The entry into the psychedelic classroom is a surrealist nightmare

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Most Memorable Moments of 2013

Beware – spoilers ahead!

One of the great things about being a fan of Korean cinema is that the industry is continually inventive. Whether in mainstream or independent film, Korean filmmakers constantly generate shocks and thrills aplenty, featuring some truly memorable moments that resonate long after the final credits have rolled.

As the title of this feature implies, 2013 was no exception. Shocking scenes frequently appeared throughout a variety of genres, and here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s most memorable – disturbing, shocking, or just plain awesome – moments of the year.

Final warning – spoilers ahead!

Azooma (공정사회) – Dental Revenge

Disillusioned with patriarchal institutions, the ajumma prepares for her own brand of justice

Disillusioned with patriarchal institutions, the ajumma prepares for her own brand of justice

There have been a number of films in recent years that have explored the serious crime – and soft punishment – of pedophilia in Korean society. Few however can attest to providing such violent revenge as indie thriller Azooma.  Rejected by police as well as the child’s playboy father, the ‘ajumma’ (azooma) enlists the help of local gangsters to abduct the criminal and tie the pervert into a dentist chair. Employing her skills as a dental nurse, the ajumma exacts her bloody and brutal – and incredibly cathartic – vengeance by drilling the teeth to the bone without anesthetic. Even better however is that the surgery belongs to the child’s absent father, allowing mother and daughter to walk away and learn to heal.

Han Gong-ju (한공주) – The Internet Video

Gong-ju's trauma apears on the internet for all to see

Gong-ju’s trauma apears on the internet for all to see

Heartbreaking and tragic, director Lee Su-jin’s break-out film centers on high school student Gong-ju who conceals an extremely traumatic event in her past. While hints continually suggest that she was sexually assaulted, the truth is even worse – she was gang raped by dozens of her peers. The depiction of the event is truly haunting. However, as the film reaches its climax, Gong-ju’s unaware friends finally learn the truth about her suffering as a video of the assault appears on the internet. Unable to move or speak, Gong-ju’s best friend can do nothing but watch in horror.

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서) – Dr. Swalski

Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

One of the most vibrant and enjoyable rom-coms in recent years, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is brilliantly original largely due to one character – the mysterious Dr. Swalski. In his audacious 1970s apparel, the doctor brilliantly gives advice on how to manipulate men to naive assistant director Choi Bo-na with superb comic timing, even appearing within her life when things don’t quite work out the way they should. With wonderful tongue-in-cheek wit, Dr. Swalski is a fantastic creation from the mind of director Lee Won-seok.

Intruders (조난자들) – The North Korean Spy

Suspicions rise but the culprit comes out of left field

Suspicions rise but the culprit comes out of left field

Director Noh Young-seok’s (노영석) film about a screenwriter seeking solitude in the mountains is a quirky story, with the slow build of suspense brilliantly executed as the murdered bodies begin piling up and suspicions rise. When the survivors find a hidden basement full of victims tensions reach fever-pitch – until a short North Korean spy jumps out of a closet. Simultaneously hilarious and shocking, the spy displays director Noh’s dark-comic sensibilities and adds a surprising element in an otherwise straightforward thriller.

New World (신세계) – Battle Royale

Jeong Cheong viciously battles his way through assassins

Jeong Cheong viciously battles his way through assassins

Through gangster epic New World, Chinese-Korean wiseguy Jeong Cheong – superbly portrayed by actor Hwang Jeong-min – is little more than a loser, a joker more interested in fake goods than in cementing his position within the crime syndicate. That is, until a rival seeks to take him out of the running permanently. Surrounded by assassins, Jeong Cheong displays stunning ferocity as he battles for his life pummeling his adversaries into submission, culminating in a brutal knife fight in an elevator. And in the end, only one man is left standing.

Pascha (파스카) – The Abortion

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Busan Film Festival winner Pascha depicts the relationship between 40-something screenwriter Ga-eul and her 17 year old lover. The slow-moving indie drama presents their struggles to stay together, particularly after the news that Ga-eul is pregnant. Forced to have abortion by her family, the deeply depressed screenwriter undergoes the procedure. Yet as she leaves, something compels her to turn back and demand to see the remains. The controversial scene has divided critics, but the haunting image resonates long after the credits.

Snowpiercer (설국열차) – The Classroom

The entry into the psychedelic classroom is a surrealist nightmare

The entry into the psychedelic classroom is a surrealist nightmare

Director Bong Joon-ho’s epic sci-fi has several noteworthy moments, including the shattering of an iced-arm and discussing how babies taste, but the entry into the disturbingly bizarre school is so surreal it tops them all. After battling through dark and grimy carriages in an extremely bloody and violent revolution, the next door opens to reveal a disneyfied classroom on acid full of psychotic fervour. Alison Pill is phenomenal as the fanatical teacher, while the brainwashed students religiously chant the train driver’s name as if he is a deity. With exceptional work by production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, the classroom is a disturbing reminder of the power of bias education on impressionable minds.

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – The General 

The general's hat is all that remains as Yoon becomes frantic

The general’s hat is all that remains as Yoon becomes frantic

Newsroom drama The Terror Live was a big hit in Korea due to the open and frank exploration of corruption within the social elite, and the exploitation of workers. As reporter Yoon Yeong-hwa (expertly performed by Ha Jeong-woo) converses with the terrorist who destroyed a bridge live on air, a military general comes to the studio and joins the debate. The general rapidly makes the situation worse, goading the terrorist with lies and defamation building unbearable tension until a bomb in the general’s earpiece explodes splattering blood everywhere.  A shocking moment, yet also a victory for exploited workers.

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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