Friday, July 29, 2011

Death Bell (Gosa) 2008

As I have previously examined with Whispering Corridors (1998), the schoolgirl ghost horror film is a prevalent and perhaps necessary form of Korean horror which contrary to the typical depiction of young woman in the horror genre, presents a vehicle for the representation of Sonyeo, that is to say the ‘sensitivity’ of young girls. What we expect from schoolgirls in horror films, in Hollywood and also in Japan (where the schoolgirl look is a particularly exportable fetish), is precociousness and promiscuity. K-horror dabbles in sexuality but often in more oblique ways, like Memento Mori (1999), which explores the ghostly ramifications of homosexual relationship between two teenage girls and the social alienation that precedes it.

Schoolgirl horror
Not two minutes into Death Bell there is a close-up shot of a young girl’s white panties as her period quickly stains them with blood. Despite all the horrific imagery that follows in the film, this is probably the most shocking of all. Upon viewing this my initial thought was that this film would be more sexual than it’s predecessors and may explore new ground. But ultimately, aside from the high concept generic mash-up of ghostly horror, murder mystery, and torture porn, Death Bell does follow the same beaten path as the Whispering Corridors series and others have before.

The plot is simple, an elite high school class of 20 pupils are tormented by a vicious Saw-like killer who poses them questions and riddles, which if left unanswered or not solved in a timely manner, will result in the gory death of one of their classmates. After a while it becomes evident that the reason behind this carnage stems from the unsolved death of a girl in the school two years prior. During it’s brief and well-paced 85 minute running time, there is no need for much more plot than this and besides the expository first act and denouement the film contents itself with moving on from one horrific set piece to the next.

Lee Beom-su as Teacher Kim
This may sound like a snub but director Yoon Hong-seun, who was also the writer, exhibits a deft handling of the fairly straightforward proceedings. The film is a potent cocktail of memorable horror staples and is edited in a breathless, visceral, and exuberant style which does it many favors. It may be fair to say that the brief and flighty nature of the film allows it to succeed in glossing over a few mistakes or low points that occur here and there although the strong production values and good performances, especially Lee Beom-su (Mr. Gam’s Victory; Au Revoir UFO, both 2004) as the affable and friendly teacher Chang-wook, make up for this.

The film touches on a couple of themes including Korea’s obsession with good academic results but it does not serve as a comprehensive commentary on the state of affairs for education in the nation. The climax inevitably evokes a lot of history and by employing some decidedly Korean melodramatics it reminds us of Korea’s considerable historical trauma without directly referencing it.

Death by washing machine
I would recommend Death Bell to any fan of horror or any general enthusiast of Korean cinema as I believe it has the ability to please both with it’s confident production style and, if not necessarily memorable, its colorful take on the generic territories it occupies. Although some have dubbed this as torture porn (a sub-genre which I despise) I think this film has a little more in common with Battle Royale (2000), although it is nowhere near as original.

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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Memories of Murder: Part VIII - Conclusion

“The recovery of the self remains as the objective in these films, but … the subjectivity reconstituted or denied in the end is the man’s alone" this may be true of the films of Park Kwang-su and Jang Sung-woo in the late 1980s and early 1990s but Memories does not abide by this strict dictum. In the end Det. Park is left where he started and while he has moved on, clearly nothing has been resolved and the past is as confusing as ever. More importantly, since we know nothing of his personal trauma beyond the work-related serial killings investigation, it would be inaccurate to say that his position at the end of the film’s narrative is a conclusion to his character’s progression. For the film is scarcely about the individual, he is only a symbolic vessel, a metaphorical amalgamation of the post-traumatic masculine id of South Korean males. His experience during the narrative is not his life story; it is a window into a frail national psychology circa 1986. Unlike Peppermint Candy (1999), for example, the bulk of the film (everything expect for the coda) happens in too short of a timeframe and showcases too few personal interactions and relationships to be a comprehensive portrait of one man, it is about a time and a place. Det. Park is our guide to the past and through him we must experience the nation’s subjective conscious. Characters like Park "provided an unconscious sense of urgency through their inability to articulate and their ineffectuality that metaphorically was symptomatic of the terror and trauma ushered by the military regimes“. They continue to do so in the new millennium in films like Memories.

"The l980s was the decade of post-trauma - one that anxiously awaited the replacement of a father-figure of South Korea and the implementation of a social structure alternative to capitalist relations, both of which would not materialize.”

An unsecured crime scene
Memories, made in 2003, unfolds in this period of post-trauma as a means of recuperation. Like other national cinemas, according to Teshome Gabriel “the past is necessary for the understanding of the present, and serves as a strategy for the future". South Korean cinema is not a third world cinema by any means. However, its turbulent past has created somewhat similar anxieties for filmmakers to elucidate upon. The past is the primary point of contention in a large proportion of contemporary South Korean cinema. Most films ignore the past and focus on an idealized present but many cannot let go of a past so traumatic that it can’t help but shape the ever-changing present and by extension their narratives.

Trying to save the evidence
There is an early scene in Memories which showcases the confusion of a society within a very difficult moment of collective trauma. It is a virtuoso two minute steadicam shot that is minutely choreographed and perfectly executed, furthermore it includes a wealth of information. We stand by Park's side, who is smoking a cigarette in a field as he is shouting instructions and giving out to officers for not having roped the area off. The music from the previous scene has trailed off at this point. Another officer calls him over to the dirt road where he shows Park evidence, some footprints. Park circles the area with a stick and enquires as to the whereabouts of the forensics team. He heads back down to the field still shouting questions and instructions; he also refers to the crime scene as "total chaos". We then see a number of cars parked by the main road and notice officers and civilians freely roaming the crime scene. A new character, the chief inspector of police, makes his grand entrance by falling down from the road onto the field, immediately undermining his presence. Park notices him and utters "Jesus, look at him" under his breath. At this point, a number of little children run by him into the field and he shouts at them to leave. Now we move to the centre of the field and we see the victim, dressed in red and dead on the ground. A number of people have gathered around her, including children. The inspectors start to give out about the presence of reporters. They share some brief words before Park hears a tractor behind them. He turns his head and sees that it is heading straight for the footprints. He calls out to it to stop and then starts jogging over to it but the driver never hears him and destroys the evidence. Park discards his cigarette in frustration and is then informed of the arrival of the forensics team, Park curses them as he makes his way to that side of the field only to see them slide down as well. Park calls them "sliding fools". The chief inspector is back in shot and seems somewhat bewildered, he turns around and as he is more or less facing the camera says "What’s going on?" and this is the end of the shot/scene.

"What's going on?"
In this scene, we are given much evidence to condemn the procedural skills of the investigators. Nothing seems to be done right and no protocol is being followed, it is slightly humorous to witness the bumbling efforts of these detectives but the muted colors and the grotesque sight of the corpse severely offset this notion. It is telling to see that no one is listening to these supposed figures of authority because to them all they stand for is subjugation to a hated dictatorship and way of life. They are not attacked since they are not mean-spirited and do not impose hardships on the civilians, they are simply ignored. The scene also underscores the uneasy relation between police and the media. We know beforehand that this is a small town and that these were the first serial killings in South Korea, so it can be fair to state that they had simply never dealt with this type of situation before. This is evident throughout the film, as everyone seems to get a little better at their job as the case wears on but at the same time we are also predisposed with the knowledge that they will never accomplish their mission.

A black hole, symbolic of a shadowy past or uncertain future?
The climactic scene, which is set in 1986, shows Detective Suh, after having seen the dead body of the little girl that he had grown to know over the narrative, drag the prime suspect to the train tracks by a tunnel and mercilessly beat him. Having never seen him use violence before, this heavy outburst is all the more shocking. He has become a desperate man and is at his wits end. As he beats him, there is a shot of the tunnel that eerily moves zooms in. It is very ominous and represents the end of the narrative, a big black hole. Det. Park comes down waiving the document whose content is expected to inculpate the suspect, but this turns out to be inconclusive. This drives Suh over the edge and he is about to shoot the suspect but Park stops him and then stares into the would-be killer’s eyes, desperately trying to figure him out but finds nothing and lets him go. A train comes and separates them and once it has past the suspect is already escaping through the tunnel. Suh runs down and shoots and Park stops him again. They both look down the tunnel and see the man lying on the ground, seemingly dead. But than he gets up and runs into the dark, he is a confusing enigma. The truth is lost forever. It is an extremely dramatic scene which shows us how these male characters have hit the end and may not recuperate any male subjectivity. Suh, as the supporting character has a neater arc where he does change, a little for the worse. Systems he trusted in have collapsed around him and have left him empty. Whereas Park, as the more emblematic character of a generation, hasn’t really changed throughout the narrative but after what he has seen through his eyes (as they are constantly in close-up throughout the film), the trauma has built up so much that he is forced to move on, as we see in the coda.

Searching for answers in vain
After a few shots which briefly establish his family life and line of work, Park stops off at the field which was the site of the first murder. It is a beautiful, sunny day and he slowly walks over to the ditch where the narrative began. He crouches down and peers into it much the same way as he did at the beginning of the film and after a while, a young girl asks what he is looking for, he says nothing and than she mentions that a man had recently done the same thing and had stated that he had "done something here long ago". At first, Park is panicky and quickly his Detective instincts kick in. He asks the girl questions about the man, her answers are less than concrete and after looking around for a while with his darting eyes, Park looks directly into the camera, lost and bereft of answers, and it is here that the film ends.

Back at the scene of the crime, back on the road
Aside from being a visual bookend to the film, this scene does effectively adumbrate the journey, or lack thereof, that Park has undergone. After having extricated himself from the force he comes back to the scene of the crime, seemingly just like the criminal, and although presented with this new information he still lacks the knowledge of how to process it and thus he looks directly at us, the only moment that the fourth wall is broken in the film, as if he is pleading us to help him find his path. "The subjects in Korean painting never seem to avoid eye contact with the viewer. On the contrary, it seems that they accept their role of represented subject, and an audience must accept their role of viewer. This is true also of cinema”, one could side with this interpretation with regards to the final shot, as the intertextuality of the film anchors this as a South Korean film as opposed to just a genre film. By the end of his trajectory, Park is unable to recuperate his subjectivity on his own. It takes very little for the historical trauma he experienced to overwhelm him again and he is incapable of knowing what to do about it. This is why he must end in the narrative exactly where he started because he cannot find his own path, he cannot go anywhere and he has no real destination. While his journey in the narrative has been entirely cyclical, in the end, through his frustrations and failings, we the spectators have gone on an incredible and complex journey with him which has enabled us to delve deep into the repercussions of an immense collective national trauma. We begin and end on a road and like so many characters of the Korean New Wave before him, Park finds himself on it, constantly in search of a home which has been destroyed.

Park looks directly into the camera
Therefore, the film offers up the conclusion that there is no easy way to deal with the serious psychological trauma which has stemmed from countless historical atrocities that South Korean males have suffered in the 20th century. Many people cannot simply forget about these traumatic events and their lives and behavior are heavily informed by this scarred history. However, it is also not simply ignored, with dozens of films released every year that deal with these intense psychological and sociological issues. The fact that these demons are being faced in such a direct fashion is proof that as a nation South Korea is ready to move on from their traumatic history and clearly have successfully been pulling away from it in recent times. In terms of the future of South Korean cinema, it remains to be seen how these historical events will be dealt with by subsequent generations that may not have been personally scarred by these events. Although since social problems are so keenly addressed in contemporary South Korean cinema, it is difficult to imagine that these modes of filmmaking will be forgotten or cast off any time soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Korean Cinema News (07/18-07/24, 2011)

Lots of news this week including some interviews with directors Jang Hoon and Lee Joon-ik, casting news, festival items, and english-language home market release announcements.


After recently blasting past the 7 million viewer mark, Sunny is set to reappear in cinemas with a special director's cut on the 28th. It will feature 10 minutes of additional footage and will screen in roughly 30 theaters around the country. (, July 24, 2011)

A number of sports film are set to hit Korean screens throughout the remainder of the year, including Fight, Pacemaker, Champ, Korea, and The Perfect Game. (Joong Ang Daily, July 18, 2011)

Popular Korean actress Bae Doona, of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and The Host (2006) fame, has been cast in the hotly anticipated adaptation of Cloud Atlas. (, July 18, 2011)

After recently acquiring a Vietnamese exhibition chain, CJ has also inherited the company's legal troubles as many companies sued it for allegedly setting minimum prices and other conditions. (The Hollywood Reporter, July 19, 2011)

Eros International, the Indian film producer and exhibitor, is planning to release Endhiran in South Korea on 50 screens. (Media Mughals, July 19, 2011)

Moon Si-hyun, one of Kim Ki-duk's former assistant directors, has just revealed her debut film at PiFan. The film, Sins of Fathers deals with broken families and the disillusioned middle class. (The Hollywood Reporter, July 20, 2011)

The world's first QR Code Film Festival will make content available online and accessible through the use of QR codes, a new form of digital bar codes that can be scanned by smartphones. (PC Advisor, July 21, 2011)

The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) recently suggested a contract for cinemas and distributors that aims to ensure a minimum screening period for films and alter the proportion of profit shares. It is not a recommendation and sanctions will not be imposed. (The Korea Times, July 21, 2011)

Kwak Kyung-taek (Friend, 2001; Typhoon, 2005) cast Kwon Sang-woo in a new melodrama which is due to hit screens in September. Kwak is normally known for action films but admits a soft side for melodrama which he wishes to explore in his new film Painted. (The Korea Times, July 21, 2011)

Korea has been selected as the guest country for the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico, which will be held July 22 – 31. A whopping 76 Korea films will be on display, including retrospectives on Bong Joon-ho and Kim Dong-won. (, July 21, 2011)

Hong Sang-soo's recent Cannes entry The Day He Arrives is set to open the 5th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival. The festival will screen 98 films from 32 countries. (, July 21, 2011)

Elizabeth Shim reflects on the Sea of Revenge spotlight at the recent New York Asian Film Festival. In particular she discusses closing night film The Yellow Sea. (Korean Culture Service NY, July 21, 2011)

Terracotta, a great distributor for Asian films in the UK, is launching a new sub-label that will focus exclusively on horror. Terror-cotta will release the Korean Death Bell (2008) as its first title. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)

Winners were announced for the 15th Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and included: Best Film for Rubber, Best Korean Independent Film and Best Asian Genre Film for Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley, and Best Director for Na Hong-jin. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)

Kim Jee-won's revered A Bittersweet Life  (2005) will be coming to Blu-ray on August 30th, courtesy of Korean distributor Content Zone. This English-subbed version has faced numerous problems before finally seeing the light of day. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)

Recently it is no longer marquee names that are attracting audiences in South Korea. Ensemble films and relatively low-budget have been competitive in securing a large share of the market. (The Hankyoreh, July 23, 2011)

After movies, TV, and pop, comics may be the next hook in the Korean Wave. Various comic book source materials have been made into films and TV shows and with the support of festivals and trade associations they seem to be on the rise again. (Arirang, July 23, 2011)


Closer Look at The Front Line
The Joon Ang Daily provides more info on new War drama The Front Line and interviews its director Jang Hoon. (Joong Ang Daily, July 22, 2011)

Conversation with Lee Joon-ik
Lee Joon-ik discusses his retirement, his latest film Battlefield Heroes, and planting trees in the desert in Mongolia. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)


A pair of new trailers this week including one for the director's cut of the enormously popular Sunny.


Harry Potter held its lead in a crowded marketplace and has now accumulated close to 3 million admissions. Meanwhile The Front Line (550,000) and Quick (430,000) opened strongly even if they were unable to unseat the bespectacled wizard, look to them to perform strongly in coming weeks. Sunny is dying down after reaching the 7 million mark but still added 70,000 viewers this weekend to its tally. (, July 24, 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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Korean Cinema News (07/11-07/17, 2011)

A good amount of news this week, including updates on American films tied to Korea, blockbusters opening locally, film festivals, and a great article from Tom Giammarco. Interview, trailers, and box office at the bottom.


Josh Brolin First Name Linked to Spike Lee's Oldboy
After being confirmed last week, Spike Lee's rendition of Oldboy (2003) is rumored to star Josh Brolin. (, July 12, 2011)

Quick Opens in Korea
Motorcycle summer blockbuster Quick opens this weekend in South Korea and will most likely provide cheap, forgettable thrills. (The Korea Times, July 12, 2011)

The Last Stand on Track at Lionsgate
The Last Stand is now a confirmed project at Lionsgate pictures, they will have domestic and international distribution rights. The pic will aslo be produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura through Bonaventura Pictures. (Business of Cinema, July 13, 2011)

Indian Women's Film Festival Spotlights Korean Cinema
The 4th Samsung Women's International Film Festival which takes place in Chennai, India, from 15-21 July, will feature a section film by acclaimed artist Park Chan-ok. (The Hollywood Reporter, July 13, 2011)

What May Be Borne Out of a Clash Between Kim Jee-woon and Arnie
Korean helmer Kim Jee-woon and returning action star Arnold Schwarzenegger are set to work together on The Last Stand. Given their strong personalities and divergent backgrounds, what will each bring to the project? (indieWIRE, July 13, 2011)

Sector 7 Will Showcase Korean 3D
The filmmakers of the upcoming blockbuster Sector 7 are hoping that the film will showcase Korea's nascent 3D capabilities and believe it should be able to compete on the same level as Hollywood films. (The Korea Herald, July 13, 2011)

City Hunters Star Meets with Hollywood Producer
American film producer Terence Chang flew to Korea to meet with Lee Min-ho, star of the top-rated City Hunters K-Drama. (soompi, July 13, 2011)

Jang Hoon Returns With The Front Line
Jang Hoon's third feature, after Rough Cut (2008) and Secret Reunion (2010), is a big-budget with an A-list cast. More than anything The Front Line showcases the brutality and depravity of war. (The Korea Times, July 14, 2011)

Cats in Korean Horror
Tom Giammarco examines the history of ghostly cats in Korean cinema. Armed with his encyclopedic knowledge of Classic Korean film he runs through a series of films from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.(, July 14, 2011)

Secret Expose Being Shot in North Korea
An undercover team of journalists are smuggling out footage of everyday life in North Korea. They have been trained and are being lead by a Japanese reporter. (Radio Australia, July 15, 2011)

Dubbing Takes Over With Rise of 3D Films
Korean viewers, who normally watch American films with subtitles are taking a different tack with 3D films as many of these are now being dubbed. (Joong Ang Daily, July 15, 2011)

Korean Films on Display at Dallas Asian Film Festival
The Asian Film Festival of Dallas got underway and will showcase a number of Korean films, including: Bedevilled, Cyrano Agency, Dance Town, Enemy at the Dead End, and Midnight FM. (, July 15, 2011)

PiFan Gets Underway
The 15th Puchon (Bucheon) International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) got off to a good start as 2000 people attended the opening ceremony. Many shows have sold out in advance and their is great selection of Korea and foreign films on display. (The Korea Times, July 17, 2011)

Korean Wave Stars in Movies
A comprehensive list of Hallyu idols from K-Pop or K-Dramas who have crossed over into movie roles. (soompi, July 17, 2011)


Kim Jae-hwan Talks About New Documentary
Documentarian Kim Jae-hwan discusses his new documentary The True-taste Show, he believes that documentary that draw their focus on the media will be more prevalent in the future. (, July 12, 2011)


A pair of new trailers, including one for one of Korea's most successful and long-running franchises.

Harry Potter Draws in the Crowds

The last Harry Potter opened big and has so far scored 1.7 million viewers. A huge figure but not as impressive as the recent record-breaking Transformers, which held well with over 600,000 admissions and is very close to the 7 million mark. Sunny is also a fraction behind that mark as it continues to do well with nearly 200,000 more spectators. The Cat played well in its sophomore frame and Quick and The Front Line sold a good number of preview tickets in advance of their full release this coming week. (, July 17, 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.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Villain and Widow (I-cheung-eui Ak-dang) 2010

Once again I’ve come head to head with a genre-bending Korean film and as usual I feel it necessary to comment on this fact. Villain and Widow is Son Jae-gon’s third feature, after The Man Who Saw Too Much (2000) and My Scary Girl (2006) and it is, as others before me have noted, perfectly uncategorizable. Being so used to the schizophrenic generic tendencies of South Korea cinema, this one actually seemed a little different. What I mean by that is that while it embodies many genres it doesn’t veer aggressively between them as is the norm. Instead it is a film which dares you to pigeonhole it, knowing full well you will come up empty-handed. Films like Save the Green Planet (2003) and The Host (2006) are both criticized and lauded for jumping with both feet from one genre to another as each new scene unfolds. I personally love that fresh style of filmmaking and find it invigorating and exciting, if done well. I suppose it could only last so long as the local film industry developed.

Han Suk-kyu and Kim Hye-soo
Villain and Widow is a film that seems to have taken the next step. Dare I say it, it transcends genre. Korean cinema understands genre and plays with it (and abuses it) with the utmost skill and it seems to me that Son is so acutely aware of the various tropes on offer that he has managed to mix and match them as he pleases but in doing so he has made something that doesn’t necessarily draw attention to itself. The previously mentioned films are nearly Brechtian in their blithe disregard for generic consistency and that can take you out of the experience if you resist it. In this film Son has managed to weave together elements from across the board to create a balanced narrative. I am very curious to see whether subsequent films will manage the same feat.

Han Suk-kyu plays Chang-in, a thief who is trying to get his hands on a valuable Chinese teacup that is somewhere in widower Yeon-joo (Kim Hye Soo)’s house, unbeknownst to her and her ex-child model daughter. The widower is dealing with depression, the child is an emotional wreck who is bullied in school, and the thief is up against a powerful, violent, and immature corporate heir. All the while there is the constant forward momentum as he tries to uncover the teacup not to mention some kind of relationship developing between the two leads.

Chang-in keeps getting stuck in the basement
If that sounds like a lot, it is. Throw in a young cop with his sights set on Yeon-joo, a nosy old neighbour, and Chang-in’s older partner in crime, and you’re left with too many strands, a number of which ultimately fall through the cracks. Despite this, the narrative is very easy to follow and Son quite skillfully guides us through this convoluted comedy/thriller/drama/etc. The film takes many unexpected turns as the situation becomes increasingly more complicated and it is full of inventive set pieces, not least a successfully protracted gag in which Chang-in keeps getting stuck in the basement. The film is never less than clever but it can be a little much at times although it also feels slight. It sounds like a contradiction in terms but I think it comes down to a lack of urgency in the narrative (save for the crime element) and the considerable depth of the plot.

The characters are well-rounded and quite unique. While Han is perfectly cast as the slimy and debonair burglar, it is Kim who steals the show as the fragile and complicated Yeon-joo. Her daughter is also well portrayed by Ji Woo and is quite an interesting character, having been a successful child model/actress she is now on the verge of becoming a teenager and is already all washed-up. She is considered ugly and wants plastic surgery, which is something that gets a lot of press in the country. It is a little distressing to see this young girl who already seems so damaged, not to mention the death of her father and the bizarre behavior of her mother.

Ji Woo as the daughter
I didn’t love Villain and Widow but I did enjoy it as it reminded me of films like The Ladykillers (1955) in the way that it managed to incorporate dark subject matter in what plays out like a mild-mannered comedy. I look forward to Son’s next film and I hope that he, as well as other Korean filmmakers, can successfully build on this evolution of hybrid filmmaking and provide us with some well-made and balanced offerings.

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, July 13, 2011

Korean Cinema News (07/04-07/10, 2011)

A lot of box office news this week as well as some festival news. Now that I'm back from holiday the Korean Cinema News updates will return to a regular cycle.


Numerous indie films are doing well at the box office while supposedly hot 3D movies losing traction. The Journals of Musan, with its troves of awards, and others are performing strongly at home and abroad. (The Hankyoreh, July 4, 2011)

Korea's 2008 oscar entry Crossing, which depicts a family's struggles in the border region of the North, is a big hot among movie fans in North Korea. (Daily NK, July 5, 2011)

After passing through many hands, the remake of Oldboy (2003) is set to be made by acclaimed director Spike Lee. Mark Protosevich is writing and the film is getting ready for production at Mandate. (Twitch Film, July 5, 2011)

Upcoming blockbuster Sector 7 will be Korea's first 3D IMAX film, it is set for release on August 4. (MarketWatch, July 7, 2011)

Na Hong-jin's sophomore feature The Yellow Sea has been selected for the 44th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival. (, July 7, 2011)

New trends seem to be affecting the Korean box office as rookie directors and independent films are generating more revenue while vehicles with supposedly reliable box office draws are disappointing at the charts. (The Chosun Ilbo, July 8, 2011)

While overall revenue was down 2.3%. Korean films upped their market share to 48% and saw their revenue rise by 9.9% in the first two quarters in 2011. Given that the back half of the year is packed with promising films this bodes well for the industry. (KOFIC, June 8, 2011)

Megastar Media Company, Vietnam's largest exhibition company, has been purchased by CJ Entertainment for $73.6 million. CJ is aggressively expanding to foreign markets with 7 screens already operational in China as well as one in the US. (Screen Daily, July 8, 2011)

Fantasia is to feature a Korean spotlight section that will feature five films: Bleak Night, Haunters, Hello Ghost, Invasion of Alien Bikini, and Petty Romance. (, July 8, 2011)

Hopes are high for Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild, as it courts foreign buyers and may bring about a renaissance for Korean animation. (, July 8, 2011)

Hong Sang-soo's next film will feature none other than the revered French actress Isabelle Huppert, who had previously expressed an interest in collaborating with the acclaimed filmmaker. (, July 10, 2011)

4D theaters are enticing viewers in Korea with fog, water, shaking seats, and smells. A multiplex with this technology is expected to be built in New York and could take off in Europe if successful. (, July 10, 2011)

An esteemed figure in Korea, Darcy Paquet is well known to anybody with a serious interest in Korean film. In this Korea Herald profile, his contributions to the expansion of Korean cinema are lauded. (The Korea Herald, July 11, 2011) 


A piece on actor Cha Seung-won, who has been very busy of late, on his process for creating characters and his day to day routines. (, July 10, 2011)


Lots of english subbed trailers this week, including for some highly anticipated summer blockbusters.

My Heart Beats (Eng Subs)

Quick (Eng Subs)

Sector 7 (Eng Subs)

Transformers 3 pulled in another 1,670,000 million viewers this weekend to come within a hair's breath of the 6 million mark. Sunny grew again to 270,000 while The Cat had a strong opening with 300,000. Poongsan also grew while White dipped slightly, both are performing well. (, July 10, 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. 

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Korean Cinema News (06/27-07/03, 2011)

Not picking up too much news as I'm off on holiday but a few items concerning the NYAFF (which I attended), including a great, and also a little sad, interview with co-founder Grady Hendrix.


Director Ryoo Seung-wan, whose current film The Unjust is impressing viewers around the world, will host a masterclass on action film staging and choreography. (Twitch, June 27, 2011)

The Journals of Musan as added yet another award to its pedigree as it picked up the Grand Prize at the 47th Pesaro Film Festival. (Yonhap News Agency, June 29, 2011)

Famed UK designer Giles Deacon, known for his prints, has teamed up with LG, the Korean electronics manufacturer, to create a pair of designer 3D glasses which are available now on a limited basis. (HDTVtest, June 29, 2011)

5 Films To Watch Out for in Second Half of 2011
Davdi Teszar of The Korea Blog picks 5 Korean films to watch out for in the back half of 2011: My Way, The Front Line, Sector 7, Only You, and La Quotidienne. (The Korea Blog, June 30, 2011)

Kim Hee-jeon has been named international sales executive responsible for the US and Europe by CJ E&M. (Film Business Asia, July 1, 2011)

The New York Asian Film Festival kicked off on the 1st and will feature a slew of Asian films, including 12 Korean titles, and numerous guests until it comes to a close on the 14th. (, July 1, 2011)


The Many Projects of Producer/Director Yun Je-gyun
A discussion with the producer of the upcoming Sector 7 and director of Haeundae (2008) of the many projects he has going at the moment. (The Dong-a Ilbo, June 28, 2011)

Conversation with NYAFF Co-Founder Grady Hendrix
A great interview with one of the co-founders of the NYAFF in which he discusses the origins of the festival and how hard it is to keep it going. (Cinespect, June 28, 2011)


Just one this week and due to the amount of unsubbed trailers, I will instead mark those that have them in future.


Transformers 3 Dominates
Transformers 3 broke a lot of records this weekend as it raked in 3 million admissions by the end of Sunday. Sunny still going strong as it breaks the 6 million mark with 200,000 new admissions. Both Poongsan and White are showing a little staying power as they post decent numbers. (, July 3, 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, July 8, 2011

Battlefield Heroes (평양성, Pyeongyangseong) 2011

The Villagers

Lee Jun-ik has somewhat hastily proclaimed that he has retired from the director’s chair following the poor performance of his latest film Battlefield Heroes. He has made seven films and by far the one he is most famous for is The King and the Clown (2005), a gay period comedy drama that came out of nowhere to become the highest grossing film in the peninsula’s history up until that point with over 12 million admissions. After that kind of success it must be hard to follow it up, especially since a director like Lee is not known for making high-falutin blockbusters that you would typically expect to score big at the box office, he is known for making high concept comedies and in no film market at any time in history has that been a recipe for surefire success. In each of the three years that followed The King and the Clown, Lee kept busy and released a film: Radio Star (2006), The Happy Life (2007), and Sunny (2008). Each of the aforementioned were solid midlevel players but none cracked their year’s top 10. Then in 2010 he released Blades of Blood, which has been somewhat popular overseas but a significant commercial failure at home.

This year he's back with Battlefield Heroes which once again has not been met with the breakout success that had been hoped for and following its decent performance (it was by no means a flop) he has publicly declared that he is hanging his hat, this is after having previously said he would do so were his next film not a big hit. This seems to me a little rash and I worry that a big-budget war comedy was a reckless film to gamble on, but we shall see. I recently caught up with respected film critic Chris Bourne at the NYAFF and he believes that Lee will make a return after another brief hiatus, I am inclined to agree and I certainly hope he will.

As for the film itself, also known as Pyongyang Castle, it is a big-budget war comedy set in the 600s and the plot consists of the Silla kingdom and Chinese Tang dynasty banding together to overthrow the Goguryeo kingdom by laying siege to their castle. Silla’s strategist is worried that Tang will conquer them also after winning the battle and so conspires with Goguryeo in various twists and turns. The story is somewhat straightforward and yet it is also convoluted and a bit contrived, although the fact of the matter is that it is all a stage for the bawdy comedy to play out on.

The Rice Bowl

The cast has many recognizable faces (if you’re well-versed in Korean cinema) and a number of great cameos including one from the great Hwang Jeong-min. The problem with reviewing a film like Battlefield Heroes for Western audiences, is that I feel a lot may be lost in translation. While I enjoyed it, I know there must be a number of things that I missed which is a shame but the film still has a much to offer. The comedy is often low-brow and when it is verbal it can be very quickfire, which means it can be a little difficult to follow with subtitles. My favorite parts of the film featured the villagers who were ‘drafted’ into the Silla camp and their antics. There is a funny scene where they all appear at the Goguryeo gate in a big rice pot, a play on the Trojan Horse, and pop out comically trying to persuade them to surrender for some stores of rice. The scene gets even more ridiculous when it breaks into a karaoke song, this didn’t bother me too much but I imagine it may be too silly for some.

Battlefield Heroes features a number of well-choreographed fight scenes and the action is very convincing, much more so than you would expect for a comedy. This does lead to a slight identity crisis on the part of the film as it juggles comedy, action, and melodrama but it never veers too far out of control and remains firmly a comedy. Ultimately the film was a little slight for me and I wouldn’t recommend it to casual viewers of Korean cinema. It didn’t leave me with much to go away with and was at times forgettable, but it was worth watching and I really hope to see more from Lee in the future.


Large-scale war scenes played for laughs

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).

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Haunters (Cho-neung-ryeok-ja) 2010

Science fiction is a genre that hasn’t gotten too much play in South Korean cinema, outside of monster movies (The Host, 2006), and disaster films (Tidal Wave, 2009) there are perhaps only half a dozen films that could be categorized as science fiction. One, 2009: Lost Memories (2002), is set in the near future but in an alternate universe where Japan sided with the allies in World War II and kept it’s prewar colonies, which include Korea. The only other prominent example and certainly the one that is best known to Western audiences is the delirious, deranged, and brilliant Save the Green Planet (2003), while not a strict sci-fi, as it is equal parts horror, detective thriller, social commentary, romance, and comedy, it plays with the tropes of sci-fi in a remarkably clever fashion. Another genre that has not been seen often in Korea in superhero film, granted this is an American specialty and is a relatively recent branch of cinema. Examples in Korea include Descendants of Hong Gil-dong (2009), Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard (2009), and A Man Who Was Superman (2007). Woochi was a remarkably successful action-comedy about a chosun-era wizard who ends up in modern day fighting creatures from the past, on the other hand Superman is a comedy drama that has a big emotional punch and features all the Superman imagery while featuring a protagonist who doesn’t actually have any powers it acts as a a superhero film as only a South Korean film could. Comic book movies however, are quite popular in Korea and include the immensely popular Oldboy (2003) and even different styles of film such as the recent romantic comedy Petty Romance (2010).

Reminiscent of 'Cinema du Look'
Haunters is all of the above and more, it is a clever sci-fi, an off-kilter superhero film, a stylish comic book movie, and an intermittently effective horror. The story is relatively simple, it starts with a dark, brooding, and malevolent prologue that shows us a child in a broken home who has the ability to control minds and does so to horrifying effect. In present day we are introduced to Gyoo-nam, a young man working in a salvage yard with his two foreign friends, after an unfortunate accident he must find new work and does so at Utopia, an oddly-named pawnshop run by Jeong-sik (played by the brilliant Byeon Hee-bong) and his daughter. Meanwhile the child from the opening, Cho-in, is now grown-up and uses his powers to live a quiet, but luxurious life. One day he robs Utopia, while everyone, including Gyoo-nam’s friends, are there. Suddenly he notices something, Gyoo-nam is immune to his power and then all hell breaks loose. The film then focuses on Gyoo-nam as he pursues Cho-in in a series of explosive set pieces.

The Last Supper
It’s a fun story if somewhat thin and features a seemingly bottomless amount of plotholes and inconsistencies but with two engaging leads, strong supporting characters, and a terrific mise-en-scene, it can excused most of its errors. As I watched it I was reminded a lot of the Cinema du Look of the 80s and 90s in French cinema, a set of fiercely contemporary, visceral, aesthetic, and post-modernist works that came from young directors such as Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beinex, and Leo Carax. These films favored style over substance and spectacle over narrative, equipped with visual flair they featured young, alienated characters who symbolized the marginalized youth Francois Mitterand’s France. I feel that Haunters emulates this brief movement of cinema (there were only 7 films) and as a result could probably be excused its flagrant disregard for logic as it seeks to win us over with style. One scene in the film that reminded me of the Cinema du Look was early on at the salvage yard where all the multi-cultural workers sit down for lunch in a Last Supper tableau and when asked by the lunch lady who has produced their lunch ticket, it is the Jesus stand-in who gets up. It is an odd scene that doesn’t add to the narrative but is a stylish visual reference that is in line with the aforementioned French film movement. Most of the film is also played out in seedy backwater Seoul locations, and most often at night, this mimics the Cinema du Look’s propensity for shooting in the Paris Metro in an effort to symbolize an alternative society.

Standout supporting cast
While the film always looks great, if a little dark at times, it does begin to spin its wheels a little as Gyoo-nam always goes after Cho-in, who is clearly a superior opponent, without any plan. Since this blind and frankly stupid bravery leads to the death of a lot of innocent people, it is difficult to root for our hero at times. He is a simpleton who has a good heart but seemingly little brains. Haunters features good performances from its leads (Ko-soo and Kang Dong-won of Woochi and Secret Reunion) as well as its supporting characters, especially from Abu Dod and Enes Kaya who play Gyoo-nam's Ghanaian and Turkish friends. The film is Kim Min-suk's debut work and exhibits a lot of promise for good things to come, perhaps next time he will focus a little more on the narrative. Previously he collaborated with Kim Jee-woon on the script for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (2008), a delightful action romp which also suffers from some loose plotting. Haunters will infuriate a lot of viewers due to its inconsistencies but if you can look past the plotting there is a solid Korean multi-genre film to be enjoyed.

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.