Thursday, December 14, 2017

Top 15 Korean Films of 2017


By Pierce Conran

Following what turned out to be one of the all-time best years of Korean cinema, 2017 had its work cut out for it, and, sure enough, it fell well short of 2016’s benchmark. Yet what could have been a placeholder year was saved but an array of important titles that signaled a changing current in the industry, particularly the mainstream.

Busan 2017 Review: ECOLOGY IN CONCRETE Explores the Heart of Modern Seoul


By Pierce Conran


Following her Talking Architect films, director Jeong Jae-eun once again explores the complicated systems behind Seoul's urban planning, a field which encompasses both fascinating sociological insights and frustrating political obstacles. In Jeong's hands, this exploration of the growth of Seoul's residential planning is enthralling yet the journey is at times difficult through its detailed mid-section, especially for those not familiar with the city's unique architectural landscape.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: OLD LOVE Mourns Life's Missed Opportunities


By Pierce Conran

20 years after his debut Motel Cactus, Park Ki-yong returns with his 8th feature Old Joy, a contemplative work that proves to be director's strongest since his early days as one of the pioneers of the nascent Korea indie filmmaking scene.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: ROMANS 8:37, a Difficult Theological Tale


By Pierce Conran


Writer-director Shin Yeon-shick returns to Busan for the fifth time with Romans 8:37, a thoughtful if not exactly thought-provoking theological tale of faith, suffering and coverups. Focusing exclusively on the complicated inner workings and relationships of a Korean church, this lengthy film will prove challenging for some viewers, particularly those outside the faith.

Busan 2017 Review: BUTTERFLY SLEEP Flutters Gracefully Over a Well-Worn Path


By Pierce Conran


It's been a full 12 years since director Jeong Jae-eun helmed a narrative feature and the Japan-set Butterfly Sleep is a welcome return, if not a patch on her 2001 debut Take Care of My Cat, still her best work.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: PARK HWA-YOUNG Lashes Out with Foul and Excessive Misery


By Pierce Conran


Among the dozens of local indie films that wind up at the Busan International Film Festival every year, a number tend to be dark social dramas that explore the worst aspects of society. Often set in winter (likely due to the festival's spring submission dates), they can make for heavy viewing but can also be extremely rewarding.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: HEART BLACKENED, Well-Acted SILENT WITNESS Remake Emits Cool Pulse


By Pierce Conran


Chinese court thriller Silent Witness gets a sober and effective Korean update with Heart Blackened, a polished new offering from Eungyo director Jung Ji-woo that features an unflappable Choi Min-sik leading a strong cast. More serious and thus more drawn out than its rapid fire original, the film packs a solid emotional punch in its twisty climax.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: METHOD Gets Booed Off the Stage


By Pierce Conran


Bang Eun-jin scales things down significantly for her fourth work, the theater world forbidden love story Method. Lacking any chemistry between its leads, this facile mirrored narrative proves to be Bang's least impressive work as it trudges through thinly drawn and tired themes.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: MICROHABITAT, a Poignant and Lively Debut


By Pierce Conran


Perhaps the most impressive Korean debut at Busan this year, the thoughtful and entertaining Microhabitat is a convincing showcase for star Esom and and an even more impressive calling card for director Jeon Go-woon, who becomes the first woman in the Gwanghwamun Cinema group to helm a feature, and her debut may well be the collective's best yet.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: MERMAID UNLIMITED Offers Limited Chuckles


By Pierce Conran


Indie filmmaker O Muel has been churning out films for around a decade on his native Jeju Island, which each explore the history and society of the popular getaway in different ways but always from the perspective of the local community. For the majority of his career he's vacillated between low-key, parochial comedies and more soberly artistic fare and with Mermaid Unlimited, following 2015's somewhat impenetrable art piece Eyelids, he's firmly back in the former camp, albeit with a little more social examination than his other light offerings.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: THE FORTRESS, Sublime Political Allegory Closes Its Doors to the Uninitiated


By Pierce Conran

One of the most impressive casts of the year lines up in the austere and languid period siege drama The Fortress. Led by Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yun-seok and Park Hae-il, performances are strong all around in this magnificently shot and movingly scored but admittedly unhurried meditation on the nature of duty and hierarchy in Korean society. Heavy on political metaphors, this powerful film has found favor with local critics but may prove difficult for the uninitiated.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: LAST CHILD, a Powerful Tale of Guilt and Grief


By Pierce Conran


Grief and guilt get a thorough review in Shin Dong-seok's debut film Last Child, one of three Korean films competing in this year's New Currents competition in Busan. A trio of powerful performances ground this emotionally gritty tale and lure us into a complex web of suffering but while the director for the most part avoids the overly depressing aura of similar stories, a shoddy climax undermines the measured work that precedes it.