Sunday, October 25, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: YOUNG ADULT MATTERS, An Explosive and Frequently Engrossing Runaway Teen Drama


By Pierce Conran

Three years after his abrasive debut Park Hwa-young (2017), director Lee Hwan returns to Busan with Young Adult Matters, an intense and frequently engrossing follow-up set in the same world of foul-mouthed, unpredictable and violent runaway teens. While it inherits many of the same problems that plagued his first effort (at least for this reviewer), Lee has grown in leaps and bounds as a stylist and crafted something fresh and vibrant, while lead Lee Yoo-ri - reprising her supporting role from Lee’s earlier film - is manic and magnetic as a character that could easily be at home in a Tetsuya Nakashima film.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 50 Korean Films of the 2010s


By Pierce Conran

With a few hours left in 2019, it’s time to look back at the decade that was for Korean cinema. The industry really came into its own in the late 1990s and most of the names the world is familiar with now first gained notice in the 2000s, but it soared to new heights in the 2010s, becoming one of the largest film industries on the planet, responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed films of the decade.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Top 10 Korean Films of 2019


By Pierce Conran

You won't find any big surprise at the top of this list, but beyond the obvious choice for best film of the year, the sad truth of the matter is that 2019 was a very poor year for Korean cinema overall. As the industry has tried to course-correct from the blockbuster-heavy lineup of the last year or two, a great number of very watchable but not altogether memorable mid-level films have emerged. It's the same story within the indie industry which has grown stale with a great many competent films appearing at festivals that cycle through the same social themes but precious few among them generating genuine excitement.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Top 15 Korean Films of 2018


By Pierce Conran

Thanks to Lee Chang-dong and a few late year surprises, 2018 saw the Korean film industry churn out enough quality product to merit a strong Top 15 once again, but the truth is that, for the commercial industry at least, the past 12 months have raised a lot of questions regarding the sustainability of the current marketplace.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: BEAUTIFUL Explores the Ugly Depths of Desire


By Pierce Conran

Beauty and obsession go under the knife in Juhn Jai-hong’s debut Beautiful (2008), a clinical observation of desire that was both produced by Kim Ki-duk and based on his original story. Lensed with a scopophilic yet detached gaze, it is more than a little reminiscent of the controversial auteur’s body of work.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Review: SPECIAL ANNIE Awkwardly Switches From Subject to Artist


By Pierce Conran

Ten years after her feature debut What Are We Waiting For?, documentarian Kim Hyun-kung returns with an intimate film that is both a portrait of a HIV-positive New Yorker and a filmmaker uncertain of her aims. Awkwardly straddling the border between human interest story and self-interest, Special Annie is a lively if curiously narcissistic sophomore effort.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review: ASSASSINATION Shoots Up a Storm With Stuffed to the Gills Spy Yarn


By Pierce Conran

After what had been a slow year Korean cinema received a huge shot of adrenaline with Assassination, the latest from Choi Dong-hoon, which ushered in the high season at the 2015 box office. A considerable chunk of the country's biggest stars throw themselves into the director's high octane Colonial Era action-thriller that swaps out his usual caper shenanigans for an operatic espionage yarn.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Review: BAD GUYS ALWAYS DIE Suffers A Slow Death


By Pierce Conran

One of the more high profile among the many China-Korea collaborations of the last few years (prior to the THAAD-related meldown in relations), Bad Guys Always Die teams Taiwanese star Chen Bolin with top Korean actress Son Ye-jin in an action-comedy (leaning more towards the later) set on Jeju Island, an extremely popular holiday spot for both Koreans and Chinese tourists.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Review: RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN, Stars Shine in Classic Hong Sangsoo


By Pierce Conran

Following Hong Sangsoo's career guarantees for viewers, at the very least, one thing - developing a keen eye for detail. The auteur's films are remarkably similar to one another, from their lecherous male director/professor characters and conversations over bottles of soju, all the way down to their repeating details and occasional (but abrupt) camera zooms and pans.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Review: COLLECTIVE INVENTION Asks the Right Questions, But Has None of the Answers


By Pierce Conran

Wrapping a raft of social issues plaguing modern Korean society into a simple allegory, Collective Invention, a quirky comedy-drama with dashes of the same humor found in Bong Joon-ho's work, is a succinct but relatively straightforward affair. The setting is ripe for social commentary, but none of the observations rise above the superficial and ultimately the film is let down by a storyline that feels underdeveloped and ends on a wishy-washy note of false hope.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Review: REACH FOR THE SKY Goes There and Beyond


By Pierce Conran

The last few BIFFs have each afforded us one great documentary (Non-Fiction Diary, Factory Complex), and 2015 proved to be no exception with the discovery of the timely Reach for the SKY, a compelling look at a common but disastrous problem at the root of modern Korean society - competitive education. Constructed like a thriller and featuring a taut and ominous mise-en-scene, this joint production between Korea and Belgium is gripping from the start and builds to a devastating climax.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: ORDINARY PEOPLE Offers Tired Gags in Familiar Situations


By Pierce Conran

Three years after his debut Over and Over Again, director Kim Byung-june returned to Busan with a much livelier effort that strives to mix social realism and situational crime comedy. Aping the lowbrow comic efforts of Korea's commercial realm, Ordinary People looks to punch above its weight but by carrying over the issues that marred his debut and juggling a jumble of themes, Kim's latest strikes a discordant tone that is unlikely to move the masses.