A priest telling lies or a devil telling the truth - The Fake examines the nature of religion

Adult Animation ‘The Fake’ (사이비) to get World Premiere at Toronto Film Festival

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Director Yeun Sang-Ho (연상호), the man behind the highly acclaimed animated drama King of Pigs (돼지의 왕), is to have the world premiere of his latest film at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

The Fake (사이비) is a powerful socio-cultural examination regarding the nature of organised religion. When a man enters a rural community, he discovers the church minister is conning the community for his own nefarious purposes. Indeed, the word ‘사이비’ is quite specifically tied to religion, and roughly translates as ‘religious scam.’

The Fake will be screened under the ‘Vanguard’ program at TIFF, intended as an outlet for provocative and daring films. From the trailer below it’s very clearly a director Yeun film, and if it’s even remotely as insightful – or scathing – as King of Pigs then it’ll be a film to watch out for.

The Fake features the vocal talents of Kwon Hae-hyo (권해효), Oh Jeong-se (오정세), Yang Ik-joon (양익준), and Park Hee-bon (박희본).

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Let Me Out (렛 미 아웃)

Filmmaking Zombie Melodrama ‘Let Me Out’ (렛 미 아웃) Gets Trailer and Release Date

Let Me Out (렛 미 아웃)

Let Me Out (렛 미 아웃)

Let Me Out (렛 미 아웃), an independent film about a precocious film student, is due to be released on August the 15th.

The filmmaking comedy received its debut at last year’s Puchon Fantastic Film Festival before appearing at Dallas, Hawaii, and other international film festivals respectively.

Written and directed by film teachers Kim Chang-rae (김창래) and So Jae-yeong (소재영), the story follows opinionated film student Mu-yeong (Kwon Hyeon-sang (권현상) who routinely criticizes the work of others but has yet to make any impact himself. Mu-yeong crosses the line however when he chides guest visitor and celebrated director Yang Ik-june for his films. Throwing down the gauntlet, director Yang bestows a cash prize upon the student forcing him to prove himself. Mu-yeong decides to film his zombie melodrama Let Me Out, but as he begins gathering his cast and crew including producer/best friend Yong-woon (Han Geun-sup (한근섭) and actress and love interest Ah-yeong (Park Hee-bon (박희본), he quickly discovers that making a film is far from easy.

Let Me Out will also be the first independent Korean film to be released simultaneously in Korea and the US, with Variety’s Richard Kuipers describing it as, “a highly entertaining comedy […] with an infectious let’s-put-on-a-show spirit.” (Variety)

Please see below for the trailer.

Film News
The 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul

GFFIS 2013: Opening Ceremony and Promised Land screening

The 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul

The 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul

On a rainy Thursday the 9th of May, the 10th Green Film Festival in Seoul (GFFIS)  got underway with an opening ceremony at Yonsei University’s Baeyang Concert Hall in Sinchon, Seoul. Hosted by duo Kim Tae-Hun (김태훈) and actress Park Hee-bon (박희본), the event sported several videos celebrating the festival’s now decade long run – including a quite sweet musical video called Have a Cup of Tea, or See a Film! (차라도 한잔, 영화도 한편!) helmed by renowned director Kim Tae-yong (김태용).

Important politicians and policy makers, including Mr. Park Jae-dong, Mr. Yoon Seong-gyu from the Ministry of Environment, and Chairman of the Board of the Korea Green Foundation Mr Lee Se-jung all gave welcoming speeches regarding the importance of the festival and of ecological awareness in general, and their comments were warmly greeted. This was followed by an opening declaration by Mr. Kim Won, the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, who then brought actor Ji Jin-hee on stage to present him with a small plant as part of his acceptance in becoming the latest eco-friend of the festival.

Yonsei University's Baeyang Concert Hall

Yonsei University’s Baeyang Concert Hall hosted the opening ceremony

Legendary festival programmer Kim Dong-won was in attendance

Legendary festival programmer Kim Dong-won was in attendance

The hosts begin the ceremony

The hosts begin the ceremony

Actor Ji Jin-hee accepts his award as an eco-friend

Actor Ji Jin-hee accepts his award as an eco-friend

Director Kim Tae-yong's short film was a fun opening to the festival

Director Kim Tae-yong’s short film was a fun opening to the festival

The hosts and director Kim discuss the film and the festival

The hosts and director Kim discuss the film and the festival

After a short interval, everyone was again seated for the opening film. Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land , which re-teams the director with star Matt Damon after the critically acclaimed Good Will Hunting, sees a duo from an energy company attempt to buy land in the country in order to harvest the natural gas beneath. Yet the residents become concerned due to the process of ‘fracking’, in which chemicals are pumped into the Earth to get the resource, making the prospect a tough sell. The film was very well-received by the audience, and the film itself is a very apt opening due to the debates involving nature, community, big industry, and money. Please see below for the review.

Opening Film

Promised Land

Promised Land

Promised Land – 6/10

Promised Land is, in many ways, a great film to open the festival with. The story sees Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand) as workers for Global, a giant energy conglomerate who wish to obtain the natural gas residing under a farming community in Pennsylvania. Few actors do ‘everyman’ as well as Matt Damon, and that charm is present throughout the film as he is simply a good guy trying to do the best job he can. Unfortunately that job is to buy the land out from under the people, and his naivety  in this regard is perplexing as it’s quite obvious what the ramifications are from the start. To reinforce the point director Gu Van Sant features plenty of establishing shots of the countryside to emphasize what’s at stake, making Promised Land a very attractive film throughout. Despite the quite serious subject matter the narrative is often comedic, featuring some real laugh-out-loud moments as Steve and Sue continually face obstacles ranging from school teachers to the weather. Steve’s journey is an interesting one as he is torn between being a man with working class roots and his desire for (financial) success, although his reasoning isn’t explored nearly enough. Furthermore the narrative is far too ambitious as it attempts to cover too much in the running time, and in doing so lacks any real heart or emotional power. The inclusion of a love interest for Steve tries to address the issue, but she is often jettisoned in favor of returning to the environmental debate. Promised Land is a good, solid film and certainly one of the better dramas to deal with environmental issues, yet the curious lack of heart make the film a thought-provoking, but somewhat emotionless, endeavour.

Festival News Green Film Festival in Seoul (제10회 서울환경영화제) Korean Festivals 2013
The cruelty and injustice of life becomes too much to endure for the friends

King of Pigs (돼지의 왕) – ★★★★☆

King of Pigs (돼지의 왕)

King of Pigs (돼지의 왕)

‘Mature animations’ have, rather unfortunately, rarely been a staple in ‘Western’ cinematic culture. ‘Mature’ has often been mistaken for ‘sexualised’ due to marketing ploys attempting to introduce the concept. Yet in ‘Eastern’ cinema mature animations have proved popular for exploring a variety of adult and socio-political themes, ideological explorations which would often require a vast budget in the live-action arena.

Through his independent feature King of Pigs (돼지의 왕), writer/director Yeon Sang-ho (연상호) has produced an exceptionally powerful social critique of Korean culture. While the limited budget is at times visible and the acting occasionally over-zealous, King of Pigs is a stark and violent examination of patriarchal and hierarchical society, as well as the role of capitalism and corruption in defining one’s existence.

As a struggling writer, Jeong Jong-seok (Yang Ik-joon (양익준) is continually frustrated in his attempts at becoming a published author. Bullied by his boss for daring to give an opinion over a piece of writing, Jong-seok has a violent encounter with his wife as a result. Storming outside to clear his head, Jong-seok receives a call from a childhood friend he hasn’t spoken to in several years, Hwang Kyeong-min (Oh Jeong-se (오정세). Meeting for dinner, the two old friends reminisce about their youth and the difficulties of living and studying in an all boys’ middle school. Yet the conversation takes a darker tone when the topic of their old mutual friend Kim Cheol (Kim Hye-na (김혜나) arises, and secrets long buried are finally revealed.

After 15 years of no contact, Kyeong-min (right) calls Jong-seok for a reunion

After 15 years of no contact, Kyeong-min (right) calls Jong-seok for a reunion

King of Pigs is an incredibly gritty, violent examination of the childhood years experienced by contemporary middle aged men, and pulls no punches in emphasizing the Confucian and capitalist value systems as the route of all evil in Korean society. The narrative is one of the most powerful expressions of ‘Han’ cinema in recent years as the social injustice and inequality depicted provide the protagonists with palpable angst and rage, which director Yeon Sang-ho exploits by increasing tension to such an uncomfortable degree that violence is not only a prerequisite but a virtual demand. When it does transpire, the action is beautifully cathartic as the fluid animation and camera movement weaves amongst the kicks and punches as they impact the transgressors, as much a commentary on audience desire as it is on bullying. King of Pigs is a success largely due to such well-structured sequences and the shockingly compelling narrative as it jumps between Jong-seok and Kyeong-min’s childhood years and their adult lives. While the former certainly takes precedence the consequences are conveyed in the present, adding layers of depth as the protagonists’ formative years unfold. Indeed, it is remarkable just how many social discourses are contained within the film. While bullying is rife within all cultures, the tactics employed within this particular school are not only predicated on physicality but also in wealth, age, gender, social relationships and parental influence making King of Pigs a distinctly Korean affair as the hierarchy self-perpetuates due to its Confucian heritage. As Jong-seok, Kyeong-min and Chul have precious little of the necessary attributes they are cast to the lowest ranks of the school pecking order, and the resentment that evolves and festers is startling to behold. Yet the narrative is also concerned with the private lives of the three friends, which allows the conveyance of such concepts on a societal scale as they witness misogyny, crime and corruption as the people around them seek power only to abuse it. As frustration and resentment engulf the trio, they wish desperately to alter their role as merely a ‘pig’ in the hierarchy yet are tragically aware that such a role defines them for life.

The continuous bullying forces Chul (left) to take a stand against the aggressors

The continuous bullying forces Chul (left) to take a stand against the aggressors

However, while the narrative of King of Pigs is strong and highly symbolic, it is not without problems. While it feels an unfair point to criticize, the limited budget does occasionally appear through the animation as characters move robotically  in certain scenes, particularly in sequences where a large number of people enter the frame. This is in stark contrast to the fluidity of action scenes and the difference is quite jarring and somewhat distracting.

The vocal talents of the cast are generally very competent and sincere, particularly by the actors voicing the protagonists as children. Kim Hye-na stands out in this regard as poverty-stricken delinquent Kim Cheol, who performs the array of poignant moments and aggressive events well. As adults the vocal talents have less significant screen time, yet Breathless director Yang Ik-joon conveys the tragic frustrations of Jong-seok especially well. There are moments however when the acting becomes over-zealous, notably with Oh Jeong-se as Kyeong-min who is at times is rather hysterical. Luckily the supporting cast and the strength of the narrative make sure that such moments are short-lived, as the film deftly focuses on the characterization of all the protagonists in both time periods.

The cruelty and injustice of life becomes too much to endure for the friends

The cruelty and injustice of life becomes too much to endure for the friends

Verdict:

King of Pigs is a bold, unflinching animation that portrays an incredible examination of a variety of social discourses in Korean culture. Writer/director Yeon Sang-ho has crafted a well-structured and gripping narrative with incredible depth, where the stylized violence is not only naturalized but, through the build of tension, desired. While budget limitations and over-zealous acting occasionally appear, King of Pigs is a riveting film not only in terms of the animation genre but, due to the uncompromising concept of ‘Han’ throughout, a compelling entry into Korean cinema.

★★★★☆

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