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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day V Report


Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Yesterday was very much a Korea-centric day.  It began with a 5:30am wakeup so that I could log onto Skype for an interview at 6:00am with someone in Korea, but this had nothing to do with Udine.  After writing my Day IV Report I went to the festival centre to take in the second double bill of the 1970s Korean film retrospective.  Following that I had the chance to see one of last year’s biggest Korean hits, one I’d been aching to see.

The evening’s panel was on the ‘Darkest Decade’ retrospective and featured curator Darcy Paquet and noted Korean film director and scholar (currently professor at K’Arts) Kim Hong-joon.  The talk began with a short video by Kim where he discusses March of Fools, a 1975 Kil Ha-chong (director of the previous day’s Pollen) film that was unfortunately not available for the FEFF.  The talk was fascinating and both panelists drew on their extensive knowledge of Korean cinema and shared some choice anecdotes. I only wish it could have gone on longer!

I didn’t catch the next Korean film screening as I had already seen (and reviewed) it so I took my leave to go back to the hotel early since the last three nights had yielded less than 15 hours of sleep.

No retrospective films today but I’m hoping to catch Dangerously Excited (South Korea, 2012), which screened before I arrived, in the press library.  I'm also looking forward to the The Woodsman and the Rain (Japan, 2011).


Rainy Days
(South Korea, 1979)


First up was Rainy Days (aka Rainy Season) which is one of the last films that Yoo Hyun-mok ever made.  Yoo is rightly famous for directing Obaltan (aka Aimless Bullet, 1961), which, along with The Housemaid (1960), is considered one of the defining works of Korean cinema.  Rainy Days may not have the visceral impact of his previous classic, but then again Obaltan was made during a brief transition period in the early 60s during which censorship was very lax.  This film is borne out of different circumstances and a careful examination of it reveals how a clever director like Yoo is able to bend the limitations of studio filmmaking, in a heavily censored era, to his advantage.

The film is set in a small rural community during the Korean war and while ostensibly an anti-communist film I couldn’t help but think that he was also making a statement about the society and political atmosphere in contemporaneous Korea.  Fear of recrimination is a large part of the film but perhaps even more so is hypocrisy, which has actually been an overarching theme in all the films that have so far been screened in the retrospective. 

The film if beautifully made and these works continue to surprise me with the high degree of sophistication with regards to their film technique.  Another great film from Yoo Hyun-mok and I hope to see it again soon, as I must admit that I was a little (very) tired during the screening after my late night finish and early morning start!


Night Journey
(South Korea, 1977)


The first thing that struck me about Kim Soo-young’s Night Journey was its star Yun Jeong-hie, who picked up numerous international accolades for her exceptional performance in Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010).  She made an enormous amount of films in the late 60s and 70s but of course precious few are available now.  I may even have been slightly uncomfortable seeing the woman who played the sweet grandmother in Poetry in such a lascivious role.

Kim’s film is a brief and focussed affair which examines the role of the independent, city-dwelling woman in Korean society circa the 1970s.  She plays a bank clerk having an affair with her supervisor but she is left sexually unsatisfied and even the hope of getting a husband out of the ongoing encounters is dashed as he finds the institution of marriage ‘lame’.

Hypocrisy rears its ugly head again as women are given the short shrift in Kim’s film as their changing role in society is ill-accepted by its patriarchs.  She may work in a bank but there is never a question that she could ever rise up to management.  She is referred to as an 'old maid' at work and thus is under pressure to get married because at this point in time, Korea offers no other recourse for a woman approaching middle age.

I loved how Kim’s film was short and to the point, it managed to say a lot in 76 minutes and I’m still going over it in my mind.


Punch
(South Korea, 2011)


Punch was Korea’s third most successful film last year which was a bit of a surprise but after seeing it, it quickly becomes clear why this film raked in so much cash: it’s a winner.  An exceptionally well-crafted studio fell-good hit, Punch has a lot going in its favor but its anchor is Kim Yun-seok, the formidable star of Tazza: The High Rollers (2006), The Chaser (2008), Running Turtle (2009), TheYellow Sea (2010) and this summer’s hotly anticipated The Thieves (2012).  Kim is a joy to watch on screen, he’s known for very intense roles but for me the common element that binds all his roles together is just how funny he is.  He’s extremely droll and his droopy eyes are able to convey such a range of emotion and I honestly don’t know how he does it.

Everyone had a great time with this and the whole theater was in stitches throughout most of the film.  Kim certainly plays his part but the supporting cast is also superb.  Anyone who had a chance to see Moby Dick (2011) earlier this week will have recognized Kim Sang-ho, the stout little actor with the bald head and frizzy hair who brightens up even the worst film, and he has been in some atrocious ones, such as last year’s woeful Champ.

Punch is a coming of age story about a resourceful but reserved young man who has grown up without a mother and in a poor and unconventional setting.  His teacher (played by Kim) lives next door and constantly harangues him, though it is obvious that he is affectionate towards him.  Themes of multi-culturalism, religion and acceptance abound in the narrative and while the going is often light and frothy, the subtext is clear and very well integrated.  This kind of a film, which inevitably takes detours into sentimentalism, is of the sort which often gets into trouble with suffocating melodrama and disingenuousness but director Lee Han has a firm command of the material and his film has a lot heart and it does pack a but of a punch.  Highly recommended for all-comers.


Penny Pinchers
(South Korea, 2011)


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