Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 Korean Film Stories of 2011

I started the weekly Korean Cinema News feature at the beginning of April of this year and over the past nine months it has become more comprehensive, grown more popular, and I hope better.  As pleased as I am with its success more than anything it;s been a thrill to cover the wide-ranging news related to the ever-expanding Korean film industry.  It's been a huge year for Korean film news and in 38 weeks of reporting, Modern Korean Cinema has featured nearly 1000 news items, festival reports, articles, interviews, trailers, posters, and box office analyses.

In considering 2011 as a year in Korean film I decided to work up a top 10 for the year's most important pieces of news.  I've stayed within the exclusive scope of Korean film so major stories that are somewhat related, like the continuing global Hallyu takeover or Kim Jong-il's death, have been omitted.  Each entry is followed by a selection of interesting articles that appeared throughout the year.

As always, if you have any comments or think I've missed something, please get in touch.

Enjoy and Happy New Year from Modern Korean Cinema!

1. Reversal of Fortune at the Korean Box Office

The year's biggest story has been the reversal of fortunes at the Korean box office.  Looking at the slate of films in early 2011 for the year ahead, there were a number of blockbusters well-positioned to end the year on or near the top.  Chief among them were CJ's 3D Imax monster feature Sector 7 and the 30 billion won WWII, pan-Asian blockbuster My Way.  Sector 7 was immediately savaged by critics and audiences alike and was quickly out of theaters.  It may be early days for My Way as it has only been released for a week, but the prognosis at this stage is not good and there is a palpable danger that it will not recoup its enormous production costs.  There were also other blockbusters that failed to meet expectations, like Quick and The Front Line, and a great number of star vehicles that did not manage to draw big crowds, like Hindsight and Countdown.

The vast majority of the year's biggest successes turned out to be mid-level productions that boasted strong scripts with an absence of marquee names which struck a chord with audiences.  Sunny had a decent start but an extraordinary word of mouth effect kept it in the top 3 for 11 consecutive weeks as it powered its way to 7,375,110 admissions.  Other mid-size productions that far exceeded expectations included Detective K, Silenced, and Punch, which all landed around the 5 million mark.  Even more unexpected films crossed the 2 million mark, including Meet the In-laws, Blind, Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild, The Client, and Spellbound.

(The Hollywood Reporter, May 13, 2011)

Rookies Directors on the Rise, Stars Lack Drawing Power
(The Chosun Ilbo, July 8, 2011)

Newcomers Trump Established Names at Korean B.O.
(The Hankyoreh, July 23, 2011)

Sunny Holding its Own Against Summer Titles
(Film Business Asia, June 28, 2011)

A Look Back at the Year's Breakout Films
(, December 15, 2011)

2. The Silenced Controversy

The controversy surrounding the release of Silenced (aka The Crucible/Dogani) probably generated more international press coverage than any other Korean film item this year.  The film was based on a non-fiction book of the same by prominent female writer Gong Ji-young which chronicles the serial abuse of deaf children at a school for the hearing-impaired in Gwangju between 2000-2005.  The perpetrators were put on trial six years ago but received light sentences and some even went back to work in the school.

Following the uproar which ensued after Silenced's release, the school was finally shut down.  After viewing the film, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak called for measures to protect the vulnerable from sexual attack.  The film inspired a wave of anger which was reported in the world's major publications such as The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many more.

(The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2011)

(Joong Ang Daily, October 5, 2011)

(The Dong-a Ilbo, October 1, 2011)

(, October 4, 2011)

(The Economist, October 11, 2011)

(The New York Times, October 17, 2011)

(The Washington Post, October 28, 2011)

3. Korean Animation Has Its Biggest Year

Korean cinema is see as a strong producer of films that span a number of genres and formats.  Animation is one of the few production modes that Korean filmmakers have failed to successfully mine, at least that was the case before 2011.  This year was the dawning of a new era for Korean animation, led by the huge success of local animation Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild.  Many other Korean animated films have found success at festivals this year, such as The HouseKing of PigsEarth Rep Rolling Star, and I'm Sorry.  Korean animators of late have also found enormous success abroad, especially Jennifer Yuh, who directed Kung Fu Panda 2 for Dreamworks, incidentally the film became the second-highest grossing non-Korean film of the year.  

With numerous awards and international sales under its belt, Korean animation is looking strong for the near future.

(Animation Insider, June 3, 2011)

Leafie Set to Revitalize Korean Animation
(, July 8, 2011)

Korean Animation Waddles Into China
(Joong Ang Daily, October 1, 2011)

Korean Animators Face Screen, Financing Barriers
(The Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2011)

Canada's 108 Media to Distribute Korean Toon Leafie
(animation Magazine, November 28, 2011)

4. CJ Poised for World Domination

CJ Entertainment, Korea's largest studio and head of the country's primary exhibition chain, CGV (CJ-Goldstar-Village Roadshow), has made its aims for the future very clear.  It more or less amounts to world domination as the corporation is:  trying to revolutionize cinema with 4D film screening technology (which adds sensations like smell, fog, and vibrations to enhance cinema viewing);  launching direct distribution in Vietnam and Thailand; producing a $100 million budget Rob Cohen Korean War film; clinching a raft of film presales; engaging in a $110 million Korean entertainment project; and keeping strong ties in Korea as well as helping develop emerging talent by partnering with the Korean Academy of Film Arts.

CJ has not been timid about its ambitions and I'm sure that more plans are in the works.  Its CGV theater in LA is getting more popular as are a lot of its international operations and now that its claws are getting stuck into Hollywood, more people may become familiar with their catchy opening logo before long.

(Film Business Asia, October 13, 2011)

KAFA Partners With CJ E&M and CJ CGV
(KOBIZ, December 19, 2011)

Route One Films Enters $110 Million Korean Entertainment Partnership
(The Hollywood Reporter, December 15, 2011)

Lots of Korean Presales as CJ Readies for Cannes
(Screen Daily, May 11, 2011)

CJ's 4D Cinemas to Launch in Thailand
(Bangkok Post, June 14, 2011)

Rob Cohen to Direct Korean War Film Produced by CJ
(indieWIRE, July 29, 2011)

CJ E&M Harbors Global Ambitions
(Asian Media Journal, August 11, 2011)

5. A New-look BIFF Unveils

The 16th edition of Korea's largest film festival opened with a new name, a magnificent new venue, a new director, and a new image.  Previously called the Pusan International Film Festival, the renamed BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) began on October 6 in the brand new $150 million Busan Cinema Center, designd by Coop Himmelblau of Austria.  More than ever, the event, often dubbed the 'Asian Cannes', was seen as a showcase for the emerging strength of Asian film industries.  The event was a flurry of news beginning with the center and the selling out of the opening film in a record seven seconds.

There was much discussion over the new venue (including rain leaks), the type of films being shown, the sales in the film market, the direction the festival was taking, and more.  Every major entertainment news agency ran multiple pieces on the event.

(The Chosun Ilbo, September 20, 2011)

BIFF's Opening Film Sells Out in Seven Seconds
(, September 27, 2011)

Busan: Fest Maps New Future
(Variety, October 3, 2011)

How a New Cinema Center Could Change the Busan Film Festival
(The Hollywood Reporter, Ocotber 1, 2011)

Busan Festival Takes a Bold Step, But Is Asian Cinema Ready?
(The Japan Times, October 14, 2011)

BIFF Organizers Clash Over Festival Expansion
(The Hankyoreh, October 19, 2011)

A New Era for Asia’s Biggest Film Festival
(Joong Ang Daily, October 21, 2011)

6. Korean Films Find a Foothold in China

Recently Korean films have seen their presence increase dramatically in mainland China as numerous works were sold there and have been breaking records.  The Man From Nowhere had a strong showing earlier this year, despite its 18 certificate.  Sector 7 is currently enjoying the best Chinese release of any Korean film, though it has only been released for a few weeks.  Ha Ji-won's K-Drama Secret Garden was immensely popular in China and she is said has become quite a celebrity in the country.

In other news, Kwon Sang-woo and Song Hye-kyo have signed onto Chinese productions and many below the line technicians have been hired into Chinese film crews.  Chinese action and special effects film crews in particular seemed to be populated by Korean professionals.  It would also seem that president Hu Jintao is Hallyu fan, having had very good things to say about Jewel in the Palace, the landmark 2003 K-Drama.
(Korean Cinema Today, November 1, 2011)

Korean Crews in China
(Korean Cinema Today, November 8, 2011)

Sector 7 Hits Box Office Record in China
(KOBIZ, December 20, 2011)

Local Films Foray Into Chinese Market
(The Korea Times, December 26, 2011)

Sky's the Limit for Kwon Sang-woo as He Targets China, Hollywood
(The Chosun Ilbo, August 31, 2011)

7. Korean Directors Abroad

A number of Korea's most well-known filmmakers have embarked on foreign productions, including:  Park Chan-wook, who recently wrapped Stoker (2012), starring Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Matthew Goode; Kim Jee-woon, who is currently shooting The Last Stand (2013) with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rodrigo Santoro, Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare, and Johnny Knoxville; Bong Joon-ho, who is getting prepped for Snow Piercer (2013) which will shoot in March in Hungary with John Hurt and Song Kang-ho; and Ryoo Seung-wan, who is going to shoot his new spy thriller The Berlin File (2012) in Germany with Han Suk-kyu, Ha Jung-woo, Jeon Ji-hyeon, and Ryoo Seung-beom.

(Korean Cinema Today, November 9, 2011)

8. The Korean Film Council in 2011

As in previous years, the Korean Film Council has been involved in a lot of projects and initiatives designed to promote, improve, and aid the Korean film industry.  It has:  offered rebates for foreign films shooting in Seoul; subsidized labour costs on low-budget films; acted as guarantor for films with overseas potential; invested in contents funds; attempted to stop the illegal circulation of films online; and opened a new independent theater.

(Screen Daily, April 14, 2011)

KOFIC Opens New Independent Film Theater
(KOBIZ, May 6, 2011)

KOFIC's Keys to Industry Development
(KOBIZ, May 6, 2011)

Interview with KOFIC Chairman Kim Eui-suk
(KOBIZ, May 6, 2011)

KOFIC to Offer 25% Rebate for Filming in Korea
(Korean Cinema Today, May 13, 2011)

Mandatory Screening Times Could Be Altered
(The Korea Times, July 21, 2011)

Normalization for Online Film Distribution Demanded by Chungmoro
(, August 2, 2011)

9. The Return of Kim Ki-duk

After abruptly disappearing from the director's chair in 2008 following his film Dream and a lengthy attack against distributors' poor handling of independent features, Kim Ki-duk reappeared seemingly out of thin air early in 2011.  His name first appeared in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes film festival where his new, self-reflexive documentary Arirang won an award.  Shortly after, Poongsan, directed by his latest protege Jung Jai-hong, a film he wrote and produced, opened to positive reviews and a solid performance in domestic theaters.  Then in August, another new Kim Ki-duk film, Amen, opened at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Kim is a controversial figure in Korean cinema who frequently disparages the establishment and has been part of an acrimonious feud with his former protege Jang Hoon whom he believes has sold out.  Both his new films this year have had a strong presence at international film festivals but have been met with mixed reviews.

(The Korea Herald, May 16, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk Picks up Award at Cannes
(Joong Ang Daily, May 23, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk Produced Film Set for June
(The Korea Times, May 26, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk on the Benefits on Low-Budget Filmmaking
(The Korea Times, Junes 14, 2011)

Jang Hoon Explains The Front Line and Tensions with Mentor Kim Ki-duk
(, June 16, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk's Latest to Premiere at San Sebastian
(Film Business Asia, August 17, 2011)

10. Yun Jung-hee's Global Accolades

Yun Jung-hee, who has astounded audiences the world over this year with her wonderful performance in Lee Chang-dong's Poetry, received some significant accolades from various international sources.  Earlier this year she was awarded the French Cultural Order by French culture minister Frederic Mitterand and recently the Los Angeles Film Critics Association deemed her performance in Poetry the best of the year.

(YonHap News Agency, April 6, 2011)

Yun Jung-hee Wins LA Film Critics Award
(KOBIZ, December 13, 2011)

Korean Cinema News is a weekly feature which provides wide-ranging news coverage on Korean cinema, including but not limited to: features; festival news; interviews; industry news; trailers; posters; and box office. It appears every Wednesday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (12/24-12/30, 2011)

A little slow this week but another wide variety of films covered, good, bad, old and new.



(Modern Korean Cinema, December 29, 2011)

(Init_Scenes, December 27, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 27, 2011)

(Film in Asian, December 27, 2011)

(Film Business Asia, December 28, 2011)

(Init_Scenes, December 25, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 23, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 24, 2011)

(The Hollywood Reporter, December 26, 2011)

(Rainy Day movies, December 28, 2011)

(Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal, December 24, 2011)

(, December 24, 2011)

(Asian Movie Web, December 27, 2011)


3-Iron, 2004
(Otherwhere, December 25, 2011)

(Korean Class Massive, December 24, 2011)

Hellcats, 2008
(Init_Scenes, December 23, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 23, 2011)

The Weekly Review Round-up is a weekly feature which brings together all available reviews of Korean films in the English language (and sometimes French) that have recently appeared on the internet. It is by no means a comprehensive feature and additions are welcome (email pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com). It appears every Friday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News, and the Korean Box Office UpdateReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Champ (Chaem-peu) 2011

Dancing, snow, and horses, what's not to like?

The last Korean horse-racing themed picture to come our way was last year’s woeful Kim Tae-hee vehicle Grand Prix, which I savaged when I reviewed it a few months ago.  2011 has seen fit to grace us with a new equine melodrama in Champ, which was a little more successful (though not a hit) and features decent pedigree with a cast comprising Cha Tae-hyun, Yu Oh-seung, Kim Sang-ho, and Baek Yoon-shik (in a brief role).  Though I wasn’t expecting much, as the film seemed quite melodramatic and cloying, I was cautiously optimistic that I was sitting down to a decent film.  That fanciful notion was torn asunder nearly as quickly as the light of the first frame reached my iris.  Dare I say it, Champ might even be worse than Grand Prix, though it is a close photo-finish race for last place.

The conceit of Champ is straightforward but nonetheless predictable and contrived.  Seung-ho (Cha Tae-hyun) is a successful jockey but after a car accident leaves him injured and a widow, he is unable to work.  Things take a turn for the worse when he borrows money from the wrong people and he goes on the run with his daughter, ending up on Jeju island at a stable for training mounted police.  Horse trainer Yoon is the man who drove the other vehicle in the crash all those years ago.  He was driving a horse, who was injured, and its foal, who died.  Since then the damaged horse has been unrideable and now both she and Seung-ho will attempt to make it back to the race track.

To the rescue!

Given how filmmakers present them to us, we tend to anthropomorphize animals in films, that is to say we apply human characteristics to them.  It’s quite a natural thing to do and, while a little cynical to say so, it functions as a projection of our narcissism.  Animals are an effective tool in narratives because aside from the human elements that are imbued into their characteristics, they can almost always be viewed as innocent.  Combined, these features are a potent formula for empathy but, sadly, extremely prone to manipulation and sentimentality.  They work best in the realm of animation, as you can get away with just about anything when you have ample suspension of disbelief.  In live action films however, you take a gamble every time you incorporate an animal who acts like a human, the only exception is talking animals as they, like in animation, suggest a world that we could not possibly live in.

We are lead to believe that the horse is mourning the death of its foal, years after the fact, this of course mirrors the death of Seung-ho’s wife.  As unlikely a proposition as that sounds, I could just about swallow it but shortly thereafter, the horse saved Seung-ho from drowning in a stupefying underwater sequence.  Later still, the horse nods in the affirmative at one of its trainer’s questions.  Perhaps these elements could have found a place in a broad comedy but make no mistake, despite a few attempts at lame humour, Champ is a melodrama on steroids.

Waste of talent: Baek Yoon-shik, Cha Tae-hyun, and Kim Sang-ho

Despite what seems like a strong cast, the performances in the film leave much to be desired.  Aside from on early sequence where Seung-ho and his daughter pretend to be sports announcers as they watch a horse race on TV, Cha Tae-hyun is never given a chance to show off his skills as an energetic, fast-talking comedian, instead he wanders around depressed and puts on a stupid grin every so often.  Kim Sang-ho, who really impressed me in this year’s Moby Dick and the K-Drama City Hunter, becomes a nuisance very quickly as he hams it up and throws himself around with his repetitive pratfalls.  Oh Yu-seong may not be a top flight actor, but he was a strong presence in films like Beat (1997) and Friend (2001), here he is simply miscast, he’s too dry and has no comic timing.  Most insufferable of all, just like in Grand Prix, is the little girl who wails throughout most of this lengthy punishment of a film.  It’s not cute crying either, her protracted ear-piercing shrieks are so devastating, that they seem to carry through to other scenes.

Add in a few too many sideshows with low-level gangsters, gamblers, rival jockeys, mounted police, and corrupt businessman as well as the cringe-inducing impromptu dancing and all of the above and you’re left with a 133-minute exercise in endurance that I strongly suggest you stay well away from.  Aside from the underwater rescue sequence and a handful of other brief ludicrously bad moments, Champ doesn’t even fit into the so-bad-it’s-good category.  It’s just dull and annoying.

Incessant wailing

Frankly, what was I expecting?  Unlike other sports such as boxing and baseball, horse-racing has not really had an illustrious history of representation on screen.  In recent memory there was 2003’s Oscar-bait against-the-odds based-on-a-true-story Seabiscuit, which almost made me want to throw myself under a galloping horse.  Last year, Disney tries a similar gambit with Secretariat, which, though I had an opportunity to see it before its release, I couldn’t bring myself to sit through.  The best films featuring the racetrack typically focus away from the action happening on it like the anarchic brilliance of the Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races (1937) or Kubrick’s dark early caper The Killing (1956).  While of late Korea may have blighted the relatively small crop of horse-racing films on offer, US premium cable channel HBO may have found an answer in Luck, a racetrack drama with a myriad of characters from Deadwood creator David Milch which will begin to air in January.  I was lucky enough to see the pilot, directed by Michael Mann, this past summer and though it was an early cut, it was phenomenal and may give this sub-genre a reason to exist in future.

Horse race or moonwalk?

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Korean Cinema News (12/22-12/28, 2011)

Bit of a slow news week over Christmas but a few great features nonetheless and some interesting tidbits on Cloud Atlas and Lee Myung-se's new film, not to mention more trailers, posters, and box office.

To sum up Korean Cinema News for 2011, I will post a feature of what I felt were the top 10 Korean film stories of the year on New Year's Eve.


Bae Doo Na’s Hollywood Debut Piece Wraps Filming
After an 18-week shoot, Bae Doo-na has wrapped filming of the highly anticipated adaptation of David Mitchell's time-jumping opus Cloud Atlas.  The film is directoed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski Brothers and Bae stars in one of its six stories, set in a futuristic Seoul.  Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry also appear as leads.  (eNewsWorld, December 27, 2011)

The English-language Arirang TV network has produced three works as part of its annual film project which were shot in Bucheon, Pohang, and Gwangju.  Each of the writer-directors, Kim In-sik, Lee Sang-woo, and Kim Young-bin, shot their pieces in just two weeks.  (The Korea Herald, December 22, 2011)

Film Therapy Institute Names Punch as Year’s Most Healing
Runaway hit Punch has been named the most healing motion picture of the year at the Korea Institute of Film Application (KIFA) annual Healing Cinema Best 10 event.  A relatively novel technique in the field of psychotherapy, cinema therapy involves therapists who prescribe films to their patients.  Advocates of the technique say that watching films with relatable life themes and subject matter can alleviate patients’ mental distress.  (Joong Ang Daily, December 23, 2011)

The Unlikely Survival Story of Korean Cinema
Korean cinema hasn’t always been as dynamic and acclaimed as it is today. Along the way, Korean filmmakers have had to overcome Japanese colonial oppression, wartime destruction, authoritarian censorship and competition with Hollywood blockbusters.   (10 Magazine, December 2011)

Top & Flop 2011
Ki Mun, the lead editor over at AsianMediaWiki guests posts on Wildgrounds with a look at the best and most disappointing films of 2011.  A lot of independent Korean films made the cut!  (Wildgrounds, December 23, 2011)

Local Films Foray Into Chinese Market
The past year has seen Korean cinema on an upward climb from the recession that hit the industry hard in the mid-2000s, particularly as homespun works made successful debuts in the Chinese box office and more experimental mid-budget films drew crowds domestically.  In the early 2000s, few Korean movies enjoyed wide releases in large neighboring Asian markets such as Japan. In September, however, The Man From Nowhere, a 2010 crime drama, made successful box office debuts not only in Japan but also in China, one of the world’s fastest growing markets.  (The Korea Times, December 26, 2011)

On December 15, new action-comedy Miss Conspirator wrapped shooting.  The film stars Ko Hyun-jung and is directed by Park Chul-kwan who previously brought the successful gangster comedy Hi Dharma (2001) to the screen.  The film, which has been presold by 9ers Entertainment to Thailand's STG is set to be released in the first half of 2012.  Next Entertainment World, better known as N.E.W., is releasing the film in South Korea.  (KOBIZ, December 26, 2011)

Witness the Seoul of the Future in New Cloud Atlas Concept Art
The upcoming big screen adaptation of David Mitchell's sprawling, time hopping novel Cloud Atlas has been much in the news over the last year thanks to its high profile cast, directing team and the unusual manner of its creation.  The picture is being shot simultaneously by two separate film crews – one directed by Tom Tykwer, the other by the Wachowskis - with cast members each playing multiple characters in multiple time periods.  (Twitch, December 27, 2011)

Palm Springs Fest to Screen The Front Line
The upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) will screen South Korea’s Oscar submission The Front Line in its Awards Buzz section.  The section will feature 40 of the 63 official submissions the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film category.  The 40 films were selected by festival programmers as the strongest entries in this year’s race.  The 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival will run Jan. 5 – 16.  (KOBIZ, December 26, 2011)

Daniel Henney Will Play His First Villain in Lee Myeong-se's Mr. K
Daniel Henney's new challenge will be to make his debut as a terrorist villain in 'master of mise-en-scène' Lee Myeong-se's new film, Mr. K. The action blockbuster will also star Seol Kyeong-gu and Moon So-ri as a couple.  As associate of Henney told TV Report on December 26th, "Henney has been cast in a stylish role for famous director Lee Myeong-se's new film" and "He will appear as a terrorist that clashes with Seol Kyeong-gu over secret information, showing a side of himself we've never seen before".  (, December 26, 2011)

Busan calls For Submissions to Ties That Bind
The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) / Asian Project Market (APM) has made a call for submissions for the 2012 Ties That Bind – Asia / Europe Producers Workshop.  In its fourth edition, the workshop is held in partnership with EAVE, the Udine Fareast Film Festival, and Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG) Audiovisual Fund.  (KOBIZ, December 26, 2011)

Cinemart Selects Jang Cheol-soo’s Service for People
The Rotterdam film festival’s co-production market CineMart has selected Korean director Jang Cheol-soo’s project Service for People for its upcoming 29th edition.  CineMart ultimately chose a total of 36 projects from 465 entries.  The finalists will be presented to 850 potential co-financiers, Jan. 29 – Feb 1.  Director Jang Cheol-soo made his feature debut with the much-lauded thriller Bedevilled in 2010 at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week.  The film won the Puchon Choice Award at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) as well as the Audience Award and the Best Actress Award at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.  (KOBIZ, December 23, 2011)


Having recently appeared at several international festivals, Through Korean Cinema will appear on DVD in 2012.  Director Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso was kind enough to answer some questions about his work – to explain how and why he decided to explore this subject and what his future plans are for further examining the work of Korean filmmakers…  (New Korean Cinema, December 21, 2011)


Jesus Hospital

Love Fiction

Never Ending Story

Tarbosaurus 3D



Tom Cruise's MI4 Scales Over My Way for Surprise Top Spot
(Modern Korean Cinema, December 26, 2011)

Korean Cinema News is a weekly feature which provides wide-ranging news coverage on Korean cinema, including but not limited to: features; festival news; interviews; industry news; trailers; posters; and box office. It appears every Wednesday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Korean Box Office Update (12/23-12/25, 2011)

Tom Cruise's MI4 Scales Over My Way for Surprise Top Spot

Title Release Date Weekend Total
1 Mission: Impossible 4 (us) 12/15/11 1,230,676 3,677,069
2 My Way 12/21/11 770,220 1,001,676
3 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (us) 12/21/11 517,421 659,039
4 Perfect Game 12/21/11 340,574 473,088
5 Spellbound 12/1/11 184,145 2,536,632
6 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (us) 12/15/11 162,953 383,500
7 Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Reshiram (jp) 12/22/11 130,231 142,727
8 Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Zekrom (jp) 12/22/11 113,229 124,173
9 The Adventures of Tintin (us) 12/7/11 39,870 773,043
10 Arthur Christmas (us) 11/25/11 31,682 614,441
- Punch 10/20/11 856 5,315,682
- My Barefoot Friend 12/15/11 437 1,653
- SIU 11/24/11 271 1,118,060
- Life Is Peachy 12/8/11 223 2,887
- Dancing Cat 11/17/11 191 11,849
- The Forgotten Bag 11/17/11 147 6,323
- Too Many Villains 12/15/11 123 760

As expected, it was a huge weekend at the Korean box office this Christmas but the victor was a surprise.  After months of extraordinary performances from domestic films, the results for this frame are an unfortunate way to wrap up the year.  In total, admissions hit 3.56 million, a 10% gain over last year, one of the busiest weekends in Korean cinema history but sadly Korean films held only three of the top 10 spots and accounted for a below average 36.5% market share versus last year's 56.7%.

Korean audiences seemed starved for either blockbuster fare or children's movies over this past holiday weekend.  The bottom five of the top 10 were all movies aimed at children, including two Japanese animes.  I've been noticing the relatively poor performance of these kids' films over the past few weeks but now that I see the market share their combined efforts occupy I wonder whether foreign distributors were just a little careless in looking at the release calendar for Korea, ultimately too many films with a specific audience battled it out for a piece of the same pie.

However I have been thinking about the potential future of children's movies at the Korean box office.  Typically the country does not produce many of its own but that seems to be changing as audiences are becoming more receptive to the emerging talents of Korean-produced fare for children, especially in animation.  Kung Fu Panda 2 was directed by a Korean-American and this helped it sell over five million tickets.  A little later in the summer Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild became by far the most successful Korean animation ever made as it soared past the two million mark.  Perhaps next winter there will be some domestic children's movies beside all of Hollywood's seasonal offerings.

After last week's huge opening, Mission Impossible IV has actually increased 20% to 1,230,676.  The film has accumulated nearly four million admissions already and has done so against considerable competition.  Tom Cruise and company will likely end up very high on the yearly chart but how far will they go?

Kang Je-gyu's My Way, the highest budgeted Korean film of all time ($30 million) and probably the year's most anticipated film, had a sizable but very underwhelming debut as it took only 770,220, though it has sold just over a million tickets since opening.  Perhaps business will pick up in the coming weeks but this is an alarming start to the blockbuster war film's theater run.  Word of mouth has been mixed so far but awareness is huge for the pic.

The sequel to Sherlock Holmes had a solid debut with 517,42, slightly below the original's bow in 2009.  The Perfect Game had a decent 340,574 weekend but I expected a bit more after the strong previews.  However, there is some positive buzz surrounding the film so business could pick up, though it is a busy marketplace.  Spellbound dropped three spots but held onto to 60% of its business for a 184,145 weekend and with over 2.5 million admissions through this point, the three million mark is not out of the question.

As already mentioned the bottom five in the chart were all children's films:  Alvin and the Chipmunks (162,953); Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Reshiram (130,231); Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Zekrom (113,229); The Adventures of Tintin (39,870); and Arthur Christmas (31,682).

Outside the Top 10:  Punch shed most of its theaters and sold 856 tickets; My Barefoot Friend added 437 admission in its second week; SIU also lost the majority of its theaters and wound up with 271; Life Is Peachy dropped to 223; Dancing Cat added 191 to its impressive limited run; The Forgotten Bag sold 147 this week; and Too Many Villains, a film I'm tremendously excited to see, sadly sold a paltry 123 tickets in its second weekend, with only 760 in total.

Next Week:  All eyes will be on MI4 and My Way as we see how they perform in their third and second weeks respectively.

The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Monday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (12/17-12/23, 2011)

A pair of reviews for the Kim Jong-il produced godzilla propaganda film Pulgasari (1985) this week and a huge amount of writeups from Hanguk Yeonghwa and Connor McMorran who recently wrapped up his fantastic Kim Ki-duk week.  A variety of other reviews for films, past and present, were also published this week.


(Film Journal, December 20, 2011)

(The Korea Times, December 22, 2011)


(Korean Class Massive, December 18, 2011)

(Otherwhere, December 23, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 11, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, December 20, 2011)


(Modern Korean Cinema, December 22, 2011)

Suicide Forecast

(The One One Four, December 20, 2011)

(, December 17, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 19, 2011)


3-Iron, 2004
(Rainy Day Movies, December 17, 2011)

Breath, 2007
(Rainy Day Movies, December 19, 2011)

(Hangul Celluloid, December 21, 2011)

Dream, 2008
(Rainy Day Movies, December 19, 2011)

(My Film Views, December 20, 2011)

(Subtitles Online, December 15, 2011)

Oldboy, 2003
(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 12, 2011)

Pulgasari, 1985 - North Korean

(Rainy Day Movies, December 18, 2011)

The Bow, 2006
(Rainy Day Movies, December 18, 2011)

(Init_Scenes, December 21, 2011)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 16, 2011)

The Host, 2006
(Hanguk Yeonghwa, December 10, 2011)

(Init_Scenes, December 20, 2011)

Time, 2006
(Rainy Day Movies, December 19, 2011)

The Weekly Review Round-up is a weekly feature which brings together all available reviews of Korean films in the English language (and sometimes French) that have recently appeared on the internet. It is by no means a comprehensive feature and additions are welcome (email pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com). It appears every Friday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News, and the Korean Box Office UpdateReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Shotgun Love (Sa-rang-i Moo-seo-weo) 2011

Fake Family

Im Chang-jeong is one of those curious Korean stars who has been around forever, is bankable, but is not graced with movie star looks.   The most famous of these is Song Kang-ho. who has made a career out of playing oddballs and losers (for the most part) and has become the biggest Korean film star.  Im may not be as well known to foreign audiences but he is also a big name.  He has been around since the 1990s, one of his notable early roles was as Jung Sung-woo’s friend in Beat (1997) but it was his pairings with the beautiful Ha Ji-won that may have made him a star.  Sex Is Zero was the Korean answer to American Pie (1999) when it came out in 2002.  It landed at no. 3 for the year after selling over four million tickets.  In 2007, Miracle on 1st Street reunited the stars and they wound up at no. 5 for the year.  Sex Is Zero 2 came out that same year and snuck in it no. 10 but Ha only featured in a cameo.

Pairing average looking actors with gorgeous actresses is not a new phenomenon in cinema, indeed it has been evident since its early days.  You don't have to think too hard to realize why this was is case:  in a patriarchal society which often values appearance over substance, it is acceptable for men with power to possess beautiful woman like commodities regardless of their own looks.  Many things have changed in the interceding years and gender equality is gently coming into existence but this sort of representation in cinema is doggedly persistent.  The ugly powerful man and beautiful woman combo is still evident but much less than it was, the more popular pairing for a long time has been the average joe with the gorgeous, often vulnerable, woman.  It works well because it is male wish fulfillment:  men like to visit a world where they can believe that they could have any woman they want.

Real family, but not really

As much as I love the comedies of Judd Apatow of recent years, they are very guilty of this.  Knocked Up (2007) is a great film but it’s a stretch to imagine that a pot-smoking, unemployed, potty-mouthed aspiring erotica website entrepreneur in the shape of Seth Rogen would wind up with a successful, careerist TV anchor looking like Katherine Heigl.  Of course this is the secret to its success:  it’s a romcom, so it appeals to women; and it is wish fulfillment fantasy for men.  Im Chang-ho’s latest star vehicle, Shotgun Love, fits this same mold by pairing him with Kim Gyoo-ri, a pretty but cold actress who has had a lengthy career but I’ve only begun to notice her this year after seeing her in Juhn Jai-hong’s Kim Ki-duk-scripted Poongsan.  So far my impression of her may be tainted, in both her 2011 roles she has played off-putting, unlikeable characters, what’s more the gender representations that they entailed have not been flattering, but I don’t think I can blame her for that.

Im plays Sang-yeol, who is an actor of sorts, playing a husband on a shopping channel cooking show, he and his co-workers pretend to be a happy family and serves as little more than set dressing.  So-yeon (Kim Gyoo-ri) is his wife at work and he has fallen in love with her but he doesn’t know that she is having an affair with the self-centered Director Park (Kim Tae-hoon).  Around the same time that Sang-yeol starts to make clumsy advances on So-yeon, she falls pregnant and stops seeing Park after deciding to keep the baby.  It wouldn’t be proper, her friend says, to become an unmarried, single mother, as opposed to divorced or widowed.  Sang-yeol gets very drunk with her one night and wakes up in a hotel.  He assumes that he has slept with her and this gives So-yeon the opportunity to pretend that they did and make Sang-yeol believe he is her child’s father.  Shortly thereafter,  they marry.

The cold So-yeon (Kim Gyoo-ri)

It’s an effective conceit for a romantic comedy and perfectly fits the average joe/gorgeous woman formula.  It’s also very manipulative, shallow, and dare I say veering towards misogyny.  On top of that, it can feel a little confusing at times, the narrative may be straightforward, but the motivations raise an eyebrow or two.  One can see why Sang-yeol falls for So-yeon, since he’s wrapped up in a fake ideal of a perfect family, which he relives everyday.  The fact that she is very pretty doesn’t hurt either.  What’s more difficult to understand is why he still loves her at the end after she’s been outed as a manipulator and a liar.  She doesn’t love him and initially just uses him but after living together for a while, he treats her so kindly and thoughtfully that she falls for him.  However, she doesn’t reciprocate, for the most part she treats him badly.  Following the inevitable conclusion, it nearly feels like the message is:  look, Mr. Average Joe scored a really hot girl, and that’s all that matters, high five!

Perhaps I’m being a little cynical and a little harsh, that’s probably true since most romantic comedies are in some way guilty of cheap moralization and turning a blind eye to questionable actions but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t single out Shotgun Love for criticism.  It’s not a bad film, in fact a lot of if works, even if it tends to be by the numbers and ultimately a little overwrought, but this is the playing field and the cast and crew tread it well, like they’ve all played the game before.  There are some very clever and interesting spins on the fine line between acting and the truth: the fake family of the infomercial vs. the half-lie of the real marriage, not to mention the strangers that pose of Sang-yeol's family in the wedding picture.  Just don't get me started on gay representation, that was a real problem in this film. My criticisms mostly stem from the slight moral outrage it awoke in me, late during a Tuesday night and which subsequently vanished until I put pen to paper (rather finger to keyboard but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it) for this review.  There are a few incongruous gross-out moments and a bit of repetition though on the whole, this is a solid romcom, though not on the same plateau as Korea’s best (My Sassy Girl, 2001; My Little Bride, 2004; and many, many more) but, in this reviewer’s opinion, it is a little sexist.  

Victory for Sang-yeol (Im Chan-jeong), except it isn't

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.