Hanguk Yeonghwa’s 10 Most Memorable Moments of 2014

10 MEMOne of the great joys of Korean cinema are the unexpectedly fascinating twists and turns of plots; of startlingly powerful scenes examining issues of ‘han’ juxtaposed with quiet, intimate ones; of characters who endure the most difficult of circumstances in Korean society yet refuse to falter.

Here we celebrate 10 of the most memorable moments of Korean cinema from 2014.

The scenes discussed are featured in alphabetical order of the films they featured in, and mark the most emotionally resonating, the funniest, and most shocking moments of the year

To see what memorable moments made the list in 2013, please follow the link here.

******** BEWARE – SPOILERS ENSUE ********

The apology – Cart (카트)

Moon Jeong-hee is forced to get on her knees and beg forgiveness

Hye-mi is forced to give an unwarranted apology

Following a minor conflict with customers at the supermarket, Hye-mi ends her shift and prepares to leave…until those customers, headed by management, descend upon her demanding an unwarranted apology. However a mere apology isn’t enough for the spiteful patrons. In an unbearably humiliating scene, Hye-mi is forced to get on her knees and beg forgiveness for something that wasn’t her fault, with director Bo Ji-young impressively building the indignity and shame to anger-inducing levels. Actress Moon Jeong-hee is incredible throughout the scene, wonderfully conveying the soul-swallowing, abject shame she is forced to endure in order to keep her job.

Such economic arrogance certainly strikes a chord with Korean audiences as, ironically, only a couple of months after Cart‘s release, the Korean Air ‘nut rage’ scandal enraged the country and calls forth the exact same issues dealt with in the film.

The grandmother – The Fatal Encounter (역린)

King Jeongjo confronts his grandmother

King Jeongjo confronts his grandmother

The Fatal Encounter was certainly one of the most attractive Korean films released in 2014 and is a stunning debut showcase of director Lee Jae-gyoo’s prowess.

In one of the most intense scenes, King Jeongjo plans to visit his grandmother…yet rather than an old woman, he is confronted with stunningly beautiful actress Han Ji-min. During the encounter the sexual tension and danger of the situation is palpable, as the two engage in a battle of wits while the ‘grandmother’ seductively bares her perfect skin to the young king.

The scene wonderfully captures the danger and eroticism of the period with incredible tension, highlighting not only director Lee’s skill but also the acting abilities of Han Ji-min and Hyeon-bin.

The incrimination – A Girl At My Door (도희야)

Troubled Doo-hee goes to shocking extremes to change her life

Troubled Doo-hee goes to shocking extremes

When police officer Yeong-nam decides to act as guardian for troubled youth and domestic violence victim Doo-hee over the summer, neither of them could ever expect the end result. Incarcerated due to her sexuality, Yeong-nam’s life is effectively over, until Doo-hee takes matters into her own hands.

Plying her father with alcohol until he passes out, Doo-hee undresses and crawls into his bed before calling the police and, while the line is connected, shockingly fakes sexual abuse at his hands, incriminating him as the perpetrator of a horrific crime while also exonerating the innocent Yeong-nam.

Actress Kim Sae-ron is simply excellent throughout the disturbing sequence, conveying Doo-hee as vulnerable yet frighteningly manipulative.

The dismemberment – Haemoo (해무)

When the immigration plans go awry, the cutting begins

When the immigration plans go awry, the cutting begins

Agreeing to take illegal Chinese immigrants into Korea, captain Cheol-joo becomes increasingly nervous…particularly when the coastguard comes for a surprise inspection. The crew hurriedly force the newly acquired passengers into a special room in the hull until danger has passed, yet when they reopen the hatch they are horrified to discover the immigrants are all dead.

Not knowing what to do, the ruthless captain orders his men to grab a tool and begin cutting up the bodies and to throw the  limbs overboard. As the crew horrifically hack and slash their way through the innocent travelers the deck literally turns red with blood.

Director Sim Seong-bo brilliantly stages the terrifying scene with wonderfully composed shots and the dense, lingering fog within which the brutality takes place.

The  cellphone – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

After working so hard to hide the body, a cellphone begins ringing

Detective Go’s hard work is undone

Detective Go genuinely has one of the most difficult days in his career. His mother has died. He is under investigation by internal affairs. And he kills a man in a shocking hit and run accident.

Desperate to get rid of the body, Go does the unthinkable and decides to put the body in the same coffin as his dead mother. Yet in order to do so, he must position his car perfectly, use his daughter’s toy to drag the body through an air vent, unscrew the nails in the coffin and replace the lid – all while avoiding CCTV cameras as well as the funeral parlour workers. Amazingly Go manages to succeed in his frantic quest and begins to relax….until the man’s cellphone begins ringing from inside the coffin.

Easily one of the most exciting, darkly hilarious moments of the year.

The termination – Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Abortion has become a controversial issue in recent times, but when can women's voices be heard?

One of the most powerful stories is the forced termination

Let’s Dance is a moving, insightful documentary on the topic of abortion in Korea. Director Jo Se-young expertly interviews a variety of women who have undergone the procedure – some who actively wanted it, some who were in a difficult situation and needed it, and one who was forced.

Listening to the woman’s story is heartbreaking as she describes her relationship with a selfish, manipulative boyfriend who refused any part of the situation and forced her to deal with it alone. As she explains her trepidation surrounding the issue and the resultant lateness in having the abortion, it’s impossible not to be deeply, fundamentally moved. The descriptions of her situation and psychologically at that time are incredibly powerful as well as illuminating, and poignantly highlight the need for support for women in challenging relationships and situations.

The  transformation – Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

In the film's final moments, Mr. Kang reveals his younger self

In the film’s final moments, Mr. Park reveals his younger self

For much of the running time, Miss Granny is simply a mild-mannered comedy, one that induces the occasional giggle rather than laughter.

That all changes however during the film’s final few minutes as elderly Mr. Park, who had desperately tried to woo Mal-soon (and supported her younger self, Doo-ri), visits the same magical photography studio. He then visits the bus stop to meet Mal-soon, approaches her, and takes his helmet off to reveal…Kim Soo-hyeon.

Through this genius cameo, cinemas exploded as viewers screamed and whooped at Kim’s presence, and guaranteed that cinemagoers would leave the theater excited and spread positive word of mouth about the film. You can see Kim’s big reveal in the video below.

The washroom – Revivre (화장)

In an extremely emotional scene, Sang-mo washes his wife as her health increasingly deteriorates

In an extremely emotional scene, Sang-mo washes his wife

Revivre is a highly emotional film, largely due to the phenomenal acting prowess of Ahn Sung-gi.

In the film’s most powerful scene, Sang-mo’s (Ahn) terminally ill wife loses control of her bowel and soils herself, and as a dutiful husband he takes his wife to the bathroom and washes her. Yet the abject humiliation is too much to bear and she emotionally breaks down in tears, while Sang-mo tries to support her and remain strong. However what makes the scene so poignant is its depth. Sang-mo’s love for his wife has faded and he is merely being a responsible husband, which his wife is all too aware of. As such the intensity of her embarrassment and the emotional resonance of the situation are heightened beyond words.

A masterclass in acting ability by Ahn Sung-gi and Kim Ho-jeong.

The birthday party – Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Cheon-ji is bullied by her entire class, yet keeps her suffering to herself

Cheon-ji is bullied by her entire class

As Korean unfortunately has one of the highest rates of suicide in the OECD, and one which is especially high amongst teenagers, naturally filmic narratives have sought to portray the issues youths face on a daily basis. Most films tend to focus on the teen suffering from abuse, yet Thread of Lies instead explores the lives of those effected by Cheon-ji’s suicide with flashbacks revealing her decent into depression and those responsible for it.

Modern bullying is distressingly articulated through the birthday party scene, in which Cheon-ji arrives at the event late after being told the wrong time. When she does enter, all the girls at the party begin using a social messenger application to spitefully criticise the distraught young girl right in front of her. Her loneliness and isolation are poignantly captured in this powerful scene, conveying that everyone in Cheon-ji’s life contributed to her depression and are accountable for her suicide.

The father – The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

A distraught father explains his anguish

A distraught father explains his anguish

Easily the most controversial film of the year, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol examines the inept response following the disaster, with the investigative journalist style elevating the documentary heads and shoulders above other releases.

Yet the most emotionally harrowing scene comes in the film’s last few minutes, as director/journalist Lee Sang-ho joins a protest march as parents of the deceased demand action from the government. Asking a father about his feelings and regrets, the grieving man sobs as he states how he wishes he’d told his child to not listen to the officials, how he wished he’d said to run and escape, how his child is not alive today because of his poor advice. Director Lee desperately attempts to console the father despite his own free flowing tears…and audiences were right along with them.

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Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2014

2014 FinalWith the end of the year almost upon us, it’s time to revisit the films released over the past 12 months in order to discern the best offerings from the Korean film industry for 2014.

First, however, a quick review of the year is in order to chart the highs and lows from the peninsula, as it was a tumultuous time for Korean cinema indeed.

For those who cannot wait, please scroll down to find the top ten of 2014.

2014 – In Review

2014 was, by all accounts, a rather lacklustre year for Korean cinema.

Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

Miss Granny (수상한 그녀)

The beginning of the year was undoubtedly dominated by Hollywood. While the release of several high profile Korean films including Plan Man, Man in Love, Hot Young Bloods and Venus Talk occurred, none of them performed particularly well, especially when faced with the gargantuan success of Disney’s Frozen. Things changed at the end of January with the release of Miss Granny, thanks largely to positive word of mouth. Starring Shim Eun-kyeong as an elderly woman transformed into twenties, the mild-mannered comedy was a fairly big success scoring over 8.6 million admissions. Controversial independent film Another Promise also performed impressively. Concerned with people stricken with cancer after working at a Samsung factory, the film was all but rejected from multiplexes causing outrage from critics as well as accusations of insider suppression, even prompting an article from UK outlet The Guardian.

For the next few months, Korean cinema continued to stagnate until things went from bad to worse in the wake of the tragic Sewol Ferry disaster on the 16th of April. With the entire nation reeling from the loss of so many lives – mostly high school students – cinemas, understandably, largely remained empty. For the next few months, with the population still in a collective state of mourning, attendance and revenue was considerably down compared to the year prior, with audiences also tending to stay away from violent films such as No Tears For The Dead and Man On High Heels.

Indie success came in the form of Han Gong-ju. Released in April, the film scored over 60,000 admissions during its first four days, and eventually surpassed 160,000 during its box office run to become one of the most successful independent films in the history of Korean cinema. Han Gong-ju was also an enormous hit on the international film festival circuit, achieving several top honours as well as acclaim from cinema maestro Martin Scorsese.

Internationally, good news also came in May as A Girl At My Door, A Hard Day, and The Target all gained invitations to the Cannes Film Festival.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

Things turned around considerably in late July. Upon release, KUNDO: Age of the Rampant broke the record for opening day admissions and helped to breath new life into the industry…until that record, and virtually every achievement in Korean cinema, was decimated by historical naval epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents. Shortly thereafter the final two tentpole summer films – The Pirates and Haemoo – also graced screens to moderate success. Fears that the blockbusters would fail due to narratives that contain deaths at sea, and thus touching on the still sensitive issue of the Sewol tragedy, luckily proved to be unfounded.

The next big news to hit the industry came in the form of controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol. Premiering at the Busan International Film Festival, Sewol depicted the ineptitude of the government in failing to save so many lives during the disaster. Park Geun-hye’s administration responded by demanding the withdrawal of the film from the festival, as well as threats of funding cuts. BIFF refused, and it remains to be seen what ramifications the decision will have on subsequent festivals.

The year ended on a high note, particularly for independent cinema, as positive word of mouth led to documentary My Love, Don’t Cross That River (님아, 그 강을 건너지 마오) attracting over 1 million viewers and knocking Hollywood films Interstellar and Exodus from the top spots at the box office. It currently stands as the second most successful documentary in Korean cinema history.

The Best of 2014

Honourary Mention – Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Han Gong-ju (한공주)

Before beginning the top ten countdown, it would be impossible to exclude any discussion of Han Gong-ju. Rated in joint first place in last year’s ratings (due to its premiere at BIFF), director Lee Su-jin’s directorial debut is bold, powerful, and emotionally resonating. Featuring an outstanding performance by Chun Woo-hee – who won Best Actress at the Blue Dragon Film AwardsHan Gong-ju is based on the true story of a high school girl who is forced to relocate to a new area following an horrific event. As she attempts to rebuild her life, Gong-ju discovers that she cannot outrun her past however much she tries. Appearing at over 15 international film festivals and receiving acclaim from Martin Scorsese himself, Hang Gong-ju is not to be missed.

Hanguk Yeonghwa’s Top Ten of 2014

No. 10 – Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (만신)

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits is a beautifully stylised, wonderfully constructed documentary that is emblematic of the new artistic approach being employed to genre. Directed by artist/filmmaker Park Chan-kyong, Manshin presents the life and times of renowned shaman Kim Keum-hwa through a startling array of storytelling devices, all in the aesthetic of traditional Korean culture. Periods from shaman Kim’s life are gorgeously reconstructed featuring three prominent actresses – Kim Sae-ron, Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong and Moon So-ri – which, while interesting in itself, is also a story that explores the cultural identity of Korea in the rapid transition from one of the poorest nations in Asia to the economic powerhouse it is today.

No. 9 – Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Night Flight (야간비행)

Amalgamating several real life stories that have transpired over the years, Korea’s most prominent queer director, Lee Song Hee-il, released arguably his most compelling film to date in the form of Night Flight. Poignantly depicting the relationship of two teenage gay Seoulites and their desire to escape their oppressive environment, director Lee Song goes beyond focusing primarily on the romance by profoundly developing the world they inhabit. The harsh education system, the class divide, single parent families and social injustice all feature, and as such homosexuality is naturalized as simply another facet of identity that youths struggle with, resulting in an insightful and compelling drama.

No. 8 – Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Let's Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임)

Documentary Let’s Dance is concerned with the topic of abortion in Korea. Director Jo Se-young brilliantly interviews a variety a women who have undergone the procedure, inquiring about their thoughts, reasons and feelings about the controversial subject matter. Yet the film is far from bleak; in fact it’s quite the opposite. During the refreshingly frank conversations the women laugh, joke and cry about their experiences, while dramatic recreations of comical events are interlaced within, making the documentary a genuinely funny, enlightening, and empowering film. The film also hilariously pokes fun at male ignorance on the subject, including lack of awareness regarding contraception and even the length of pregnancy. Inspirational viewing.

No. 7 – Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Director Boo Ji-young’s insightful second feature film Cart premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim, and for good reason. Based on the true story of unfairly dismissed supermarket employees who began strike action to be reinstated, Cart is a consistently impressive exploration of worker’s rights, women’s issues, and single parent families in contemporary Korea. The provocative drama explores each facet from several distinct perspectives and never fails to be engaging. It also has the distinction of being almost entirely female-centered to great effect, with acting duties from a host of incredibly talented actresses of all ages, combining to produce a moving, courageous and provocative socially-conscious drama.

No. 6 – Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

Thread of Lies (우아한 거짓말)

South Korea has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD. Thread of Lies tackles such difficult subject matter by exploring the lives of those effected in the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide, and is a powerfully provocative film in that the story not only depicts bullying and depression, but also delves into the problematic realm of accountability. Driven by the need for answers, Man-ji begins investigating her younger sister’s suicide, with the conclusions proving to be a painful experience. Thread of Lies is also notable for having a stellar all-female cast, a real rarity these days, with the array of talent combining to produce an understated yet deeply resonating examination of an important social issue.

No. 5 – The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Easily the most controversial Korean film of the year, documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol premiered at the Busan International Film Festival to uproar. Under pressure from government officials and the mayor of Busan/Festival Chairman Seo Byung-soo himself to remove it from the schedule, BIFF ultimately refused and screened it anyway to reveal a highly emotional and courageously critical exploration of the administration’s disastrous rescue efforts following the Sewol tragedy. Through the investigative approach of director Ahn Hye-ryong and journalist/director Lee Sang-ho, the documentary is a powerful tribute to not only the victims of the event but also the ongoing debate of accountability, and the collusion between the state and mass media.

No. 4 – A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

A Hard Day (끝까지 간다)

If there’s one genre synonymous with Korea cinema, it’s the thriller. Yet over recent years thriller films have tended to fall a little flat, a result of over-saturation combined with a lack of ingenuity. Not so with director Kim Seong-hoon’s A Hard Day. Premiering at Cannes Film Festival, the action extravaganza is perpetually riveting entertainment and a wonderful example of great popcorn cinema, so much so that the 2 hour 30 minute running time simply flies by. Featuring an exciting array of set pieces throughout, A Hard Day is a constant mix of excitement and tension that serves to keep the audience guessing – due in no small part to the phenomenal editing – while the ironic dark humour laced within the story always hits the mark.

No. 3 – Haemoo (해무)

Haemoo (해무)

Haemoo (해무)

Nominated as Korea’s official entry for the Academy Awards, Haemoo – or Sea Fog – is based on the horrific true story of illegal immigration gone wrong. Director Shim Seong-bo’s directorial debut is a thrilling visual tour de force, expertly capturing the fraught claustrophobia of life on a small fishing vessel and the abject horrors that occur. Produced by Bong Joon-ho and featuring cinematography from Hong Kyeong-pyo (Snowpiercer), the drama expresses a profound and distinctive aesthetic throughout, as well as great performances from the stellar cast and particularly from up-and-comers Han Ye-ri and Kpop star Park Yoochun. As such, Haemoo is certainly one of the best Korean thrillers in recent years.

No. 2 – Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

After seemingly years of performing authoritarian cameo-esque roles, Ahn Sung-gi once again revealed why he’s considered one of the best in the business with an outstanding return to form in Revivre. Veteran director Im Kwon-taek‘s 102nd film, Revivre explores the life of a middle-aged vice president whose wife is stricken by a terminal illness, yet while he struggles to balance his responsibilities a beautiful new deputy manager begins working in the office who captivates him. What could easily be yet another typical male fantasy is given extraordinary emotional depth due to director Im’s and Ahn Sung-gi’s seasoned hands, both of whom combine to depict a man torn between duty and desire with striking sincerity.

No. 1 – A Girl At My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

A Girl at My Door (도희야)

Director July Jung’s directorial debut A Girl At My Door premiered to a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, which in itself states the incredible power of the film. Produced by famed brothers Lee Chang-dong and Lee Jun-dong, the drama beautifully explores the themes of alienation and discrimination in contemporary Korea, featuring phenomenally understated performances by Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, as well as accompanied by some of the most exquisite cinematography seen all year. The sensitive and poignant story wonderfully captures the issues faced by those on the fringes of Korean society with incredible sincerity, and as such occupies the top spot in the list. Highly recommended and essential viewing.

Film News

Q & A: Director Lee Sang-ho discusses ‘The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol’ – (다이빙벨)

Directors Lee Sang-ho (left) and Ahn Hye-ryong (right) field questions from the audience at the BIFF premiere - picture AFP

Directors Lee Sang-ho (left) and Ahn Hye-ryong (right) field questions from the audience at the BIFF premiere – AFP

N.B. The following Q&A took place at the premiere of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) at the 19th Busan Film Festival (BIFF), on October 6th, 2014.

For the review of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, please click here

Please note – the opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the people articulating them. What follows has been transcribed from the translation given by the BIFF translator at the event.

Translator: “the festival people are tense because the mayor threatened to cut off funding if the festival shows this film, and of course the people who made this documentary are also tense because there might be ultra-conservative people who would come and try to mess up this conference.”

The directors come on to the stage to applause.

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Moderator: “How do you feel about your film being screened here at the Busan Film Festival?”

Director Lee: “There was a lot of controversy over this case, so I will answer frankly and honestly to any questions you might have. Because of the time constraints, I was not able to make the film as ‘complete’ as I had wanted. It’s only God who can take us back to April 16th, the day of the tragedy, but the least we can do is to go back and investigate and find the facts surrounding the incident. I hope that as many people as possible can get to see this film, and I hope that this interest in this film will translate to continued interest in the Sewol tragedy.”

Question: “I’d like to ask, when did you start planning this film? There are some cuts of news footage, so when you were covering this incident, was that when you started planning this film? Or maybe after the uproar had died down? Is that when you started planning this film?”

Director Lee: “Simply put, just like all of you, I was there at Paengmok Harbor and it was there that I realised that the truth was sinking with the ferry and with the children. Most of the mainstream media, whatever they were reporting, was not true, they were lies. And behind the scenes were the power, those in power who wanted to cover up their mistakes, cover their ass. So for three or four days it was a very critical time when the truth was in danger of being covered up forever, so that’s why we kept as much footage as possible, and we tried to film everything. We concentrated back then on the diving bell because we thought the diving bell would be critical in revealing the lies that the government was telling through the coast guard. And there was this sense of urgency because it seemed that people were starting to forget, trying to put the tragedy behind them already, when nothing had been found and discovered. So that’s why we wanted to make this film, in order to keep the memory alive. And we wanted to get it screened at the Busan International Film Festival where there would be a lot of global attention as well, so we were pressed for time, so we were running up against a very tight deadline in making this film.”

Lee Jong-in (left) is at the center of the diving bell controversy

Lee Jong-in (left) is at the center of the diving bell controversy

Question: “You’re here not as a journalist, but as a director. If you have anything that you were not able to say through this film, would you like to share that with us? And Mr Lee Jong-in, the owner of the diving bell, was there a message that he wants to convey? As a member of the audience and as a Korean citizen, I would like to send my encouragement and support for all the people who made this film possible.”

Director Lee: “I’d like to answer both questions. Mr Lee Jong-in, CEO of the diving technology, he did not have a lot of deep thoughts, he was of the same heart and mind as the rest of the citizens. He didn’t make any calculations, he just rushed to the scene because he thought that he could help, because he did have the technology, and he had technology and equipment that the coast guard and the navy did not have and so he offered his help. But during the time when the film was being made, he realised that he was up against something that he could not overcome. And he knew that once the film was made he would be at the center of another controversy yet again, so there were people who asked him to lie low, but he cooperated with the film making because he wanted the truth to be uncovered. I’m a little nervous, so I forgot the other question. Oh yes, as a journalist. I’ve been working as a journalist for 20 years. I was there on the scene as a journalist but as a filmmaker, what disheartened me the most, what broke my heart the most, was leaving out footage that I thought was appropriate for the film. For example, Lee Jong-in was kicked out after the first attempt, and then the journalists found out that the coast guard and the rescue team from the government had attempted to put in a diving bell, their own diving bell, which was a fake diving bell. And that was not in the film. And as you know, there was a lot of online manipulation of public opinion during the presidential elections, and that kind of public opinion manipulation went on during and surrounding the Sewol tragedy, and I was unable to touch on that during the film. So I found that quite regretful. And what really broke my heart was that this diving bell, that was cutting edge technology, there was huge potential for it to save lives, and it had been in operation for 2 hours, compared to the few minutes of the other divers, but then we were threatened, there was even a murder attempt on us, and they were cubing the press. And so I found [not including] that most regretful. We even have legal charges being pressed against us right now.”

There were chaotic scenes at the BIFF premiere

There were chaotic scenes at the BIFF premiere

Question: “There’s controversy over whether this film will eventually be shown or not, so I’m quite taken aback by this press attention. I think it’s this press attention and media attention that gathered so many people here today. And personally I think there are a lot of people in Korea who are starting to forget, they’re trying to erase this whole tragedy from their memories, and so I’m worried about that because we’ve not achieved anything and there’s 10 people who are still missing, and the families of these missing people as well as those who have passed away, they’re all still grieving and in great suffering. Do you have a message for the Korean public?”

Director Lee: “I believed in fair journalism, and that’s why I was working as a reporter for a television station, but I got kicked out, I was dismissed, but I want to continue to try to pursue the truth now this time through film, and I’d like to thank all of you for coming. As you know there was a New York Times article today that after the Sewol tragedy, right afterwards the public was one, they were united in praying for the safe rescue, but then they’ve become divided these days. The bereaved families, they’re getting stoned in public on the streets. I hope that we can go back to, at least mentally and emotionally, to right after the incident and become one again in pursuing the truth. And I hope that through this film [I] will contribute in whatever way to protecting this film as well as protecting the bereaved families.”

Question: “As a college student I really wanted to check out this film and one of the messages is that there was some force, some hidden forces, that were interfering with the diving bell rescue operation. Who do you think would be the people behind it?”

Director Lee claims unanswered questions still remain regarding the rescue efforts

Director Lee claims unanswered questions still remain regarding the rescue efforts

Director Lee: “I will give it to you simply. Since April 16th, what I wanted to know was, why did the children have to die? Why weren’t they rescued? Why didn’t the state protect these children? And as you saw through this diving bell fiasco, survivors who were 30-40 meters underwater, if you just drag them up out of the water, they will die anyway. As you saw in the film, if you go down 75 meters and you dive for a few minutes you still have to decompress for about 30 minutes. So these kids, they were in the ship, and they were trapped inside for a few days, so they have to come up above the water very very slowly, or else they’ll die anyway. But not having such measures at hand, and not coming up with a concrete plan for rescuing them is murder. It’s just murder. The coast guard, not even once, they have never been trained for underwater rescue at all. All they did was float around and circle around the capsized [ship]. And then there was the navy, who were trained. They attempted to go into the scene and start rescue work twice, but they were refused. So it would be the coast guard, the navy and everyone else. Who controls the coast guard as well as the navy? Who has the power? It’s just the president. The president is the only one who can control everyone, or give commands to everyone who was involved in the rescue.”

A young man protests in regard to the special Sewol law outside of the screening

A young man protests in regard to the special Sewol law outside of the screening

Question: “It was very difficult for me to get a ticket to come to see this film and I was shocked. I was not there at the scene, and the only thing I got was the media reports about the diving bell, so I myself thought that it was a failure. And now that I’ve seen this film, I’m truly shocked. And [there’s] so much unfairness. Lee Jong-in is also a victim and I think that everyone in Korea should see this film and I was in tears most of the time. [Audience member begins crying] There’s a limit to how many people can see this film here at the festival, we only have journalists and film festival goers, so I’m lucky that I was able to be one of the few to see this film, and I hope this film will be shown to the wider public in the future. There are people here, and also a lot of journalists so I hope that we will all work together to get this film shown to many people. So my question is, do you think that would be a possibility? Will you be making that effort to get this film shown to more people? And if you have the citizen’s support, the public’s support, I’m sure that this will be released in theaters so that more people can get to see it, more people from the ordinary public. Are you making that effort? Do you have such plans?”

Director Lee: “Well thank you for being moved to tears, first of all. I think getting this shown in public, public screenings for this film will be very very difficult, it will be tough. Facing the uncomfortable truth, in a theater like this, in a public setting like this, this may be the last chance. But we are making that attempt to get this released in theaters and we are working with a deadline of the end of October, so we are making such efforts. I hope that you will all work together to protect this film.”

Question by Oscar-nominated director Joshua Oppenheimer (Act of Killing, The Look of Silence): “We see in your film this incredibly incompetent…or [rather] a rescue effort that’s undertaken in bad faith. And I guess I have two questions. First of all, is it merely incompetence or do you believe that there’s something more going on? And secondly, can you talk a little bit about why the media in Korea, and I don’t think Korea’s alone in this, but why do the feel the media and the mainstream media is so…appears to be so uncritical, so they are placed [into a] terrible stenographers function?”

Footage of the media frenzy at the site convey the chaos and demand for answers

Footage of the media frenzy at the site convey the chaos and demand for answers

Director Lee: “There was the Indonesian version of The Killing Fields recently where there were ordinary and innocent citizens killed [referring to director Oppenheimer’s work] and I’d like to thank you [director Oppenheimer] for deliberately coming to watch this film. Ineptitude or incompetence is the government’s excuse, it’s their main excuse. And yes the government right now is so incompetent that they want to get rid of their incompetent officials, but then they don’t have substitutes, because everyone else is also incompetent. When such a huge tragedy happened, the government did not have in place a system to deal with this tragedy. It means that the state was absent in this case. If the coast guard was incompetent, then they should be taken away and should be replaced by someone more competent, but such decisions, such common sense decisions were not made. It shows how lacking the government is right now in communication skills, and this lack of communication skills has led to this tragedy, led to expanding this tragedy, and I hope that this film will contribute to revealing the incompetence of the government. And the media, the Korean media in this case, they were not just serving the state, but the current government. The media has a say in the government, they are part of the government, and have a stake in the current government. That is why the media are the people who are the most afraid of the president being criticized, because this will reflect on them as well, because they are on the same side. That is why they sent out garbage instead of the truth and this is proof that they are stake holders in this current government. They are not just stenographers, they are stake holders in this government.”

Question: “On the internet I heard yesterday that some members of the grieving families were opposed to this film being shown and of course the Busan city government is saying that they don’t want this film to be screened. So have any of the bereaved families watched this film? And if so, what was their response? And what are your values as a journalist? You must have some value system that you adhere to as a journalist, but in the process of reporting [the incident] the journalists in action went overboard in interviewing students who had just come up, just been rescued.”

Scenes outside of cinema also drew attention

Scenes outside of cinema also drew attention

Director Lee: “I think I’m the journalist who was most critised after the tragedy, because on the scene I was an actor in this whole incident, not just a journalist [with an] objective point of view. Didn’t the president say, before she was president, she critised the then president Roh Moo-hyun saying that if you can’t rescue just one person from Iraq, then you don’t deserve to be called a government. But now that she is in office, there were more than three hundred passengers, young passengers, on board the ship and they were left there, trapped there, for days, and not a single one of them was rescued. And in this kind of situation, objectivity is not the value that I should be pursuing, in this kind of case. For example, I clung to the diving bell in trying to attach it to the weight, so yes I was intervening, I was in the scene, but I would continue to do that even if I were to do it again. And the bereaved families, unfortunately they are not diving experts. What I’m saying when I say that the state was absent on the scene, is that there was no control tower. There were many demands made by the grieving families, of course, and it’s only natural. But then the rescue work, and the pursuit of truth right now, it’s all being led by the bereaved families despite their lack of expertise, and the state is not helping them out at all. And the few who were rescued, were rescued by civilian fishermen who just happened to be passing by. And of course it’s only natural that the families don’t have any knowledge about rescue work. And as you saw they hated the journalists, they hated the press, they had to lean on the press and whatever pieces of information that the press gave them, they would cling onto that. In that kind of situation, where was the state in marshaling this confusion?”

The controversial diving bell technology still divides public opinion

The controversial diving bell technology still divides public opinion

Question: “I see this film as kind of a defense for Mr. Lee Jong-in. So in this whole tragedy, what position does this diving bell have? And do you really think that the rescue attempt using diving bell technology was not a failure?”

Director Lee: “Thank you for those short questions. We are all sinners because we were not able to rescue a single person. I came here dressed in black. And the completeness of the film, I don’t have any pride in the quality of the film itself, but it’s the only film that has come out now that deals head on with the Sewol tragedy, and I hope that there will be many more films to follow that can shed more light and maintain interest in this incident.”

Moderator: “Unfortunately we don’t have enough time [for more questions]. Actually I spent a sleepless night, last night. I’ve been with the festival for about 10 years now, working as a moderator whenever the festival has come, and I’ve never stepped on to the red carpet myself. Whenever I moderate for these GVs in the Wide Angle [category] I get to meet so many faces, dark faces and gloomy faces of Korean society from hospices, from women workers in the labour movement, and environment[al] issues. Documentaries are a means of holding on to things we should not forget in order for society to progress. So I hope that these kinds of documentaries will continue to be made in the future, for the benefit of Korean society.”

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Directors Festival News Interviews/Q&As Korean Festivals 2014

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) – ★★★★☆

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Enormously controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) premiered at the Busan International Film Festival to nervous fanfare, despite calls from politicians in the ruling Saenuri party, as well as Busan Mayor/Festival Chairman Seo Byung-soo, to have it removed.

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol is a hugely impressive and powerfully emotional film, which begins shortly after the ferry began to sink on the 16th of April, 2014. Racing to the scene of the tragedy as with most other members of the press, documentary director Ahn Hye-ryong (안해령) and journalist Lee Sang-ho (이상호) join forces to cover the event. With time running out for the mostly student passengers, and the efforts of the Coast Guard and Navy proving largely ineffectual, directors Lee and Ahn come into contact with diving expert Lee Jong-in who claims his diving bell technology will help the rescue effort. Using real footage, news reports and interviews, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol follows the effort to use the diving bell, and the obstacles placed in their way.

Lee Jong-in (left) explains how to diving bell technology can save lives

Lee Jong-in (left) explains how the diving bell technology can save lives

With less than 6 months occurring between the Sewol tragedy and the inaugural screening of the documentary, there were concerns that the film would not be as comprehensive an account as the situation, and public outcry, demanded. Directors Lee and Ahn have brilliantly allayed such fears as The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol is an intelligent, insightful, and captivating documentary that resonates long after the credits have rolled.

Throughout the film director Lee employs a journalistic approach to the events that transpire, and the results are never less than impressive. Featuring a mixture of media including interviews and coverage of situations from the scene of the sinking itself, as well as news reports, behind the scenes footage and even text conversations, the film strives to support claims with facts and statistics that are sure to make the Coast Guard, mainstream media, and the ruling Saenuri government particularly uncomfortable. Given the delicate subject matter with which the film deals with, and the still raw position the sinking occupies in the Korean social consciousness, manipulation and bias had a strong potential to arise and overshadow the issues explored. Yet while The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol is indeed constructed from the perspective of the filmmakers, they avoid crude exaggerations and endeavor to include counter-arguments and statements from both the mainstream media and government, which often, rather ironically, feature the very embellishments the directors refrain from. In pointing out the misinformation being reported from respected news sources as well as the political statements that conflicted with actual events, the film consistently challenges and condemns the official declarations made, alluding to the collusion between the government and the media in an effort to hide their failures.

Footage of the media frenzy at the site convey the chaos and demand for answers

Footage of the media frenzy at the site convey the chaos and demand for answers

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol takes a dark turn through following the assistance offered by Lee Jong-in, the man responsible for initiating the diving bell controversy. Using roughly $150,000 of his own money, Lee Jong-in arrived at the scene of the disaster claiming to be able to help save lives with a diving bell, which allows divers to work for longer in the wreckage and potentially find survivors. As directors Lee and Ahn investigate Lee Jong-in’s claims and attempts, the obstacles placed in their way to help are documented. Excuses presented by the Coast Guard to exclude the trio are not only proven false but also insinuate incompetence, generating an intense array of emotional responses from those within the film and without. Horrifyingly, the directors convey how the increasing excuses gradually transform into threats against Lee Jong-in’s person, and begin to explore further assertions of the link between government organisations and the mainstream media as they seemingly coordinate a character assassination on the diving bell operator. As such The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol becomes an increasingly damning account of Korean institutions, not only in their failure to save the innocent and report the truth, but in demonizing those who tried to help.

Directors Lee and Ahn become increasingly close with Lee Jong-in during the course of the film, and as such they form the heart and conscious of the documentary. With the myriad of issues plaguing them from the beginning, the trio articulate their frustrations and concerns with incredible sincerity and passion as their attempts to help are constantly denied. Their attempts to save the passengers and refusal to stop trying drives the film forward with palpable energy, resulting in a documentary that is simultaneously intellectual, emotional, and courageous. While the filmmakers are consistently professional and dedicated it is obvious from the start that these men care, and care deeply, making The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol one of the most compelling Korean documentaries in recent memory.

News reports about the disaster, Lee Jong-in and the diving bell are scrutinized

News reports about the disaster, Lee Jong-in and the diving bell are scrutinized

Verdict:

Controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol is an intelligent, insightful, and captivating film that resonates long after the credits have rolled. Directors Lee Sang-ho and Ahn Hye-ryong have crafted a powerfully charged account about the sinking of the ferry and the diving bell controversy, employing a journalistic stance that is both intellectual and sincere. A brave piece of filmmaking, Sewol is one of the most compelling Korean documentaries in recent memory.

★★★★☆

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

BIFF 2014 – Gala Presentation, Open Cinema, New Currents, and Documentary Showcase

The 19th Busan International Film Festival

The 19th Busan International Film Festival

It’s almost time for the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) to begin, and as such it’s a great time to check out the Korean productions due to be screened.

While programs such as Korean Cinema Today – Panorama/Vision and Korean Cinema Retrospective: Reminiscing the Timeless Filmmaker, Jung Jin-woo conveniently brings together films from the peninsula for fans to browse, there are also other categories within which Korean films appear, and are well worth seeking out.

Below are some of the exciting new projects from Korean filmmakers being screened at BIFF 2014, handily gathered together for your convenience.

Gala Presentation

Revivre (화장) – director Im Kwon-taek (임권택)

Revivre (화장)

Revivre (화장)

After a 4 year hiatus, film maestro Im Kwon-taek returns with Revivre, his 102nd feature film. The film received very positive responses following its premiere at Toronto, with many critics praising not only a return to form for director Im but also lauding screen legend Ahn Seong-gi for his powerful performance.

Revivre explores the life of senior salaryman (Ahn) whose wife (Kim Ho-jeong) is dying of cancer. However the arrival of a beautiful young new office worker (Kim Gyoo-ri) in his department challenges him for his affections, causing a huge strain on his personal life.

Open Cinema

Cart (카트) – director Boo Ji-young (부지영)

Cart (카트)

Cart (카트)

Cart is the second feature by director Boo Ji-young, and is a timely examination of corporate abuse and the power of protest in contemporary Korea. Featuring an incredible cast including Yeom Jeong-ah, Moon Jeong-hee, Cheon Woo-hee and Kpop star Do Kyeong-soo, Cart was also widely praised at its Toronto premiere for its unflinching take on exploitation and sexism in the Korean workplace.

Mother of two Sun-hee works alongside single mum Hae-mee as cashiers, and are friends with janitor Soon-rae and manager Dong-joon, the only only male representative for the union. When a series of lay-offs begin, the friends band together with the other workers and fight the unfair dismissals.

New Currents

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다) – director Baek Jae-ho (백재호)

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다)

We Will Be Ok (그들이 죽었다)

We Will Be Ok is an independent film following the lives of wannabe filmmakers as they attempt to fulfill their ambitions. It will be interesting to see how director Baek Jae-ho differentiates his film from the other recent examples that have emerged, such as Director’s CUT at JIFF, that also explore the problems of indie filmmaking.

End of Winter (철원기행) – director Kim Dae-hwan (김대환)

End of Winter (철원기행)

End of Winter (철원기행)

Director Kim Dae-hwan’s family drama explores the tensions that exist between relatives following the shock announcement that the father, who is retiring, wants to divorce his wife. Due to heavy snowfall the family must stay together for a few days, and despite all the negative feelings are forced to confront the issues that beset them.

Documentary Showcase

My Fair Wedding (마이 페어 웨딩) – director Jang Hee-seon (장희선)

My Fair Wedding (마이 페어 웨딩)

My Fair Wedding (마이 페어 웨딩)

With gay issues unfortunately still very much taboo in Korea, the wedding of two prominent CEO’s caused plenty of controversy when they tied the knot in 2013. In her third documentary director Jang follows the celebrations and conflicts, as well as the very vocal discrimination, that arise from having a gay wedding in contemporary Korea.

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) – directors Lee Sang-ho (이상호) and Ahn Hye-ryong (안해령)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨)

Aka Diving Bell, the film explores the largely failed recovery effort involved in the Sewol tragedy. Co-directed by journalist Lee and documentary filmmaker Ahn, they approach the controversies in an interrogative manner, and are particularly brave to do so given the clamp down on information and prosecution of those who attempt to uncover the truth.

Little Pond in Main Street (거리 속 작은 연못) – director Lee Kang-gil (이강길)

Little Pond in Main Street (거리 속 작은 연못)

Little Pond in Main Street (거리 속 작은 연못)

Street vendors in Korea are almost like a national institution, they are so widespread and relied upon. In Little Pond in Main Street a group of vendors band together to create a community radio station but come into conflict with other groups,as well as the government trying to shut them down.

Parallel (우리는 썰먜를 탄다) – director Kim Kay (김경만)

Parallel (우리는 썰먜를 탄다)

Parallel (우리는 썰먜를 탄다)

In production for 3 years, Parallel explores the lives of the Korean Paralympic ice hockey team. Despite the country having very little awareness that the team even exists, the athletes continue to train, work hard, and compete against other sporting nations. The film follows their turbulent lives as they strive to live their dreams.

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