The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

For exciting new Korean films, the Korean Cinema Today program at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) highlights some of the best and latest productions emerging from the industry.

Korean Cinema Today is separated into two sub-categories – Panorama and Vision. While Vision explores the latest independent films and exciting new filmmaking talent, Panorama showcases some of the big domestic and internationally acclaimed films, as well as more high profile world premieres.

The 14 films in Panorama 2013 contains some of the biggest names working in the industry today. For arthouse fans, Kim Ki-duk’s highly controversial Moebius, as well as two Hong Sang-soo films – Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and Our Sunhi – make appearances. Two directorial debuts are included in the form of superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s Fasten Your Seatbelt, and veteran actor Park Joong-hoon’s Top Star. King of Pigs director Yeon Sang-ho’s latest animation The Fake is featured. There are also exciting new projects that involve crowdfunding, human rights issues, and the debut of K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in a lead role.

For the lowdown on all the films within the sub-category, please see below.

Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

Abbi (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Director: Jang Hyun-soo (장현수)

Synopsis: Abbi – or rather, Twisted Daddy – is a drama about a father whose dedication to his son becomes out of hand. Working hard to ensure his son can study law and become successful, the aging father risks everything.

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Director: Kim Tae-yun (김태윤)

Synopsis: Crowdfunding was sourced to produce this real life legal drama about a woman who contracts leukemia while working at a Samsung factory. The film follows the family’s efforts overcome the disease as well as the corporation responsible.

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완)

Synopsis: The Berlin File was a big hit upon release earlier his year. With an all-star cast including Ha Jeong-woo and Jeon Ji-hyeon, the action-thriller showcased director Ryoo’s style like never before. For the full review, please click here.

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho (연상호)

Synopsis: Following on from his hugely successful film King of Pigs, director Yeon Sang-ho employs his biting cultural critique stylisation to explore corrupted religious officials who are holding a small town to ransom.

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Director: Ha Jeong-woo (하정우)

Synopsis: Fasten Your Seatbelt – or ‘Rollercoaster‘ in Korean – marks superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s directorial debut. The comedy sees mismatched characters collide when their plane encounters a typhoon.

God's Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

Director: Lee Jang-ho (이장호)

Synopsis: Lee Jang-ho was a prominent director during the 1970s and ’80s, and after an 18 year hiatus has re-entered filmmaking with God’s Eye View. The film explores a group of missionaries whose faith wanes after abduction by Islamic rebels.

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Director: Kim Sung-su (김성수)

Synopsis: A co-production between Korea and Japan, sci-fi Genome Hazard depicts a man seemingly losing his sanity following the apparent death of his wife. Director Kim previously worked with Park Chan-wook and Son Il-gon.

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

Directors: Min Yong-keun (민용근), Lee Sang-cheol (이상철), Shin A-ga (신아가), Park Jung-bum (박정범)

Synopsis: Produced by the National Human Rights Commission, this omnibus film represents radically different stories about people living on the fringes of society, and the hardships they endure.

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Director: Kim Ki-duk (김기덕)

Synopsis: Moebius was marred by controversy before it was released.  Kim Ki-duk’s psychosexual thriller examines a family torn apart by adultery, penis dismemberment, and incest.

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

Director: Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)

Synopsis: Town trilogy and The Weight director Jeon Kyu-hwan explores the life of an impulse disorder patient and his long-suffering family in My Boy. cultural attitudes towards mental health and the medical system are examined.

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: University student Haewon feels lonely following her mother’s departure for Canada, and contacts married lover – and professor – Seong-joon. A story of a young woman’s quest for identity.

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: Sunhi is a film student who, wishing to continue her studies in America, seeks a recommendation letter from her professor. Yet in doing so, she unwittingly allows 3 different men attempt to advise her over her future.

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Director: Shin Yeon-shick (신연식)

Synopsis: A sequel of sorts to Rough Cut, Rough Play is concerned with a rising film star who becomes involved with gangsters, leading to a downward spiral. Based on an idea by Kim Ki-duk, the film features K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in the lead role.

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Director: Park Joong-hoon (박중훈)

Synopsis: Veteran actor Park Joong-hoon makes his debut with Top Star, a film about a talent manager who suddenly becomes a superstar. Yet as his popularity increase, so does his arrogance and determination to stay at the top.

 

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Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Hyeon-soon leads a humble, yet satisfactory lifestyle

Jesus Hospital (밍크코트) – ★★★☆☆

Jesus Hospital (밍크코트)

Jesus Hospital (밍크코트)

Religiously-infused films often walk an incredibly precarious line; should the narrative either condone or condemn the ideology being portrayed, the risk of alienating – or worse, offending – factions of the audience is great. And yet seemingly any cinematic foray into the subject inescapably stokes controversy as the predicaments, decisions and actions taken through faith, whether situated within historical or contemporary contexts, generate enormous debate amongst the religious and non-religious alike.

With a title such as Jesus Hospital (밍크코트), audiences could understandably be forgiven for preconceiving that the film features overtly biased, pro-Christian debates. Yet Jesus Hospital does no such thing, instead focusing on a family tragedy while the emotionally fraught relatives struggle to make sense of their situations through their own interpretations of religious texts. The film is incredibly successful in portraying a balanced, mediative approach, and aside from a rather bland second act, is an interesting and thought provoking independent drama.

Despite her humble life, Hyeon-soon (Hwang Jeong-min (황정민) is relatively happy. However she hides a secret from the rest of her devoutly Christian family, as Hyeon-soon’s beliefs are more akin to the Old Testament and she frequently worships in such a manner. When her mother becomes gravely ill, Hyeon-soon and the rest of her estranged family must reach an agreement – should they end the life support keeping their mother alive, or wait in the hope that she will one day awaken? As each member of the family wrestles with the ethical dilemma and their religious beliefs, the introduction of Hyeon-soon’s pregnant daughter Soo-jin (수진) shakes the familial ties to their very foundations and forces them to acknowledge factors they have long sought to keep hidden.

Hyeon-soon leads a humble, yet satisfactory lifestyle

Hyeon-soon leads a humble, yet satisfactory lifestyle

The title Jesus Hospital is a bizarre, religiously-infused differentiation from the original ‘Mink Coat’, and is also something of a disservice as the film is much more concerned with familial relationships and ethical dilemmas than in foregrounding Christian ideology. Religious beliefs are however wonderfully interrogated throughout the domestic strife in Hyeon-soon’s family, as each member applies rhetoric to suit to their own desires yet appear wholly ignorant of their selective manipulation. Yet co-directors Lee Sang-cheol (이상철) and Shin A-ga (신아가) are incredibly balanced in their portrayal of Christian beliefs, neither reinforcing nor detracting from the ideology and instead allow each protagonist to convey their religious position throughout the drama. As such the narrative is – as with each protagonist’s relationship with the bible – open to ambiguity and interpretation, forming a mature and insightful foundation within which events transpire and decisions are made. Such a highly symbolic nature again emphasises the importance of the original title, as Mink Coat alludes to the themes expressed within the film with acute poignancy.

Jesus Hospital begins promisingly, as Hyeon-soon’s poverty-stricken life is revealed through a series of rapid extreme close-ups that starkly convey her hardships, from her aging skin through to the dilapated locations within which she monotonously delivers milk. Her dreary existence is wonderfully constructed and conveyed, as the directors have drained all colour from the mise-en-scene and emphasise Hyeon-soon’s boisterous character through confrontations with the public. Most notably, however are the conflicts with her family which are simultaneously humorous yet uncomfortably tense as the members trade quips with each other within seemingly intrusive camerawork. When Hyeon-soon’s mother is placed on life-support several months later, each family member’s Christian values – and deviation thereof – are employed to argue whether to end the life of the kind old woman, or to preserve it. With such an interesting premise it’s therefore surprising that the rest of the second act is a rather muted and bland affair, as the co-directors and the actors themselves fail to capitalize on the urgency of the situation, or the deviousness of those involved. Thankfully Jesus Hospital regains momentum with the introduction of Hyeon-soon’s estranged daughter Soo-jin, whose turn as a outspoken mediator makes the final act incredibly compelling.

The introduction of pregnant daughter Soo-jin increases the familial tension

The introduction of pregnant daughter Soo-jin increases the familial tension

As central protagonist Hyeon-soon (현순), Hwang Jeong-min (황정민) is wonderfully convincing as a poverty-stricken woman who dearly loves her mother and who seeks solace from her existence in Old Testament-esque worship. While her boisterous character is skillfully conveyed, her religious fortitude is often expressed through wide-eyed glares and wringing of hands which somewhat detracts from the zealous fundamentalism which is so often hinted. Nonetheless, Hwang Jeong-min portrays a fascinating character and continually alludes to the humor, loneliness, and anger of a woman striving to make sense of her life.

Despite her supporting role status, Han Song-hee (한송희) is incredibly compelling and likable as pregnant daughter Soo-jin (수진). Her ambivalence and indifference to family matters is performed convincingly, as is her radical change of stance upon learning the role of the mink coat within the family. It is largely due to her presence that the film recaptures the momentum contained within earlier scenes, and the actress brings a palpable sense of urgency and morality to the proceedings which had been absent.

The rest of the supporting cast all perform competently. In the role of Hyeon-soon’s older sister, Kim Mi-hyang (김미향), and of brother and sister-in-law Kim Nam-jin (김남진) and Baek Jong-woo (백종우), all three perform well as a devious trio each with their own agenda. However the actors generally fail to fully convey the complexity of their roles and the haste in which they wish action to be taken. Despite this, they perform well and their interactions with Hwang Jeong-min are humorously-uncomfortable highlights.

Hyeon-soon seeks advice from the heavens

Hyeon-soon seeks advice from the heavens

Verdict:

Misleading title notwithstanding, Jesus Hospital is an insightful and compelling independent drama that examines morality with a family during a period of crises. Writer Shin A-ga has constructed a well-balanced and incredibly mature exploration of the selective application of faith, which she skillfully co-directs with Lee Sang-cheol in conveying the complex relationships and ethical dilemmas. While duo somewhat fail to capitalize on the intriguing premise during the second act, Jesus Hospital is an engaging film and a significant contribution to Korean independent cinema.

★★★☆☆

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