Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PiFan 2012: Over My Dead Body (시체가 돌아왔다, Sichega Dolawassda) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Comedy is a curious beast even at the best of times. Across the world’s national film industries, thrillers, horrors, romances and action films share many common elements, while comedy tends to be fall in line with indigenously codes. I’ve said it before but it bears mentioning again: for foreign viewers, Korean comedies are a tricky proposition. Dialogue-based humor is often lost in translation and societal quirks, idiomatic expressions, customs and cultural references further complicate our relationship with these works.

My knowledge of Korean is steadily rising (and had a big bump during PiFan) so I’m starting to see things that I may have missed out on before and Over My Dead Body, which was presented in the World Fantastic Cinema section is proof of this but still doesn’t convince me that comedy is a forte of Korean cinema. It’s another of the many high-concept, mid-budget and low-brow comedy-thrillers that the industry has been churning out for some time. Having exploited certain generic combos, like the gangster-romance comedies (Marrying the Mafia and My Wife Is a Gangster), to the point of depletion, comedy writers have gotten into a habit of concocting increasingly outrageous premises in the hopes of eliciting laughs through the sheer absurdity of their narratives.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

KBO: The Thieves Steals First Place in Grand Fashion (07/27-07/29, 2012)

The Thieves Steals First Place in Grand Fashion

Apologies for this abbreviated Box Office Report, all updates were suspended while MKC covered the 16th PiFan.

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 The Thieves 7/25/12 55.30% 2,004,178 2,866,802 1,073
2 The Dark Knight Rises (us) 7/19/12 25.30% 891,004 4,256,255 807
3 Ice Age 4 (us) 7/25/12 10.60% 359,122 470,762 501
4 Horror Stories 7/25/12 2.60% 91,890 141,071 274
5 Deranged 7/5/12 2.00% 75,898 4,411,340 261
6 Detective Conan (jp) 7/19/12 1.70% 72,203 329,882 211
7 Doraeman (jp) 7/25/12 1.10% 45,187 58,340 180
8 The Amazing Spiderman (us) 6/28/12 0.30% 9,572 4,840,651 45
9 Midnight in Paris (us) 7/5/12 0.20% 8,143 293,979 38
10 SeoTaiji Record of the 8th 7/27/12 0.20% 5,326 5,326 1

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Korean Cinema News (07/19-07/25, 2012)

An abbreviated KCN as I am was away covering this year's PiFan.


Korean Film Invited to Venice’s Independent Section
Director Jeon Kyu-hwan’s feature-length film The Weight has been included in the line-up of the Venice Film Festival’s autonomous sidebar section, the movie’s distributor Fine Cut said. Jeon, whose previous works include Berlinale-featured Varanasi and Dance Town, has become the first Korean director to be invited to the Venice Days competition program. The sidebar is widely considered to be the equivalent of Cannes Director’s Fortnight. (The Korea Herald, July 25, 2012)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PiFan 2012: Horror Stories (무서운 이야기, Nooseowoon Iyagi) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Omnibus horrors seem to be all the rage at this year's PiFan, with the inclusion of the much-ballyhooed V/H/S and the Indonesian ghost offering Hi5teria (not to be confused with period British vibrator comedy Histeria, which is also in competition). But the one with the highest profile this year was the Korean Horror Stories, which served as the event's opening film.

A group of talented filmmakers, most of whom are prominent genre filmmakers, were assembled for this production which many hoped would breath some life back into Korean horror cinema. Of late, K-horrors have been increasingly disappointing and the consensus is that there hasn't been a good example since the excellent Possessed (2009). Hopes were high for last year's trio of summer Korean horror offerings (the traditional season for the genre) but White: the Melody of the Curse, The Cat and Ghastly all failed to impress despite their potential.

Monday, July 23, 2012

PiFan 2012: 90 Minutes (90분, 90-boon) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

It’s a rare thing to sit down to a film and know just from the opening shot how bad it’s going to be. Sadly this was the case for me at the world premiere of 90 Minutes, a new low-budget Korean revenge thriller. Whether it was the poor framing, choppy editing or thin premise I couldn’t say.

A good-looking commercials director is living in the fast lane and every door seems to open for him until one day when, following a late afternoon tryst with a high-class hooker, he finds himself blackmailed by this femme fatale who has recorded their rendez-vous. He must now follow her commands for 90 minutes if he wants to escape with his life and career intact.

It’s a simple plot that in the right hands and with a bit of creativity might have yielded an interesting, if modest thriller. In director Park Sun-wook ‘s hands however, it becomes an unwieldy and illogical mess. The film’s first mistake is that it takes a full 40 minutes to get things going. The excessive exposition introduces us to a plethora of unlikeable characters, none of whom change throughout the narrative.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

KBO: The Dark Knight Rises to First (07/20-07/22, 2012)

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 The Dark Knight Rises (us) 7/19/12 65.30% 1,992,182 2,434,011 1,210
2 Deranged 7/5/12 15.70% 495,156 4,172,904 534
3 Detective Conan (jp) 7/19/12 5.40% 190,413 204,496 350
4 The Amazing Spiderman (us) 6/28/12 6.30% 189,839 4,779,673 357
5 The 5-Million Dollar Man 7/19/12 2.00% 63,943 79,794 328
6 Two Moons 7/12/12 1.80% 59,429 398,617 238
7 A Letter to Momo (jp) 7/5/12 0.90% 30,825 294,196 109
8 Midnight in Paris (us) 7/5/12 0.90% 25,588 268,136 92
9 Madagascar 3 (us) 6/6/12 0.40% 11,434 1,621,890 52
10 Dangerously Excited 7/12/12 0.20% 7,429 214,080 95

Thursday, July 19, 2012

PiFan 2012: Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley (철암계곡의 혈투, Cheolhamgyegokeui Hyeotoo) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival. Though this film was presented at last year's event (where it picked up two awards), I thought it would be a suitable way to kick off the coverage of this year's event.

Low-budget filmmakers love to dabble in genre fare and, despite inexperience and other shortcomings, they often wind up making more pertinent and exciting works than more established helmers, who may have lost their youthful filmmaking pizzazz. Horror is particularly popular for budding cineastes: it is cheap; relatively simple; and offers many opportunities for experimentation. Sci-fi, though trickier, has also been thoroughly mined by young filmmakers. Westerns on the other hand are among the hardest genre films to realize.

Film lovers are drawn to this genre and it is no surprise. Its sweeping vistas, epic stories and enduring iconoclasm remain popular among directors looking to make their mark. However, this is a difficult feat to accomplish. First of all westerns are visually demanding and feature the type of careful attention to mise-en-scene that requires time, effort and money. Other genres can cut back on this in certain ways, especially horror, but not the western. The next thing and perhaps the hardest, is striking the right balance and tone. Horror and sci-fi films, depending on their angle, may not need to be taken seriously, but a western will sink or swim on its ability to properly engage a viewer and for a neophyte in the director’s chair, this is often too much to ask for.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

PiFan Preview

Well, PiFan gets underway tomorrow and I've been burning with anticipation for a few weeks now. It'll be my first Korean film festival after landing here 6 weeks ago. The programme looks great and there are many people I'm excited to meet. I'll be at the event for the duration though I won't be able to see as many films as I'd like since I do have a fulltime job that gets in the way of most of the screenings during the weekdays but I've still devised a pretty packed schedule.

Since I won't be able to take in each day from morning to night I won't be publishing daily recaps as I did for this year's Fribourg and Udine Film Festivals but there will still be plenty of reviews, some news and hopefully a few interviews as well. Anything that comes up here will be crossposted on Twitch, where I will be covering the event with James Marsh (@Marshy00) and in addition I will also be participating in daily coverage of the event for Cine21, Korea's no. 1 film magazine.

Korean Cinema News (07/12-07/18, 2012)

PiFan is upon us and once it gets underway tomorrow I dare say I won't have time for anything else. This means that there will be no Korean Cinema News next week but don't worry I'll double the week after the fest!


Final two previews from James Marsh and I over at Twitch:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

KOFA Treasures: Kim Ki-young's Woman of Fire (화녀, Hanyeo) 1971

Ongoing series on classic Korean film recently made available for free and with English subtitles on Youtube courtesy of the Korean Film Archive.

Aside from a few choice selections, remakes have become something of a bane for contemporary cinephiles.  They are borne out of commercial interests and, for the most part and almost by default, they are unoriginal.  They are also omnipresent on today’s marquees, but this wasn’t always the case.  Despite the good examples that do exist, the announcement of a remake almost never inspires much confidence, but what about when a director remakes his own work?

Surprisingly this has happened quite often, mainly when a foreign filmmaker remakes his own successful work for Hollywood.   Among the oldest examples are Hitchcock’s British and US versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 and 1956) or Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born But… (1932) and Good Morning (1959), both Japanese.  Among the most intriguing ones are Michael Haneke’s almost identical versions of Funny Games (Austria, 1997 and US, 2007): the US version was a fascinating meta-narrative experiment that explored our species' fascination with violence, I’m just not sure it’s what the studio had in mind, despite it being a shot-for-shot copy of the original.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Korean Box Office Update (07/13-07/15, 2012)

Deranged Infects the Charts

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Deranged 7/5/12 43.60% 1,148,211 3,226,499 734
2 The Amazing Spiderman (us) 6/28/12 28.80% 679,675 4,396,250 652
3 Two Moons 7/12/12 7.60% 204,806 238,454 347
4 Dangerously Excited 7/12/12 4.90% 127,816 157,225 278
5 A Letter to Momo (jp) 7/5/12 3.80% 108,895 247,814 248
6 Limitless (us) 7/12/12 2.30% 60,765 76,399 159
7 Midnight in Paris (us) 7/5/12 2.50% 60,051 196,927 144
8 Madagascar 3 (us) 6/6/12 2.00% 54,143 1,606,573 163
9 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (uk) 7/12/12 0.90% 22,967 31,650 149
10 Street Dance 2 (us) 7/12/12 0.80% 20,875 26,179 133

Friday, July 13, 2012

Weekly Review Round-up (07/09-07/13, 2012)

Lots more NYAFF coverage this week and an early review for incoming blockbuster The Thieves. Next week PiFan gets underway so get ready for plenty of new genre release reviews!


(The Korea Times, July 11, 2012)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pink (핑크, Pingkeu) 2011

The passage of time affects us all in certain ways, our experiences and our memories all take on different forms after we’ve lived them and they leave behind a trace.  This imprint can be faint and slip through our conscious memory just as it can leave an indelible mark, a scar that bears the weight of its genesis.  Most things change with the passage of time but some do not and Jeon Soo-il’s new feature Pink is a dirge to the intransigence of the roots of our defining characteristics.

Jeon, who hails from Korea’s vibrant port city Busan, is a fiercely artistic filmmaker who has quietly been making films for the past 15 years.  While respected within the filmmaking community, Jeon has never attracted anywhere near the same level of international reputation as his arthouse contemporaries, such as Hong Sang-soo (The Day He Arrives, 2011), Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring, 2003) and Lee Chang-dong (Poetry, 2010).  His films are slow, deliberate and difficult and though they are successful on the festival circuit (he has won awards at Fribourg, Busan and Venice), a larger audience may never gravitate towards his oeuvre.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Korean Cinema News (07/05-07/11, 2012)

Plenty of news this week so dig in! PiFan is just around the corner by the way, get started next Thursday!


Check out the following previews for this year's PiFan, written by myself and James Marsh over on Twitch:

PiFan 2012 Preview Part 3: Vision Express 
PiFan 2012 Preview Part 4: Strange Homage, Forbidden Zone & More

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Doomsday Book (인류멸망보고서, In-lyoo-myeol-mang-bo-go-seo) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.

(by Peter Gutiérrez)

No doubt about it: it’s definitely a cliché to remark on how anthology films can be uneven – in fact, it’s probably also a cliché at this point to point out how commonplace such an observation is. Yet although this assessment applies to Doomsday Book, which gets its North American premiere Wednesday evening at NYAFF, the film is also refreshing in that I could see different viewers holding disparate ideas as to which are the stronger and weaker entries in this ambitious, three-part science-fiction extravaganza.

The opening story, “A Brave New World,” takes what seems like a well-worn zombie formula and, in the hands of Antarctic Journal’s Yim Pil-Sung,  fashions one of those optimal mixtures of the audaciously dark and the goofily humorous that can make Korean genre cinema so wonderful. That’s not to say that Yim’s goals are purely pulply, its ironical tone and light intellectualism are evident from the title. Taking its cue less from Shakespeare, or Huxley, and more from the Bible, this segment looks terrific and boasts some solid storytelling, so you’ll be forgiven for not noticing its more highbrow aspirations. Like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which played for both more laughs and more horror, “A Brave New World” is so adept at grabbing and holding your attention that you may be a bit disappointed when it seems satisfied in leading you into romance (!) territory and leaving you there.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Korean Box Office Update (07/06-07/08, 2012)

Deranged Beats Spidey in Massive Debut

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Deranged 7/5/12 39.20% 1,128,335 1,323,523 755
2 The Amazing Spiderman (us) 6/28/12 42.90% 1,059,076 3,362,773 896
3 A Letter to Momo (jp) 7/5/12 3.30% 102,728 114,887 252
4 Madascar 3 (us) 6/6/12 2.80% 83,087 1,545,255 247
5 The Raven (us) 7/5/12 2.40% 65,946 87,472 264
6 Midnight in Paris (us) 7/5/12 2.30% 61,735 80,391 187
7 All About My Wife 5/17/12 2.00% 56,070 4,516,210 184
8 The Emperor's Concubine 6/6/12 1.60% 44,226 2,569,270 252
9 Haywire (us) 7/5/12 0.90% 26,675 34,093 199
10 Cabin in the Woods (us) 6/28/12 0.80% 20,773 211,874 184

Weekly Review Round-up (06/30-07/08, 2012)

Sorry for the delay, it's been a busy week. Not too many writeups this week but a few from NYAFF and TKFF which are both underway.


(The Korean Times, July 2, 2012)

Friday, July 6, 2012

NYAFF 2012: King of Pigs (돼지의 왕, Dwaejiui Wang) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.

(by Peter Gutiérrez)

I’m not sure what the current cultural status of bullying in is South Korea these days – are public policy steps being taken to curtail it, as is the case here in the U.S.? – but certainly anyone who has followed Korean cinema knows that it has provided the thematic backbone to films which cut across several genres. I’m a bit partial to A Bloody Aria (Won Shin-yeon, 2006), and Yeun Sang-ho’s The King of Pigs shares something of its beyond-bleak tone and emotionally raw approach. Just don’t look for any of the former’s dark humor: Yuen has crafted that rare film that effectively plunges head-first into the abyss and never really allows the audience to come up for air, let alone laughs.

So don’t expect a slow and “tasteful” build to the film’s often unforgettable moments of psychological and physical violence. Right away we see our point-of-view character Kyung-Min experience a form of workplace bullying… and then immediately turn around and take out his feelings of shame and powerlessness on his wife in a dynamic that strongly recalls that of James Joyce’s classic Dubliners short story “Counterparts.” But can all of his present-tense troubles really account for the way that Kyung-Min seems to be so haunted? This question is soon answered as he meets up with middle school classmate Jong-Suk for the first time in years, and it becomes clear to us that something happened back in their early adolescence that shaped both men… something that neither seems eager to discuss directly.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 2012 Korean Releases

This monthly features previews the coming month's attractions in Korean cinema. All of these monthly posts are available in an archive on the Upcoming Releases page.

July 5


July 12

Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley
Dangerously Excited
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Two Moons
Venus in Furs

July 19

Tears of the Antarctic
The 5-Million-Dollar Man
Ukelele Love Together

July 25

The Thieves

July 26

Horror Stories

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

NYAFF 2012 Retrospective: A Legend in the Flesh - The Life and Career of Choi Min-sik

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.


In discussing the life and works of South Korea’s legendary actor Choi Min-sik, who is making a special appearance at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, I feel the first thing that should be mentioned is how very lucky we are that he was given a chance to make any films at all. Choi was born in 1962 in Seoul and during his early childhood he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. His doctor’s prognosis was that he wouldn’t make it but following a lengthy convalescence in the mountains, he beat the disease. I know that I and many others are very glad that he did!

Korean Cinema News (06/28-07/04, 2012)

Some good news for the state of Korean box office this week as well as some features on this year's PiFan. In addition, yours truly was interviewed by hancinema.net recently about Korean film and my recent move to Korea!


I'm covering this year's PiFan on MKC and over at Twitch with James Marsh where we're currently breaking down the program for everyone in a series of previews, check out the first two parts below:

PiFan 2012 Preview Part 1: Puchon Choice (Main Competition)
PiFan 2012 Preview Part 2: World Fantastic Cinema

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Honey PuPu (消失打看 - Taiwan, 2011)

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.

Honey PuPu is one of the most singular works to come out of Asia in quite some time.  Its take on the modern world is fiercely original and, by employing a dizzying array of different formats and techniques, it seeks to recount its philosophical and energetic tale of how people’s identities are shaped and disrupted by the world’s aggressive virtualization. Chen Hung-i’s film combines gorgeous and whimsical cinematography with other techniques such as a futuristic platform for social media, photography and a veritable bounty of editing techniques.  It features a terrific soundtrack, quickly oscillating between classical pieces and modern electro music, and is a film unlike any other.

Vicky is a radio hostess who is searching for her lover who has disappeared.  She seeks the help of a number of young people she has encountered through social media with monikers like Cola, Assassin, Money and Playing.  They are all lost souls, seeking answers through the hyperkinetic communication networks of the modern world.

Monday, July 2, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Couples (커플즈, Keo-peul-jeu) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.

Mainstream cinema has the potential to demonstrate both the best and the worst that the medium has to offer.  Concerning the latter, any number of criticisms can be leveled at the swill and drivel that the world’s film industries will subjects us to and while they are often besides the point, they are just as frequently justified.  When money is involved projects must inevitably revolve around profit, so at one end of the spectrum you will always find shallow and consumerist works versus the riskier ventures, often from established talents, that you will sometimes witness at the other. 

Between these two extremes there lies an uneasy middle-ground, which is expansive and marked by slippery definitions.  Within this domain, there are filmmakers that strive to make something worthwhile from within the strict confines of commercial filmmaking and they sometimes achieve it, indeed every once in a while they might even make something transcendent.  Then there exists the studio hands who, despite working from a seemingly routine template with the assistance of unexceptional pedigree, every so often happen upon something that works.

Korea Blog Week IV: Birthday, Meetings and Getting Used to Life in Seoul

Part of an ongoing series about my trip to and discovery of Seoul...

As I near the one-month mark in Korea I can definitely say that I've really begun to settle in and already things seem very familiar. I suppose that in some way this is a testament to my nomadic life up until this point. It was also my birthday this past week and as I reflected for a spell I realized that I have almost been in a different city for my last seven birthdays, going backwards the list goes: Seoul, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Fribourg, Los Angeles, New York, Dublin. Six places in seven years, that's a lot of ground covered and I know that I'm extremely fortunate to have lived and visited so many places and in the process meet such incredible people and have so many wonderful experiences. And yet, I'm tired and perhaps have been so for a while. I came to Korea with the intention of staying for some time and I aim to do just that, I would like to make it at home and so far I feel so welcome here that I don't why I shouldn't.

Korean Box Office Update (06/29, 07/01, 2012)

An Amazing Start for Spiderman

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 The Amazing Spiderman (us) 6/28/12 71.40% 1,417,504 1,694,733 1,114
2 The Emperor's Concubine 6/6/12 5.20% 122,415 2,452,708 318
3 Madascar 3 (us) 6/6/12 4.90% 120,261 1,443,354 396
4 All About My Wife 5/17/12 4.70% 110,905 4,385,425 240
5 Cabin in the Woods (us) 6/28/12 4.30% 99,438 130,929 287
6 Miss GO 6/21/12 3.70% 88,346 551,625 309
7 King of XXX-Kissing 6/21/12 2.80% 68,375 432,192 272
8 Runway Cop 5/30/12 0.80% 21,134 1,325,807 114
9 Lockout (us) 6/14/12 0.30% 6,852 457,060 84
10 Two Weddings and a Funeral 6/21/12 0.20% 5,498 34,608 39