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Monday, December 12, 2011

Jopok Week: Conclusion and Korean Gangster Films on the Horizon

Kang Ji-hwan and So Ji-sub in Rough Cut (2008)

The gangster film has been a staple since the early days of cinema.  It's heady, larger-than-life blend of action, drama, and thriller tropes as well as the myriad of themes it can explore, makes it a natural fit for the silver screen.  Throughout the last century the genre has travelled across the globe, peaking in different places at different times.  For the last 15 years, one of the most prolific producers of gangster pictures has been Korea:  arguably it has been the most successful.  In their home market, Korean gangster films have enjoyed unprecedented and sustained popularity though the genre has changed in the industry over time.  

One of the aspects that was most discussed this week (chiefly by Connor McMorran and Darcy Paquet) was the Korean gangster comedy, which reached an early high in 2001, when six of the top 10 films of the year were mobster themed features.  Much was said about the reasons for their enormous success as well as the inherent flaws within the sub-genre which lead in part to its early demise.  They eventually receded from the marquees near the end of the decade.  While the odd one is still made today, they do not attract near the same audiences as they did.

Kim Yun-seok in The Yellow Sea (2010)

Darker thrillers with gangster tropes may not have had the same dominance as their comedy counterparts had in certain parts of the last decade but their prevalence and popularity has remained constant throughout the resurgence of Korean cinema.  They have been used as a template to explore the changing landscape and society of Korea as it has become a developed nation and also as a means to consider questions regarding the Korean male in modern times.  In her piece, Rowena Santos Aquino gave us a lot to think about regarding masculinity and beauty in 'jopok' films.

A lot of ground has been covered during 'Jopok Week' and I am absolutely thrilled about the positive response that the many reviews, features, and analyses have received.  Including these closing comments, 17 articles have been published as part of Jopok Week, totaling an enormous 22,500 words.

Cha In-pyo in Mokpo, Gangster's Paradise (2003)

I want to express my sincere gratitude to Connor McMorran, Rowena Santos Aquino, Kieran Tully, and Darcy Paquet who contributed such wonderful pieces on various aspects of Korean gangster cinema.  A huge thank you is also in order for every one of you that took part in, or helped promote the features through umpteen tweets, likes, follows, shares, subscribes, or comments on the various social media platforms.  And of course none of this would have been possible without you, the reader, so thank you so much for taking the time to visit!

After the success of this week, I am keen to do a similar feature in the near future.  Perhaps we can take a look at horror or melodrama in Korean cinema next, or even expand on 'Jopok Week' a year down the line.  I hope you will join me when the next feature does get underway and if you any ideas or would like to collaborate on something, do not hesitate to get in touch (pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com)!  

I will leave you with a recap of this week's articles and a taste of what's to come for 'jopok' films in 2012:

(by Kieran Tully)


Too Many Villains

The debut film from Kim Harry, who was previously an assistant director on Ha Yu's brilliant A Dirty Carnival (2006), will be released next week in Korea and I think it looks fantastic.  In Too Many Villains, Kim Joon-bae plays an ex-gang member trying to gain custody of his daughter.  Kim is a veteran and has been exceptional in a number of small roles including Romantic Heaven (2011) and last year's Moss but judging by the trailer, this may be a big break for him and I hope it will be.  His look, swagger, and especially his voice feel spot on for this type of role.  I have a good feeling about this one and I hope I get a chance to see it early in 2012.  One of my must-sees for next year!

Nameless Gangster

Yoon Jong-bin's third film (he's still only 32) is a gangster tale set in the early 90s starring Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, 2003; I Saw the Devil, 2010) and Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser, 2008; The Yellow Sea, 2010).  Nameless Gangster has a great look and feel to it and Choi, a consummate actor, seems to have completely immersed himself in the role.  There have been a number of great stills relying on the evocative force of the production design and costumes, which works for me.  Comedy looks to be part of the mix but this is a far cry from the gangster comedies we've been discussing this week.  The trailer looks promising and this is one the films I'm most curious about in 2012. 

The Thieves

Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jeong-jae, Oh Dal-su, and Jeon Ji-hyeon in The Thieves

Choi Dong-hoon's fourth feature has blockbuster written all over it.  The big cast features Kim Yun-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Jeon Ji-hyeon (aka Gianna Jun), Lee Jeong-jae, and Oh Dal-su, and the production was pan-asian and included shoots in Macau.  The Thieves (formerly known as The Professionals) is Choi's third film dealing with professional thieves/gamblers and while no trailers or posters have been revealed yet, the pedigree looks strong.  Kim Yun-seok is on such a roll that it's hard to imagine that he won't bring it home again here.

Kim Yun-seok in The Thieves

That's it for 'Jopok Week', hope you've enjoyed it and thanks again!

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