, one full of maturity and awareness yet with added indignation. Staggeringly, the film is also director Lee Su-jin’s feature-length directorial debut and, should he continue to helm films of this quality, Korea will have a new auteur in the making.

2nd – Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Pluto (명왕성)

Director Shin Su-won proves her win at Cannes for Circle Line (순환선) was no fluke with the release of the masterful Pluto. A former teacher before her venture into filmmaking, director Shin deftly employs her knowledge of the insanely-competitive Korean education system in exploring how students can become increasingly amoral in the bid for perfect grades  and an all-important university placement. What makes Pluto so special is not only the examination of corruption within the system but also the character development as Joon – wonderfully acted by Lee David – gradually succumbs to violent ambition. (See the full review here).

3rd – My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

The best kind of documentaries are the ones that serve to enlighten, yet director Park Moon-chil goes one better with My Place in that he too is on a quest for knowledge. Initially believing that his sister is somewhat irresponsible for wishing to be a single-parent, director Park attempts to understand his sibling by investigating her past, which in turn leads to startling discoveries about his entire family. Through exploring cultural and generational differences as well as revealing – and attempting to heal – family trauma, My Place is a wonderful testament to family and forces audiences to address how well they know their own relatives. (See the full review here).

4th – Snowpiercer (설국열차)

Snowpiercer (설국열차)

Snowpiercer (설국열차)

A pulse-pounding thrill-ride from start to finish, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is a momentous sci-fi epic. Based on the French comic Le Transperceneige, the film depicts a world devoid of life due to global warming with the last remnants of humanity hurtling around the world on the perpetually moving train ‘snowpiercer.’ What makes the film so fascinating is the manner in which  the class system is explored, examining the nature of revolution, the brainwashing inherent in education, as well as the potent symbolism laced throughout – particularly from Tilda Swinton’s brilliant channeling of Margaret Thatcher as the villainous Mason. Snowpiercer is also a triumph of production design, and ranks among the best science fiction films to emerge from the industry. (See the full review here).

5th – The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Brutally intense and profoundly disturbing, The Fake is a phenomenal indictment of the fraud that exists within society. The Korean title ‘Saibi’ is specific to religion, and potent symbolism abounds; the looming threat of a flood sends the local populace into a religious fervour as they compete for the ‘limited’ places in heaven. Interestingly director Yeon Sang-ho marries such weighty material with the generic conventions of the western, and the result is extraordinary – should the audience align with the fraudulent man of God, or the truthful-yet-devilish western anti-hero? (See the full review here).

6th – New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

Taking a cue from Coppola’s The Godfather, director Park Hoon-jeong’s gangster epic New World is among the best examples of the genre in recent memory. As a screenwriter on I Saw The Devil and The Unjust director Park has experience in weaving bloodthirsty thrillers, and his vision in constructing a tale of vengeful gangsters attempting to fill a power vacuum is brilliant. The double-crosses and Infernal Affairs-esque clashes between men on both sides of the law are made all the more powerful with the stunning cinematography and visual finesse. (See here for the full review).

7th – Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

A remake of Hong Kong action-noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a vastly different adaptation set in the shimmering metropolis of Seoul. The slick thriller is incredibly entertaining not only for the great pacing and exhilarating cat-and-mouse chase sequences, but also for the wonderful casting. Han Hyo-joo, so often relegated to being a pretty love interest, is excellent as the bold, smart and independent rookie, while Jeong Woo-seong is great as the steely and manipulative villain. (See here for the full review).

8th – The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File marks a genuine stage in evolution for director Ryoo Seung-wan. His previous films have typically been highly entertaining action-thrillers often serving to revere classic sequences of yesteryear; however with The Berlin File the high-octane set-pieces, kinetic camera movement and rapid editing combine to create his most exhilarating film to date. With an all-star cast featuring Ha Jeong-woo, Jeon Ji-hyeon, Han Seok-kyu and Ryoo Seung-beom, The Berlin File is one of 2013’s great genre films. (See here for the full review).

9th – How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

2013 was full of cliched and generic rom-coms – which made How to Use Guys with Secret Tips even more refreshing. Criminally under-seen due to a release date alongside Miracle in Cell No. 7 and New World, director Lee Won-seok’s debut is simply bursting with colour, vitality, inventiveness, and most importantly – brains. Spinning the cliches upside down, director Lee continually pokes fun at modern masculinity as well as highlighting the sexism that exists in contemporary Korea in a uniquely humourous fashion, combining to produce one of the most enjoyable and downright fun rom-coms in quite some time. (See here for the full review).

10th – Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Premiering at the Jeonju International Film Festival, director Jung Young-heon’s Lebanon Emotion was far and away the most interesting and engaging drama to appear. Initially a potent tale of grief and despair, the film transforms into an otherworldly story of togetherness, revenge, and danger. Director Jung’s history as a cinematographer is apparent in every scene, featuring gorgeously haunting landscapes alongside some great character development and quirky humour. Bizarrely missing out on the top prize at JIFF, Lebanon Emotion was rewarded at Moscow by scooping the best director award, and he is certainly a talent to watch. (See here for the full review.)

Advertisements
Film News
The 15th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul

WFFIS 2013: Muse With A Movie Camera and Queer Rainbow

The 15th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul

The 15th International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul

With a focus on exploring female issues through cinema, the Women’s Film Festival in Seoul has constructed several different categories in which to emphasise the concerns women face in contemporary society. Previously the New Currents, as well as The Coming of Age in Asian Women Filmmaking and Violence Against Women have been discussed, yet within this feature three different areas are explored. Actress, Muse With A Movie Camera is, as the title suggests, regarding women who have chosen to go behind the camera and direct. The 3 Korean films within this area feature quite diverse work, from high-budget thriller to low-budget short. Queer cinema is acknowledged in Queer Rainbow: Queer x Feminism, although unfortunately there’s only one Korean film exploring such gender and sexuality issues. Finally, Open Cinema is concerned with male directors who explore or represent women’s rights or interests, expanding the representation of women on screen. While there’s just one Korean film in this category, it’s a sublime documentary and one that eloquently fits the goal of broadening women’s issues in cinema.

Actress, Muse With A Movie Camera

The Knitting (뜨개질)

The Knitting (뜨개질)

The Knitting (뜨개질)

Director: Yoon Eun-hye (윤은혜)

Synopsis: Superstar actress Yoon Eun-hye helms short film The Knitting, a drama about a woman struggling to cope following a break-up. Seeking solace through knitting, the memories of the past love prove hard to erase.

The Peach Tree (복숭아 나무)

The Peach Tree (복숭아 나무)

The Peach Tree (복숭아 나무)

Director: Ku Hye-sun (구혜선)

Synopsis: Released in 2012 after receiving its premiere at the Busan Film Festival in 2011, The Peach Tree tells the story of two twin brothers who fall in love with the same woman. While it might initially sound cliched, the narrative takes on a new twist as the twins were born conjoined, sharing the same body, yet have quite different personalities. With lots of symbolism involving the nature of family and the titular peach tree, the romantic drama resonates strongly. See below for the trailer:

Perfect Number (용의자 X)

Perfect Number (용의자 X)

Perfect Number (용의자 X)

Director: Pang Eun-jin (방은진)

Synopsis: Based on Japanese author Keigo Higashino’s novel The Devotion of Suspect X, Perfect Number is the second film by actress-turned-director Pang Eun-jin following Princess Aurora. The thriller depicts a woman who kills her ex-husband following a violent assault, and the gifted mathematician living next door who helps her conceal the crime from the authorities. The film was quite successful when released last year. See below for the trailer:

Queer Rainbow: Queer x Feminism

To Become 1 (2의 증명)

To Become 2 (2의 증명)

To Become 2 (2의 증명)

Directors: Sui (스이), Kay (케이)

Synopsis: The only queer entry in the category explores the life of a middle-aged woman preparing to undergo gender correction treatment. Yet she continually faces obstacles by those around her.

Open Cinema

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

Director: Emmanuel Moonchil Park (박문칠)

Synopsis:  Winning the Audience Award at the 2013 Jeonju Film Festival, My Place is a wonderful documentary that explores notions of family and women’s rights. Director Park has crafted a loving film based around his sister’s pregnancy. Recommended.

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

You Are More Than Beautiful (그녀의 연기)

Director: Kim Tae-yong (김태용)

Synopsis: This Korean/Hong Kong co-production by director Kim Tae-yong involves a mysterious meeting.

Festival News International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (서울국제여성영화제) Korean Festivals 2013
December (디셈버)

JIFF 2013: Quick Fire Reviews 5

Additional quick-fire reviews from the 14th Jeonju International Film Festival:

December (디셈버)

December (디셈버)

December (디셈버) – 6/10

The big winner at JIFF 2013 scoring the Grand Prize in the Korean Film Competition, December is a charming and raw exploration of the building of relationships. Structured in accordance with the months of the year, director Park Jeong-hoon (박정훈) uses the time frame to convey the burgeoning relationship between a female high school student and a male convenience store clerk, and how small moments are built into something more. The protagonists are highly compelling, particularly as the girl manipulates situations into bringing the two closer together such as buying sanitary towels in order to prove her ‘womanhood’. Yet December is also crucially missing an emotional core that stops empathy from evolving between the characters and the audience, something which greater character development would easily remedy. A compelling and interesting, although emotionally lacking, film.

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스) – 9/10

My Place is everything a great documentary should be. The film is a wonderful and heart-filled love letter to family, one that takes an uncompromising look at wounds past and present in the forging of a person’s personality. Perhaps more surprisingly is that such a raw exploration is based on director Park Moon-chil’s (박문칠) own family, which lends further credibility and sincerity. As the documentary unfolds everyone – including director Park – changes and comes to understand each other with greater depth. The inclusion of the cultural, generational and gendered differences that have effected the family is brilliant, yet the real masterstroke comes from places the director’s sister Peace at the center of the film. As a single mum challenging every ideological form in her path, it is her character that makes for such compelling viewing. A must-watch film, recommended.

Remiges

Remiges

Remiges – 8/10

Japanese film Remiges, by writer/director Ozawa Masato, is a deeply poignant examination of youths who suffer from abusive parents. The fragile psychology of central protagonist Sayako is slowly conveyed throughout the course of the film, moving from simply being a bad kid to a complex, abused victim. While the teenager initially appears to be selfish and irresponsible, her actions are the ramifications of years of awful parenting. Director Masato employs non-linear editing in order to portray the torment Sayako suffered as a young child, and is far from contrived as each scene lends further information and empathy to her situation, giving credence to her anti-social behaviour. Symbolism is also used well throughout Remiges, including a parrot horrifically having it’s wings clipped, while Sayako’s plight is mirrored amongst the other characters she comes into contact with. A powerful and insightful film about youth.

Trunk (트렁크)

Trunk (트렁크)

Trunk (트렁크) – 5/10

Trunk is best thought of as a showcase for director Kim Hyeon-cheol’s (김현철) talents rather than a great piece of filmmaking. That’s not to say that it’s a bad film at all, as what is on display is a very competent approach to both the horror and thriller genres. Director Kim employs a host of stereotypical conventions in portraying the story of a woman whose curiosity gets the better of her when she spies an open trunk. To say more would involve spoilers, but tension is constructed well as the story progresses. Howver, the attempt to add an original spin doesn’t really work and comes off as silly, undermining the suspense generated prior. Trunk is a competent showcase, and it will be interesting to see what director Kim does next.

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

JIFF 2013: Korean Films in Competition

JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013

The 14th Jeonju International Film Festival is almost upon us, kicking off on the 25th of April and running for a week through to the 3rd of May. After the huge controversies surrounding the festival last year, JIFF is reinventing itself with new programmers and staff as well as holding additional events due to take place nearby.

As always JIFF will screen a great variety of film talent focusing specifically on the independent sector. Opening with the joint French/Canadian film Fox Fire (폭스파이어) by director Laurent Cantet, a host of new film-making talent will be on display until closing film Wajida (와즈다), by Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al Mansour, is screened.

For the full list of films being shown at JIFF 2013 please follow the link provided here, which amongst other things features a wonderful focus on Indian films in a category titled ‘Beyond Bollywood’. Yet as Hanguk Yeonghwa is concerned with Korean films specifically, here’s a rundown of the ten ‘Korean Films in Competition’.

51+

51+

51+

Director: Jung Yong-taek (정용택)

Synopsis: 51+ explores the lives of musicians who perform in the famous Hongdae area of Seoul, a hotspot for indie bands and emerging talent. Yet as the area has become more popular and big businesses have moved in, aspiring musicians are forced out and must take opportunities where they can.

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Cheer Up Mr. Lee (힘내세요, 병헌씨)

Director: Lee Byeong-hun (이병헌)

Synopsis: The film follows Byeong-heon, a young aspiring film-maker who endures seemingly constant disappointment as he attempts to establish himself. The film purports to be something of an amalgamation of docu- and mockumentary set in the film world.

Dancing Woman (춤추는 여자)

Dancing Woman (춤추는 여자)

Dancing Woman (춤추는 여자)

Directors: Park Sun-il (박선일), Park Jun-hee (박준희), Ryu Jae-mi (유재미), Jo Chi-young (조지영), Choo Kyeong-yeob (추경엽)

Synopsis: Dancing Woman is an omnibus comprised of a variety of different genres and themes. Apparently, the film employs modern dance techniques during each narrative, and looks to be an interesting experimental piece.

Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)

Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)

Dear Dolphin (환상속의 그대)

Director: Kang Ji-na (강진아)

Synopsis: Employing a mixture of fantasy and reality in exploring love and death, Dear Dolphin looks set to be one of the more surreal offerings from the festival. The trailer can be viewed below:

December (디셈버)

December (디셈버)

December (디셈버)

Director: Park Jeong-hoon (박정훈)

Synopsis: December (디셈버) is an exploration of relationships and how they shift and change over time. At 73 minutes it’s quite short for a feature, yet as one of the few films focusing primarily on relationships it could be one of the more interesting dramatic films at the festival.

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Echo of Dragon (용문)

Director: Lee Hyun-jung (이현정)

Synopsis: The description of Echo of Dragon is quite ambiguous, even labelled as a ‘peculiar drama’. With it’s off-the-wall themes – including repressed desires – and ‘twisted’ imagery, the film has the potential to be a boundary-pushing wildcard.

Grandma-Cement Garden (할매-시멘트정원)

Grandma-Cement Garden (할매-시멘트정원)

Grandma-Cement Garden (할매-시멘트정원)

Director: Kim Ji-gon (김지곤)

Synopsis: The human rights orientated Grandma-Cement Garden explores the forced relocation of elderly citizens in Busan. Their trials, lifestyles and memories are portrayed until their inevitable move, and as such could be a success with its political scandal/human interest angle.

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Groggy Summer (그로기 썸머)

Director: Yun Su-ik (윤수익)

Synopsis: Groggy Summer is concerned with the pressures of Korean society, and their impact on a creative wannabe poet. The dissection of culture and pressure on Korean youth is an intriguing and timely premise, and could tap into cultural anxieties.

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Director: Jung Young-heon (정영헌)

Synopsis: The description of Lebanon Emotion is incredibly vague, but it appears to be an exploration of a variety of human emotions that occur in different situations. Director Jung has helmed several short films during his career, so it will be interesting to see what he achieves with feature length material.

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

My Place (마이 플레이스)

Director: Park Moon-chil (박문칠)

Synopsis: My Place is an interrogation of the differences between contemporary and traditional Korea, focusing on one particular family unit. The ideological differences between generations isn’t particularly original, yet as single-motherhood forms part of the film it could signal a fresh approach on the subject.

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