For fifteen years, celebrated author Kim Jeong-seok (Kim Jeong-seok (김정석) has been searching for his missing wife (Jung Han-bi (정한비) following her sudden disappearance. Refusing to admit defeat, the mean-spirited and poor father-figure continues to travel throughout the Korean countryside looking for his long lost spouse, until novel-fan and executive Kim Soy (Kim Soy (김소이) offers help to track her down. As the duo embark on the case, a cabal of wealthy individuals demand Jeong-seok’s help, for they too have missing relatives who vanished in a similar manner. As Jeong-seok and Soy follow the clues across the wilderness, the mystery begins to unravel in a way none could have imagined.
Author Jeong-seok teams with fan Soy to track down his wife
The Avian Kind (조류 인간) is one of those films where audiences will quickly find themselves polarized. For some, the breathtaking cinematography and existential narrative will prove to be a captivating experience; others, meanwhile, will likely find the art-house sensibilities to be too opaque and the story impenetrable. As such, director Shin Youn-shik’s (신연식) fifth film is likely to have limited exposure which is a great shame, as The Avian Kind is a rare breed in the Korean industry.
From the outset, The Avian Kind constructs an enchanting world in which Jeong-seok’s quest occurs. Cinematographer Choi Yong-jin displays incredible prowess throughout, capturing the natural beauty of the Korean countryside in a manner that greatly strengthens the mysterious, supernatural-esque, nature of the story. In conjunction with Mowg’s melodically unnerving musical score, the film exudes a potently eerie sensibility that is both captivating and haunting.
The mystery surrounding Jeong-seok’s wife is explored via flashback
The enigmatic nature of the film is further heightened by director Shin’s use of editing between time periods. While Jeong-seok’s investigation transpires in the present, the tale leading up to his wife’s disappearance fifteen years prior is explored via flashback. In employing the narrative structure in this way the story becomes as compelling as it is cryptic, posing possible answers while generating more questions. Yet rather than being stagnant there is always a sense of momentum to each journey that will ultimately provide answers the mysterious disappearances.
However as The Avian Kind embodies mostly art-house aesthetics, the abstract nature of the story may well be a source of frustration for many. The existential philosophies underpinning the narrative are alluded to yet offer no concrete answers, and audiences expecting otherwise will be in for a disappointment. That is not to say the issues with the film lay solely with the audience; characterisation is a problematic area within the story, as are the generic devices used to propel the story into a finale. Typically in an adventure or road film the protagonists develop and grow on the journey, yet none of the central cast do so. The later attempts to inject tension into the film through incorporating chase sequences akin to the thriller genre is also a misstep, dispelling the impressive atmosphere in what seems to be a bid to satisfy mainstream audiences.
Jeong-seok is summoned by a cabal of wealthy socialites, yet their motivations are dubious
The Avian Kind is a beautifully realised existentialist road film, and due to the art-house aesthetics within the film is likely to polarize audiences. Director Shin Youn-shik has crafted a compelling tale of a man searching for his long lost wife, featuring stunning cinematography of Korea’s natural countryside alongside a melodically unnerving score that serve to generate an enchanting experience. While not for everyone, The Avian Kind is a rare breed of film in the Korean cinema industry and an absorbing exploration on the nature of contemporary identity.
After years of making documentaries, filmmaker and animal lover Hwang Yun (황윤) hung up her camera in order to get married and start a family. Yet not long after the birth of her son, the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic spread across Korea resulting in the culling of thousands of pigs alongside other farmyard animals. Having previously had little concern for pigs, director Hwang suddenly found herself preoccupied with their plight. The questions swirling in her mind prompted the director to contact farms in order to film the arising situations and, after finally obtaining permission, she gathers her camera and embarks on documenting the life of pigs.
The manner in which pigs are raised is the central issue for the documentary
An Omnivorous Family’s Dilemma (잡식가족의 딜레마) is a charming and heartfelt family documentary, as well as a highly enjoyable and educational experience. The approach that director Hwang takes in exploring the life of pigs is key to what the film so endearing. She is not simply an animal activist but a concerned mother and Korean citizen, and in employing this perspective an ‘everyperson’ quality is informed that makes the documentary highly accessible and compelling. As such the issues director Hwang encounters appear wholly natural, as she has no definitive agenda as such but simply lets her curiosity guide her. Ironically however this also holds the documentary back from being more powerful and thought-provoking, as the inclusion of greater investigative journalism would have undoubtedly bolstered her arguments regarding pig farming.
After several rejections, director Hwang finds a free range farmer willing to let her film
Director Hwang is initially motivated out of concern for the foot-and-mouth epidemic that swept Korea, which ultimately informs her debate between factory and free range farming. Scenes from the factory farms she visits are as abominable as they are powerful, depicting pigs confined to grotesque, tiny cages in which they eat, sleep, are artificially inseminated, rear young, and ultimately die. The imagery frequently calls forth comparisons with concentration camps, yet the most horrific scenes occur during the mass culls in which hundreds of live, squealing pigs are crushed and buried alive. Director Hwang’s vision pertinently captures a strong indictment of not of the barbarism of factory farming, but also the demand for meat in society at any cost.
Yet the factory farm scenes are generally kept to a minimum in order to explore the living conditions of free range pigs. It is during such scenes that director Hwang employs a strong focus on family, by bringing her young son to educate him whilst simultaneously forming relationships with a farrow of piglets. The benefits of free range farming, as well as her son’s development, are wonderfully captured and are ultimately why An Omnivorous Family’s Dilemma is so entertaining. Watching director Hwang and her son learn the basics of pig farming and then later struggling with pork in their diet is humourous take on the moral dilemma, and watching the conflicts that arise within the family are amusing and thought-provoking throughout.
Director Hwang’s son befriends a piglet while learning how to farm
An Omnivorous Family’s Dilemma is a charismatic and enjoyable documentary about pig farming in Korea. This is chiefly due to the perspective director Hwang Yun employs, who approaches the issues not only as an animal rights activist but also as a wife and mother. The contrasts between factory and free range farming are powerful and thought-provoking, yet it is the development of director Hwang’s son and their dietary dilemmas regarding pork that form the core entertainment. While An Omnivorous Family’s Dilemmawould undoubtedly benefit from greater investigative journalism, the documentary is a gentle and heartfelt viewing experience.
In a seedy, crime-ridden city a young woman named Mizo (Lee Hyo (이효) forms a strange sexual relationship with brutal low-life thug Woo-sang (Yoon Dong-hwan (윤동환). As their love/hate affair develops, Mizo discovers that the extremely violent Woo-sang was a former detective, turning his back on the law following a shocking scandal with a bar-girl (Sin So-mi (신소미). Much to the chagrin of Woo-sang, his old girlfriend is now living with a small-time local gangster (Lee Jeong-yong (이정용), and the men clash over both her and Mizo. Yet the enigmatic Mizo is harboring a secret and an overpowering desire for revenge that could bring about the ruination of them all.
Mizo and Woo-sang have a violently sexual relatonship
Mizo is a film of excess in almost every respect, but then perhaps that’s to be expected from director Nam Gi-woong (남기웅), who previously helmed Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine in 2009. It is probably also unsurprising that the film is laced with misogyny. Indeed, shortly after the film begins Mizo is located within a motel instigating, as well as simultaneously enjoying and being a victim of, violent sexual intercourse with a man twice her age. This would be fine, of course, if the film were exploring the fraught life of a young prostitute yet no efforts are made to do so as director Nam appears more interested in shocking spectacle rather than introspection.
To his credit, director Nam does employ plenty of such displays through using taboo subjects, and fans of such stylisation will undoubtedly find much to be entertain by. The world that he has constructed is a dark and vice-filled underworld of sex and violence, and the altercations that arise between characters are often quite visceral and barbaric. Typically the motivations behind the violent confrontation involve Mizo and/or Woo-sang’s ex-girlfriend, with the men on either side fighting for ownership over one or both of them. Enlightened it is not.
Mizo faces her nemesis and rival for Woo-sang’s affections
Either way, it is extremely difficult to care who wins any conflict due to the woeful characterisation and absurdity of events. Two-dimension stereotypes are employed throughout the entirety of the film to the point of genuine annoyance. Woo-sang is a lumbering Neanderthal with zero redeeming qualities; Woo-sang’s rival, the small-time crook who ‘stole’ his ex, merely shouts and swears at every opportunity; and the bar madam is simply a victim waiting to be saved. As the titular protagonist Mizo escapes such treatment somewhat, but usually because she flits from one stereotype to the next creating an aura of unpredictability.
As Mizo, newbie actress Lee Hyo performs well. While the role itself is limited, Lee Hyo conveys a strong sense of melancholy in conjunction with quirks pertaining to being psychologically unbalanced. Her performance is ultimately what holds the entire film together as while the narrative itself is quite predictable, she is anything but. For much of the running time Lee Hyo is required to be aloof and unbalanced, yet when she has the opportunity to delve deeper into emotional material she does so in a melodramatic, but competent fashion.
Mizo’s intentions remain quite an enigma throughout the film
Mizo is a drama of sexual and violent excess, but then perhaps that’s to be expected from director Nam Gi-woong, who was previously responsible for Teenage Hooker Was A Killing Machine. For fans of such spectacle, Mizo will quite likely be entertained and to his credit director Nam constructs a believable environment within which it occurs. However the film is blighted by a poor script and terrible characterisation, while the narrative is ultimately quite absurd. Newbie actress Lee Hyo holds the drama together well with a lofty, unpredictable aura yet introspective Mizo certainly is not.
Independent filmmaker Hae-gang (Park Jung-pyo (박중표) has worked hard for years, helming several notable productions that have earned him a respectable reputation. However his latest endeavour is proving more difficult than most, largely due to his uncompromising, aggressive, and occasionally downright rude attitude on set. Worse still, his inability to distance himself from the stresses of production generate conflict with his long-suffering girlfriend, creating distance between them. With both time and money running out, and crew and companions turning away from him, Hae-gang is forced to make tough choices that could ultimately challenge his director’s cut.
The director struggles to get the perfect shot
Director’s CUT (디렉터스 컷) is a welcome addition in portraying the difficulties afflicting filmmakers. The great strength of the drama lies in the portrayal of such struggles with a great sense of realism, from minor conflicts on set of changing camera shots to larger challenges of creative control with external agencies. Writer/director Park Joon-bum (박준범) has done a remarkable job of exploring a multitude of facets related to the independent industry, even extending beyond production based problems to highlight the corruption within film festivals, a potent and brave move indeed. Also of note is the manner in which Hae-gang is conveyed as his own worst enemy. The frustrated filmmaker is so utterly devoted to his art that he unwittingly destroys relationships with those closest to him, and director Park constructs his protagonist well as passionate yet flawed perfectionist desperate for creative control.
Hae-gang’s intense passion for filmmaking creates conflict in his professional and private life
However that said, Hae-gang is also a quite unlikable protagonist throughout the entirety of Director’s CUT. Fighting to retain his creative vision is one thing, yet the filmmaker constantly creates unnecessary conflict amongst his peers for little reason, stubbornly arguing over ridiculous matters in the name of pride and ambition. Worse still, Hae-gang’s treatment of his sweet and caring girlfriend is frankly awful, and it’s a little puzzling why she endures such hurtful conduct. This would be fine if Hae-gang evolved as a character during the course of the narrative, yet such enlightenment never dawns on him even when it is quite obvious that he needs to change. As such it’s particularly difficult to feel empathy with his plight for Hae-gang is, for the majority of the running time, a contemptible jerk.
It’s acutely ironic that while Hae-gang is responsible for impairing his film, Director’s CUT also suffers due to similar reasons. Hae-gang’s instance for control of the final cut seems to mirror that of director Park; within the film Hae-gang is determined to employ somewhat superfluous scenes much to the annoyance of his editor, while director Park does the same in Director’s CUT much to the frustration of the audience. A scene in which the camera operator forgets the correct equipment could have easily been conveyed through a few failed attempts, for example, yet by the sixth error tedium sets in as well as the desire for a more scrupulous editor.
Hae-gang comes into conflict with a producer over certain scenes and the final cut
Director’s CUT is an interesting drama exploring the difficulties of working as an independent filmmaker. The sense of realism and the far-reaching industry issues explored by writer/director Park Joon-bum form the core strength of the film, yet it is greatly impaired by a central protagonist who is wholly inconsiderate, rude and very difficult to empathise with. Lack of character arc notwithstanding, Director’s CUT is also ironically hampered by the need for more stringent editing, resulting in a film that is interesting rather than compelling.
So-jin (Park Joo-hee (박주희) lives a relatively humble life in the countryside with her mother, a shaman. When her mother dies, instead of embracing the role of the local shaman So-jin decides to leave everything behind and start afresh in Seoul. Yet she is stopped by a man whose son has gone missing, and demands her help in locating the youngster. Worse still, So-jin’s mother had promised the man that she knows the whereabouts of his son and would help, and becomes angry when she states otherwise. Desperate the flee the violent people of the village and catch the train, So-jin slowly begins to understand that destiny isn’t always of her choosing.
Miss the Train (미성년) is a highly atmospheric offering from director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭). The dramais a slow-burning and occasionally poetic film due to the muted colour palette, which works well in conjunction with the cinematography to capture the sense of hopelessness in a dilapidated rural village. Miss the Train is quite a departure from director Lee’s previous short Mr. Vertigo, displaying a genuine stylistic and aesthetic evolution.
Problems arise however through the extremely muddled and oft-confusing story. Director Lee and screenwriter Kim Ja-ryung have attempted to craft an intriguing and mysterious coming-of-age tale, yet they continually seem to get caught up within their own narrative and as such events become increasingly more puzzling and often don’t make a lot of sense.
So-jin meets mysterious strangers on her quest to escape the village
Miss The Train features not only multiple characters but realms as well, with the crossover between them a continual source of confusion. The intent is clearly to build layers of mystery and arouse curiosity, but the narratives devices employed to do so fail to generate suspense and are generally trite. Furthermore the plot is so full of holes that they tend to draw audiences out of the film, while the central story is fundamentally quite silly. The narrative certainly has potential, however it becomes clear rather quickly that the ideas within require further development.
Actress Park Joo-hee gives a competent performance throughout Miss The Train and tries her best to hold the film together, however her role is generally to draw audience focus during the mystery and as such she isn’t particularly stretched. She does well in conveying a mixture of strength and vulnerability, as well as building empathy, yet is often quite limited by the story itself. It will be interesting to see how Park Joo-hee fares in a more demanding role, as she displays potential throughout Miss The Train that is never fully explored.
So-jin contemplates her destiny
Miss the Train (미성년) is an atmospheric indie drama by director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭), who displays a genuine evolution in style from his previous work through his melancholy cinematography. Yet even so, the muddled and puzzling story is a continual source of frustration as the attempt to generate mystery and intrigue becomes lost within itself. Actress Park Joo-hee competently holds the film together, but even she cannot compensate for the various plot holes and contrivances that occur.
Omnibus film MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) has the notable distinction of featuring not only three of Korea’s top name directors in the form of Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승) and Kim Tae-yong (김태용), but also for serving as the opening film for the 15th Jeonju International Film Festival. The collective work is quite a landmark for an opening film due to the use of 3D, which is, in part, used to emphasis the new vision and production role of KAFA+ (The Korean Academy of Film Arts).
The three segments are each designed to explore human relationships through a connection to a form of popular culture. Director Ryoo Seung-wan helms the first short titled Ghost (유령), about a boy who is addicted to his cell phone; director Han Ji-seung is responsible for I Saw You (너를 봤어), which is concerned with a futuristic zombie apocalypse; and finally director Kim Tae-yong explores the life of a young girl with an autistic brother in Picnic (피크닉).
In the interest of fairness, each short within the omnibus has been reviewed individually, in the order in which they appear onscreen.
Ghost (유령) – ★★★☆☆
Ghost depicts teenager Seung-ho (Lee David (이다윗) who is more concerned with the digital world of chat rooms, sms, and computer games rather than reality. When Woo-bi (Son Soo-hyeon (손수현), a girl from his chatroom, claims she is in danger from an abusive boyfriend, Seung-ho teams with Bi-jen (Park Jeong-min (박정민) to help her.
Based on a true story, Ghost is quite a departure from director Ryoo Seung-wan’s typically action-orientated projects, and he ably handles the focus on low-key personal drama. Scenes featuring Seung-ho’s bedroom are expertly filmed and wonderfully convey his fractured relationship with reality, while the social pressures from his school and father are competently expressed. However the tension that a film such as Ghost requires is curiously absent, particularly when Seung-ho and Bi-jen attempt to help Woo-bi. The use of 3D is also quite unnecessary as the drama rarely features it effectively.
Luckily the ever-reliable Lee David holds everything together well, with his likeable ‘everyman’ charm again forcing audiences to empathise with his plight. That said, the actor is never pushed into new territory and as such his performance doesn’t contain the intensity of his prior work, yet Lee David does what he can with the material on offer. It’s Park Jeong-min, however, who gives a wonderful performance as the socially inept Bi-jen. Complete with thick-rimmed glasses, protruding jaw and nervous ticks, Park’s characterisation is a radical departure from his previous roles conveying angst and social-dislocation with aplomb.
I Saw You (너를 봤어)
I Saw You (너를 봤어) – ★★☆☆☆
In the not-too-distant future, zombies have emerged causing catastrophe in their wake. Yet the arrival of a cure for the affliction has allowed the undead to rejoin society. Factory manager Yeo-wool (Park Ki-woong (박기웅) presides over zombie laborers, pushing them to work harder and harder. When a zombie named Si-wa (Nam Gyoo-ri (남규리) attempts to communicate with him, Yeo-wool begins to understand their connection.
Director Han Ji-seung’s I Saw You is certainly the weakest within the omnibus. Poorly scripted, badly acted, and featuring precious little depth, the superficial rom-com-zom is a hollow experience. Director Han’s ambition is clearly bigger than his budget, yet instead of scaling down the film into a more focused piece he has constructed a poor imitation of a large production, one where the narrative veers wildly resulting in a lack of interest in the central couple. There is an attempt to emphasise the importance of memory as with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yet it becomes lost amongst the various narrative tangents and oddities.
Bizarrely, I Saw You also fails to use the 3D technology effectively. This is the one production within the omnibus where the genre lends itself to fun 3D antics, however the potential isn’t capitalised on, resulting in a rather bland offering.
Picnic (피크닉) – ★★★★☆
Su-min (Kim Su-an (김수안) lives a humble life with her seamstress mother (Park Mi-hyeon (박미현) and autistic younger brother. Despite her young age Su-min is often forced to take responsibility for her sibling, and her only respite is to lose herself with the ages of a romantic comic book.
Picnic is a beautifully told, wonderfully charming story of youth and innocence, and is undoubtedly the most accomplished segment with the entirety of MAD SAD BAD. Screenwriter Min Ye-ji has constructed a poignant, sensitive and compelling story regarding those who live on the fringes of society, one which is elegantly depicted by director Kim Tae-yong. Director Kim ‘s uncanny ability to deeply understand and convey his characters motivations is once again apparent as he portrays a frustrated, overburdened young girl with an acute sense of subtly and artistry. Director Kim is also the only director in the omnibus to employ 3D effectively. Picnic features some truly sumptuous cinematography which the 3D technology vibrantly brings to life, particularly scenes of nature as with a pier at sunset and a mysterious forest.
The compulsion of the film rests on young actress Kim Su-an’s shoulders, and she delivers wonderfully. Her performance is continually captivating and displays a quality that belies her youth, proving that her prior films, including Berlinale winner Sprout, were no fluke. Kim’s charismatic performance conveys an adult sense of responsibility and independence alongside a youthful innocence and vitality, generating a deep sense of empathy and that never fails to entertain.
When his partner decides to end to their relationship in order to become a Buddhist monk, director Kelvin Kyung Kun Park is devastated. Unable to understand her desire to reject contemporary civilisation in search of spiritual enlightenment, director Park decides to search for something tangible and godly to win her back. Yet in his quest to do so the director begins to explore Korea’s recent history, and becomes aware of human kind’s complex relationship with what is considered holy.
The composition is consistently stunning
A Dream of Iron is a gorgeously shot, beautifully sincere documentary. Director Park fully displays his history as an artist with some truly majestic cinematography that rarely fails to leave mouths agape, and is a stunning testament to human kind’s unbridled ambition and search for the divine. Premiering at the 2014 Berlinale and awarded the NETPAC Prize (alongside fellow Korean documentary, Non-Fiction Diary), A Dream of Iron has been turning heads internationally for it’s sensitivity and depth in attempting to find God in modernity.
Director Park elegantly combines imagery from different periods of Korean history in exploring how spiritualism has evolved. Early Koreans worshipped whales as heralds of the divine, and their grace and mysterious grandeur are artfully captured throughout the film. Such scenes are contrasted with Buddhist ceremonies whose monks attempt to achieve enlightenment through rituals, and with the modern age in a shipbuilding steelworks. In each instance the camerawork, cinematography and use of colour are absolutely sumptuous. The gentle and tranquil blue hues of life under the ocean are juxtaposed with the burning reds and yellows of molten metal at the steelworks, eloquently articulating how humanity has exchanged heavenly creatures for a hellish landscape in the pursuit of conquering, and recreating, godliness.
Notions of divinity throughout the ages are explored leading to the age of iron
In examining the transition, director Park employs historical footage of former dictator Park Chung-hee and his unrestrained fervour for modernity. In telling scenes the director depicts how Park systematically destroyed the old to make way for his new vision, and in one particularly effective moment cuts from a whale to a sign baring ‘HYUNDAI’, acutely conveying the exchange of deities. Rather than examining the chaebols (Korean companies) however, A Dream of Iron is focused on POSCO (Pohang Iron and Steel Company) and the history of the organisation. The old footage of steelworkers and the history of protest within Korea is a consistently fascinating viewing experience, while the religious terminology used by the corporation itself lends itself to director Park’s themes all too easily.
The music throughout A Dream of Iron is incredibly well used, particularly in the jaw-dropping aerial shots of the shipyard and the Park Chung-hee era. The sense of foreboding and darkness that is created through such sequences are powerful and provocative, particularly when contrasted with notions of the divine from prior eras. As the director explores the contrast ever further, both he and the audience gradually being to understand that his ex-partner may well have a strong case to leave after all.
The POSCO furnaces are a hellish landscape exemplifying human kind’s desire to create their own divinity
A Dream of Iron is a gorgeously shot documentary by director Kelvin Kyung Kun Park that explores Korea’s difficult relationship with notions of the divine. By contrasting scenes of majestic whales, Buddhist ceremonies, and hellish scenes from the POSCO steelworks, director Park has crafted an elegant and powerful examination of Korean modernity. The film’s success in achieving the NETPAC award at Berlinale is wholly justified as A Dream of Iron is a stunning testament to human nature’s unbridled ambition.
Struggling screenwriter Nam Gyu-jeong (Choi Yoon-yeong (최윤영) has multiple dilemmas to contend with. She has a huge crush on her best friend’s boyfriend, the local police officer; her divorced parents are both behaving mysteriously; her laptop has died and she cant afford to replace it; and a disquieting, black-clad new tenant has begun staying in her father’s building. As Gyu-jeong begins researching for her next project involving a vampiric protagonist, she becomes convinced that the enigmatic stranger known as Gang Nam-girl (Park Jeong-sik (박정식) is also a bloodsucker due to his aversion to sunlight and distaste for garlic…or he could be just plain weird. As Gyu-jeong seeks the truth about Nam-girl and the assortment of people in her life, the comical situations that arise help her to discover the path of love is often far from smooth.
Who is the mysterious new tenant?
You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어) is a quirky romantic comedy that is unfortunately lacking in both areas. The comedic scenes that emerge throughout the course of the film are entertaining enough to be smile inducing – for example the mystery man’s name is Gang Nam-girl (Gangnam girl) – yet rarely offers more, while the burgeoning romance between Gyu-jeong and her ‘vampire’ is forced to the point of being contrived. The reason for this ultimately belongs to array of supporting characters who number far too many, and director Lee Won-hoi’s (이원회) desire to give each of them a narrative arc forces You Are My Vampire into a film comprised of a series of vignettes rather than a compelling whole with a strong emotional core. The rom-com does display hints of the madcap narrative devices that made How to Use Guys With Secret Tips such a thrill, but unfortunately they never extend into something provoking the same kind of enjoyment.
Gyu-jeong wears quirky clothes while selling side dishes to get Nam-girl’s attention and discover his secrets
While the comedy tends to prompt titters rather than laughs, You Are My Vampire also offers some stimulating social issues through the supporting cast. Gyu-jeong’s parents are divorced yet remain friends, and the jokes that arise between the three of them are refreshing compared to traditional Korean rom-com fare. Similarly Gyu-jeong’s crush on her best friend’s boyfriend and the resulting dilemmas are conveyed without the pretense and melodrama inherent in other stories, while Nam-girl’s sad history and the storyline involving Bangladeshi friend Mabub are welcome. However, Mabub is also the victim of a racially offensive joke regarding his armpit odor, which is uncalled for and very disappointing. As the comedy gently continues, You Are My Vampire falls into the trap that often blights Korean rom-coms by incorporating a heavy dose of melodrama to force narrative closure. It’s an unnecessary addition, but luckily director Lee quickly moves focus back to the central couple and their unconventional attraction to each other.
WIth all the mysteries going on, can Gyu-jeong and Nam-girl get it together?
You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어) attempts to capitalise on contemporary culture’s fascination with supernatural love stories, by offering a decidedly quirky rom-com between a struggling screenwriter and man who displays all the hallmarks of vampirism. Director Lee Won-hoi (이원회) employs quite gentle comedy throughout that provokes sniggers rather than laughs, while the over-abundant supporting cast force the film into a series of vignettes rather than a compelling whole. While the approach to social issues is refreshing, the contrivances and lack of strong emotional core make the rom-com a mildly entertaining experience.
When highly-conservative philosophy professor Yoon (Jo Han-cheol (조한철) suffers a stroke due to overwork and stress, his wife does the best she can to nurse him back to health. Yet when she cannot cope any longer, she enlists the help of quirky caregiver Sookhee (Chae Min-seo (채민서), whose patients all seem to remarkably recover. Sookhee, however, is more than she seems and her techniques vary from kind and sweet to threatening and sexual.
Sookhee is a free spirit
Imagine Mary Poppins as a sexually charged sociopath who take care of conservative, misogynistic stroke sufferers. That is quite possibly the most apt description of Sookhee (숙희), a bizarre film with a huge identity crisis and a large undercurrent of meanness. The mish-mash of an array of generic conventions, as well as Sookhee’s constantly schizophrenic characterisation, make the story an incredibly surreal experience. Writer/director Yang Ji-eun (양지은) doesn’t appear to be sure what kind of film she wants to helm, as the narrative – and characters – veer in all directions without really exploring any. Ironically this is both compelling as well as frustrating, as the odd machinations consistently surprise. Yet beneath all the bizarre goings-on is an ordinate amount of unwarranted, appalling misogyny. Masculine fantasies frequently arise and typically instigate violence. Throughout the film Sookhee is routinely beaten and sexually assaulted by the men in her life adding an acutely nasty dimension to an otherwise jovial film, which is all the more surprising given that director Yang is one of the few female filmmakers presenting her work at JIFF 2014. Sookhee perpetuates the archaic ideology that free-spirited women need to be tamed and dominated by violence and sex.
Sookhee is the victim of an inordinate amount of misogyny
What director Yang does well lies in her use of colour. Scenes featuring Sookhee are beautifully vibrant and sumptuous, often featured in the countryside far from the realm of men, conveying her liberation from patriarchy alongside pagan, or wiccan, sensibilities. Professor Yoon, in contrast, is located within an absence of colour. The washed-out palette wonderfully conveys his conservatism and strict adherence to the rules of men, bolstered by the repetition of academic and religious iconography. As Sookhee enters Yoon’s world and ‘educates’ him through her odd mix of fear and sexual liberation, his world gradually becomes more colourful as he heals. Yet therein also lies problems, as Yoon’s trajectory is more of a vapid devolution than one of enlightenment. Director Yang is attempting to explore Oedipal issues and gender roles through Sookhee’s maternal and Yoon’s infantile roles, and by reversing old-fashioned patriarchal positions of power and sex. However the message is lost beneath the deluge of oddities and mean-spirited misogyny, alongside the unintentionally humourous overacting.
Sookhee’s former patients seek to ‘tame’ her through sexual violence
Sookhee is a peculiar film about a free-spirited caregiver who helps stroke sufferers through a bizarre mix of fear and sex. The tone and themes within the surreal film spiral wildly throughout, creating a huge identity crisis from beginning to end while the undercurrent of needless misogyny casts a dark shadow over proceedings. Writer/director Yang Ji-eun does well in employing colour to convey the sensibilities of the two central protagonists, yet the messages regarding reversal of patriarchal relationship and sexual roles are subsumed beneath utter oddity and meanness.
The Korean Competition at the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) always contains a selection of rare gems of independent cinema.
Last year the big winner of the competition was December which was honoured with the Grand Prize, while Dear Dolphin and Lebanon Emotion won the CGV Movie Collage Awards, respectively. The Audience Critics Prize went to documentary My Place. Interestingly, out of all of the winning films the most successful were Lebanon Emotion – which earned Jung Young-heon the Best Director prize at the Moscow International Film Festival as well as appearing in Vancouver and London – and My Place, which has earned several domestic accolades including the Jury Prize at the Seoul International Film Festival and was invited to the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.
At JIFF 2014 there are eleven films vying for the coveted Grand Prize. Among the eight features and three documentaries are nine world premieres, which is certainly an impressive lineup. Below is the Korean Competition trailer which features highlights from all the entrants, before more detailed profiles of each film in the program.
A Dream of Iron (철의 꿈)
Director Park (Kelvin) Kyung Kun (박경근)
A Dream of Iron
A Dream of Iron
Documentary A Dream of Iron arrives as the most celebrated film in the category following a premiere at Berlinale and being awarded the NETPAC prize (alongside Non-Fiction Diary). Unable to understand his partner’s decision to become a Buddhist monk, director Park begins searching for something tangible and awe-inspiring, leading him to Korea’s POSCO steelworks. Contrasting differing ideas of religion and majesty, A Dream of Iron contains stunning cinematography of the country’s struggle with modernity.
A Fresh Start (새출발)
Director Jang Woo-jin (장우진)
A Fresh Start
A Fresh Start
A Fresh Start marks director Jang Woo-jin’s feature debut. The film depicts youngsters Ji-yeon and Hye-rin, two lonely individuals who meet regularly at a literature club. When their relationship unexpectedly turns sexual, everything is fine…until Hye-rin discovers that she is pregnant. With both of them already suffering from family-related problems, school issues and the all-too-common depression that afflicts Korean youth, Hye-rin and Ji-yeon struggle with what they should do in such a difficult situation. Furthermore their unsure feelings towards each other are forced into the spotlight as they struggle to find a solution.
Highway Stars (악사들)
Director Kim Ji-gon (김지곤)
Highway Stars is another documentary entry in the competition, following the life and times of Band Udambara. The ensemble are a fascinating group consisting of former nightclub performers and a Buddhist monk, and the film explores how they make a living by taking night gigs. Nightclubs, it should be noted, are different from clubs in Korea as they are extremely male orientated and often are fronts for illegal activity. Director Kim Ji-gon, whose documentary Grandma Cement-Garden appeared at JIFF last year, returns to explore more individuals forced to the margins of society.
Miss the Train (미성년)
Director Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭)
Miss the Train
Miss the Train
Director Lee Kyung-sub has previously helmed a number of short films including last year’s JIFF Cinemascape entry Mr. Vertigo, starring Oh Dal-su. With Miss the Train director Lee upgrades to feature length in depicting the story of So-jin, who grieves the death of her mother, a former shaman. When a strange man forces So-jin to help him find his missing child as he believes she is part of a prophecy, she desperately seeks an escape from the pressures in her life. Yet when she runs away to lie low in a warehouse, she encounters another odd man, and her grasp on reality becomes evermore tenuous as spirits seem to appear before her.
Director Jung Byeong-sik (정병식)
Monkeys is Jung Byeong-sik’s directorial debut, after working on other films including 2012’s A Confession of Murder and Action Boys in 2006. Monkeys revolves around Gong-hyeok, a man who once had future ambitions of becoming renowned in the music and film industry. Yet now in his late twenties and in dire need to support his family, Gong-hyeok is still no closer to achieving his dreams. Yet when he reconnects with an old friend who has just debuted as a film director, Gong-hyeok cannot help himself and old quarrels suddenly start to reappear and drive a wedge between them. The film is in both colour and black and white.
One For All, All For One (60만번의 트라이)
Director s Park Sa-yu (박사유), Park Don-sa (박돈사)
One For All, All For One
One For All, All For One
Issues of discrimination are of paramount concern in rugby drama One For All, All For One. The sporting film depicts a Korean rugby team in Osaka who are very successful despite encountering prejudice from society at large. However their indomitable spirits and strong sense of camaraderie help them to overcome any discrimination that comes their way. Sporting dramas are often quite successful in Korea especially as they typically involve national pride, particularly when the opponents are Japanese. Director Park Don-sa is a third generation Korean living in Osaka, while director Park Sa-yu has focused on discrimination against Koreans in Japan in her previous work.
Pohang Harbor (포항)
Director Mo Hyun-shin (모현신)
Drama Pochang Harbor explores the notions of life and death, in conjunction with human development and behaviour, in what looks set to be the most experimental offering in the category. When his father mysteriously goes missing, a man returns to his hometown in order to find him. Yet the man also has alternative reasons for coming home. Following years of working dead-end labour jobs and not settling any roots, the man is searching for something more than the life he has forged. In her feature debut director Mo Hyun-shin employs a host of long shots and keen cinematography to examine the human condition.
Director Yang Ji-eun (양지은)
Sookhee tells the story of a conservative, workaholic philosophy professor named Yoon. Unable to take the stress any longer Yoon suffers a stroke and, as his wife is unable to cope, a free-spirited caregiver named Sookhee nurses him to health. Yet her treatments are far from orthodox as she employs a mixture of kindness, fear, and sexual excitement to force Yoon on the road to recovery. Furthermore, the maternal instincts she employs enact a dramatic reversal of traditional gender roles, provoking extreme reactions from the once uptight philosophy professor. Sookhee is director Yang Ji-eun’s first feature film and due to the exploration of sexual issues is described as a ‘daring debut.’
The Wicked (마녀)
Director Yoo Young-seon (유영선)
The competition would be lacking without a new thriller, and luckily director Yoo Young-soon’s debut The Wicked fulfills the criteria. When Se-yeong begins working at a company, her senior I-seon quickly becomes concerned. Se-yeong’s threatening behaviour, as well as her fascination for sharp objects ranging from scissors to small knives, frightens I-seon…particularly as she learns more about her new colleagues unsavory past. Could Se-yeong truly be as wicked as she seems?
The Youth (레디 액션 청춘)
Directors Kim Jin-moo (김진무), Park Ga-hee (박가희), Ju Seong-su (주성수), Jung Won-sik (정원식)
The Youth – Wonderwall
The Youth – Play Girl
The Youth is an omnibus of four short stories, each one exploring the lives of Korean youths. The segments are entitled The Rumor, Wonderwall, Enemies All Around, and Playgirl. Within each short film the directors examine the worlds of Korean youngsters as they struggle to discover their identities as well as retain their innocence and hope, even when facing external issues including violence and peer pressure. Director Kim Jin-moo is a hot property after the release of Apostle, a film based on North Korean human rights issues. The film was even selected for overseas screenings at the UN. Furthermore directors Park Ga-hee and Jung Won-sik all have a history in helming shorts, while Ju Seong-su has previously worked in the production departments of several features.
You Are My Vampire (그댄 나의 뱀파이어)
Director Lee Won-hoi (이원회)
You Are My Vampire
You Are My Vampire
Quirky romantic-comedy-drama You Are My Vampire seeks to capitalise on supernatural relationships that are so popular in contemporary culture. Director Lee Won-hoi employs a playful and energetic style in depicting the story of struggling screenwriter Gyu-jeong, who encounters a mysterious black-clad figure who bears an uncanny resemble to a vampire…or he could just be the strangest man she’s ever met. The film features an eclectic supporting cast who, to Gyu-jeong’s dismay, also begin behaving strangely after the arrival of the pale-skinned man.