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.

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Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2015 Seoul International Women's Film Festival (제 17회 서울국제여성영화제)

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다) – ★★☆☆☆

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다)

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다)

In late 2012, three wannabe actors decide that they’ve had enough of living a squalid existence while waiting for stardom to arrive, and plan to collaborate together on an independent film. Their expectations and excitement are initially high, yet complications occur during the course of filming that serve to create problems between them. Meanwhile, hysteria involving the end of the world is gathering as the end of the year draws nigh, forcing the trio to consider their final night on Earth.

The rookie director ponders his existence

The rookie director ponders his existence

At recent Korean film festivals a project always seems to arrive that attempts to explore the difficulties and frustrations of independent filmmaking. Each time it becomes increasingly problematic for the production to approach the issues from a new and interesting angle, as well as to make the audience root for the underdogs to succeed, and ultimately, to stand out in an overcrowded arena.

Director Baek Jae-ho (백재호) opts for a familiar approach in We Will Be Ok, choosing to focus on a group of down-on-their-luck aspiring stars, yet underscores the entire film with the 2012 anxieties of armageddon which is a refreshing perspective. The intention is clearly to force the protagonists to confront their mortality and thus spur them into (filmmaking) action, yet while the idea is solid enough it is difficult to really engage and care about whether the actors achieve their dreams of making it big.

Lazy wannabe filmmaker Sang-seok meanders through life

Lazy wannabe filmmaker Sang-seok meanders through life

Primarily this is due to the lack of characterization and a narrative that tends to meander. Main protagonist Sang-seok, as well as friends Tae-hee and Jae-ho (also the director), aren’t compelling characters as they convey a sense of laziness and selfishness rather than determination. Similar approaches appeared in Director’s CUT, and worked well to a certain extent in 2013’s Cheer Up, Mr. Lee due to the comedy underpinning it, yet in We Will Be Ok such wit is absent. The film is occasionally funny however, particularly when the trio attempt to shoot their own indie as they clearly have no idea how to make a film, simply pointing an iPhone and shouting “Action!” without having prepared a storyboard or, for that matter, anything else.

Strangely, after the story trudges along without any real conviction, in the final act We Will Be Ok suddenly becomes an engaging road movie with a situation to invest in, as Sang-seok and karaoke bar girl/friend Lee Hwa take a trip to the coast to enjoy the last sunrise before the end of the world. Their discussions are poignant and revealing, particularly when referring to people who fall through the cracks of society and having a reason to live. It’s a real shame that director Baek didn’t focus his entire film on the great ideas generated within the final act, for as it stands We Will Be Ok is mediocre offering.

We Will Be Ok becomes an interesting road movie in the final act

We Will Be Ok becomes an interesting road movie in the final act

Verdict:

Director Baek Jae-ho’s We Will Be Ok is yet another independent film attempting to explore the difficulties of making it big in the industry, and while it treads familiar ground it offers a refreshing angle by incorporating 2012 anxieties of armageddon. However as the narrative meanders coupled with a distinct lack of character development the film is hard to invest in, yet We Will Be Ok is saved by an engaging road movie-esque final act.

★★☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카) – ★★☆☆☆

Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카)

Screenwriter Ga-eul (Kim So-hee (김소희) lives a modest existence, working in dead-end jobs while she attempts to complete her screenplay. The only comforts for the lonely 40 year old are the stray cats she tends to – and often adopts – from the neighbourhood, and her boyfriend Joseph (Sung Ho-jun (성호준). Yet the relationship is quite scandalous as at 23 years her junior, Joseph has yet to complete high school let alone his required military service. Keeping a low-profile the couple continue their relationship unabated, until unexpected complications arise that threaten to drive them apart forever.

Crucial to the success of any romantic-drama is the core relationship. Audiences are fully aware that circumstances will enter the film that will challenge the protagonists, with the enjoyment derived from being so invested in the relationship that they will it to succeed despite the odds. In this sense, Pascha (파스카) falls far, far short of what is required as there is precious little romance or chemistry between Ga-eul and Joseph throughout the entire film. Director Ahn Seon-kyoung (안선경) has decided to enter the relationship well into it’s maturity, which is certainly no bad thing, as she sets up events and situations that are both natural as well as allowing for the sincerity of long-term partners to emerge. Yet even though the relationship is far from conventional such heartfelt emotions never appear, chiefly due to the awkwardness between the two lead actors which is incredibly distracting, particularly by Sung Ho-jun. There is a distance and coldness between them that conveys a mother and son relationship rather than lovers. Joseph’s Oedipal concerns are obviously an issue – hammered home with the song, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” – but scenes such as sharing a bath just appear clumsy and indifferent rather than passionate and intimate.

Ga-eul's relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Ga-eul’s relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Pascha‘s most interesting moments lie within scenes involving Ga-eul’s family. When they discover her relationship with the 17 year old, the judgement and criticism Ga-eul receives conveys a deep-rooted misogyny that, even at the age of 40, she must humbly endure. The abuse she suffers is indeed shocking and it is during such moments that actress Kim So-hee shines, displaying the frailty of the nervous and unconfident screenwriter with skill. The pressure enforced upon Ga-eul also leads to film’s very strong – and very graphic – anti-abortion statement, that will likely appall the majority of audiences and outrage many others. Commentators are likely to discuss how far directors could, or rather should, go when it comes to presenting such explicit and visceral portrayals of such a sensitive topic. Yet it is also bizarrely ironic given that the film is so concerned with feminist issues only to undermine one area of debate in such an extreme manner.

It is also unfortunate that director Ahn only begins to show creative flair out of the ashes from such controversial scenes. For the vast majority of the running time the film is an incredibly bland affair featuring a static camera and very little eye-catching cinematography. The uninspiring camerawork and compositions in the early stages of the film do convey the depression, loneliness and solemnity Ga-eul endures, yet such technical issues are rather crude and also suggest directorial inexperience, further detracting from the supposed intimacy between her and Joseph. This is indeed strange as director Ahn’s capabilities are impressive and wholly apparent during the film’s final scenes, a genuine shame as the relationship sorely requires such visual prowess much much earlier to be convincing and effective. As such Pascha is a romantic-drama that is ironically not memorable for its central couple or the relationship, but for the debate on ‘how far is too far?’ in representations of sensitive subject matter.

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Verdict:

In the attempt to convey the scandalous relationship between a 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend, Pascha falls far short of other romantic dramas. The awkwardness and indifference displayed by the actors ultimately ruins any tension for when the relationship is predictably threatened. Yet director Ahn Seon-kyoung does well when examining the issues of misogyny endured by the central protagonist. Ironically however, Pascha, is not memorable for the scandalous relationship but for the explicit representation of abortion, which will likely upset critics and audiences alike.

★★☆☆☆

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Gala Presentation, New Currents, and Open Cinema

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

With the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) due to commence on October the 3rd, it’s high time to profile the Korean entries that are due to be screened.

Three of the big categories at BIFF – Gala Presentation, New Currents, and Open Cinema – showcase some of the incredible mainstream and independent films to emerge from the Korean film industry this year.

Gala Presentation focuses on a select group of important films from the Asian continent, and within this category are two Korean films – Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (설국열차) and Kim Jee-woon’s The X (더 엑스).

New Currents, meanwhile, explores some of the more powerful independent features to emerge from the continent. The manner in which the films within this category delve into social and cultural issues, often through experimentation of film form, make it one of the more fascinating areas. Three Korean films – 10 Minutes (10분), Steel Cold Winter (소녀) and Pascha (파스카) – appear, and receive their world premieres at BIFF 2013.

Rounding out the three, Open Cinema selects films to be presented on the Busan Cinema Center’s impressive outdoor screen. Two big thrillers from Korea are within the category – Cold Eyes (감시자들) and The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브).

Please see below for more in-depth coverage of each film.

Gala Presentation

The class system on the train is kept in check by sinister matriach Mason

The class system on the train is kept in check by sinister matriach Mason

Snowpiercer (설국열차) – Director Bong Joon-ho (봉준호)

Bong Joon-ho’s science-fiction epic was released in Korea earlier this year, earning over nine million admissions and over $50 million at the box office. For many foreign visitors to BIFF 2013 this will be their first opportunity to see the film before it’s released in international markets, so it’s placement within the Gala Presentation category is quite deserved. Snowpiercer is also notable as (currently) the most expensive Korean film ever made, as well as having Hollywood behemoth The Weinstein Company on board producing. The film tells the story of the last survivors on Earth following a man-made ice age that covered the planet. The last remnants of humanity struggle to survive on a train called ‘Snowpiercer’ which circumnavigates the globe every year. Yet within the train an unfair class system has emerged, and a revolution begins between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ For the review of Snowpiercer, please click here.

The X (더 엑스)

The X (더 엑스)

The X (더 엑스) – Director Kim Jee-woon (김지운)

New camera technology allows for a more immersive experience

New camera technology allows for a more immersive experience

Screen X technology has been employed and experimented with in Kim Jee-woon’s latest film The X. Commissioned by cinema chain CGV, director Kim has used screen x – which allows for extra space on either side of the screen for a more immersive viewing experience – to produce this new 30 minute short action/thriller film. The X also features an all-star cast with Kang Dong-won, Shin Min-ah, and E Som in the lead roles which is guaranteed to arouse interest amongst their respective fan bases.

New Currents

10 Minutes (10분)

10 Minutes (10분)

10 Minutes (10분) – Director Lee Yong-seung (이용승)

10 Minutes is concerned with examining the notoriously harsh environment of the Korean workplace. The story follows a  young intern as he enters employment at a government facility, and is promised a full-time position that will guarantee financial stability. Yet when his boss promotes someone else into the position, the young man is forced to reevaluate his options. 10 Minutes is director Lee Yong-seung’s thesis film while at the Dankook Graduate School of Cinematic Content.

Steel Cold Winter (소녀)

Steel Cold Winter (소녀)

Steel Cold Winter (소녀) – Director Choi Jin-seong (최진성)

Steel Cold Winter is Choi Jin-seong’s first fiction film, after spending years helming successful documentaries. The film depcits the story of high schooler Yoon-soo who moves to the mountains in Gangwon Province following his friend’s suicide. Yet while he attempts to start a new life, he meets a mysterious girl called Hae-won and begins to fall in love. However Hae-won has a secret and when her father suddenly disappears, Yoon-soo’s suspicions become aroused.

Ga-eul's relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Ga-eul’s relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Pascha (파스카) – Director Ahn Seon-kyoung (안선경)

Director Ahn’s Pascha tells the story of a lonely 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend. Their unconventional relationship, and penchant for adopting stray cats, is fine until some unexpected news forces the intervention of their families. The pressure exerted on the couple results in plenty of judgement and heartache, as they must try to find a way to stay together. Pascha could perhaps be an interesting and more feminist orientated companion piece with last year’s A Muse (은교), which explored similar themes with an older man and young girl.

Open Cinema

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – Directors Jo Eui-seok (조의석), Kim Byeong-seo (김병서)

A remake of Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky (2006), cat-and-mouse cop drama Cold Eyes performed very well upon its release over the summer. The film is a slick and high-tech thrill-ride, featuring an impressively futuristic rendition of Seoul as a government surveillance team works day and night to catch professional criminals. Cold Eyes depicts the story of talented rookie Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo) who joins a special division headed by Chief Hwang (Sol Kyeong-gu). Their mission is to apprehend a group of professional thieves and their mastermind ‘Shadow’ (Jeong Woo-seong). The A-list cast have all been superbly cast against the types of roles they usually portray, and the result is a highly engaging thriller.

Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – Director Kim Byeong-woo (김병우)

The Terror Live was one of the surprise hits of the summer, notably going toe-to-toe with Snowpiercer and still gaining a large proportion of the audience. The reasons are quite clear as the thriller is a well-crafted and suspense-filled, as well as striking a chord with Korean audiences due to governmental criticism within. Superstar Ha Jeong-woo plays disgraced TV anchor Yeong-hwa, who has been demoted to radio due to a scandal. When a terrorist calls the radio show threatening to blow up a bridge, his bluff is called, and shortly thereafter an explosion occurs. Set entirely within a newsroom, The Terror Live is one of the more interesting thrillers in recent memory. For the review of The Terror Live, please click here.

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

Preparations are well underway for the 18th Busan International Film Festival  (BIFF), which is due to take place from the 3rd to the 12th of October.

BIFF 2013 will feature a staggering 300 films from 70 countries, with 136 of those world and/or international premieres.

Amongst returning categories including ‘Gala Presentation‘, ‘New Currents‘, ‘Korean Cinema Today‘, and so forth, are a number of special programs for cineastes.

Fly High, Run Far: The Making of Korean Master Im Kwon-taek‘ is an incredible retrospective for the filmmaking giant. Director Im has helmed an unbelievable 101 films during his career, and to celebrate his contribution to the film industry BIFF 2013 will screen a whopping 71 of his films as well as conduct a hand-printing ceremony in his honour. To accommodate so many films, and in an unprecedented move, the retrospective will begin 10 days early as well as feature a host of guest speakers ranging from film professionals to academics at the screenings.

Meanwhile ‘Park Chul-soo Special Commemoration: Eternal Movie Youth‘ is a celebration of the films of director Park who tragically died earlier this year. Five of the director’s films are due to be screened, including the world premiere of Green Chair 2013 – Love Conceptually (녹색의자2013-러브 컨셉츄얼리), the posthumous release of his last production.

Additionally, ‘Rogues, Rebels and Romantics: A Season of Irish Cinema‘ is a recognition of the filmic output from the Emerald Isle, which also sees director Jim Sheridan get the hand-printing treatment alongside the screening of two of his most famous films. A little closer to home, ‘The Unknown New Wave of Central Asian Cinema‘ champions eight forgotten masterpieces from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Please see below for the serene BIFF 2013 trailer.

BIFF 2013 will also open the festival with Bhutanese drama Vara: A Blessing by director/Buddhist monk Khyentse Norbu – the first film hailing from outside of Korea or China to do so in the festival’s history. BIFF 2013 will close with Korean film The Dinner (만찬) by director Kim Dong-hyun (김동현), his third film and his latest since 2005’s A Shark (상어).

Opening Film

Vara: A Blessing (Bhutan)

Vara: A Blessing

Vara: A Blessing

Vara: A Blessing is director/Buddhist monk Khyentse Norbu’s third film, adapted from the Indian short story ‘Rakta Aar Kanna’ (Blood and Tears) by Sunil Gangopadhyay. The film interprets the Indian dance Bharatanatyam through a forbidden love between a young couple. Featuring Buddhist themes of truth-seeking and the path to enlightenment, Vara depicts the story of Lila, a young woman learning the traditional dance from her mother, who falls in love with poor sculptor Shyam. While Shyam worships Lila as a goddess and she in turn imagines him as Lord Krishna, their relationship becomes extremely problematic when Subha, the village leader, objects to their union.

Closing Film

The Dinner (만찬) (Korea)

The Dinner (만찬)

The Dinner (만찬)

Director Kim Dong-hyun explores the modern Korean family in his latest film. Each member of the family struggles with various burdens involving work and family, yet financial concerns are the chief cause of stress for them all. Despite such hardships, the elderly father wishes to treat his wife with a meal of hamburgers for her birthday, something she has never tried before. Yet as the day wears on it becomes increasingly apparent that none of their three children have either remembered nor planned anything for their mother’s special day, as they are so caught up in their own circumstances. When even greater tragedy threatens them, they must learn to cope with their burdens as a family.

For more information from the official BIFF 2013 website, please click here.

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