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.

James and I wrote up a number of previews on Twitch, which are all below but I thought I would republish my previews of two special Korean sidebars as well as my top 10 most anticipated films of the fest.

Twitch PiFan Previews

A respected Korean production house that has consistently fought to give cineastes freedom in their craft, Myung Films sports one of the best filmographies in the business and it is no surprise that they should be the subject of a retrospective at a major Korean festival, especially as studios are growing more and more powerful and increasingly shying away from auteurs, many of whom have now embarked on international careers. Eight of their best films will be screened later this month and all of them come highly recommended:

The Quiet Family (Kim Jee-woon, Korea, 1998)
Though known for later works like A Bittersweet Life (2005), The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008) and I Saw the Devil (2010), Kim Jee-woon's debut feature is one of the best examples of Korean cinema from the beginning of its boom period. This dark-comedy about a family-run lodge and the unfortunate deaths of its guests features a stellar cast, including Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, 2003) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, 2003), and was followed by a Japanese remake from Takashi Miike called The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001).

Happy End (Jung Ji-woo, Korea, 1999)
Another early film starring Choi Min-sik, Happy End is the antidote to the often overly-saccharine and maudlin melodramas that come out of Korea (though I do love these too). Featuring a career-making turn from Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine, 2007) and another great performance from Choi, this dark film about a man who knows his wife is cheating on her and isn't sure what to do about it remains one of the best Korean films of the late 1990s.

The Isle (Kim Ki-suk, Korea, 2000)
Being the first Kim Ki-duk film I saw, The Isle occupies a special place for me. This film about a young woman who runs an out of the way fishing resort is not for the thin-skinned. It's seemingly cold and gratuitous violence, not to mention its latent misogyny (though this is debatable), have put off many a viewer but it's austere beauty and surprising elegance have also won it, and its director, a legion of fans.

Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2000)
A one-time holder of the all-time Korean box office crown, the debut film of Park Chan-wook is a frank, magnificent and altogether engaging tale of camaraderie in the face of absurdity on the front line of the perpetual animosity between the broken sides of the Korean peninsula. Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun (I Saw the Devil), Shin Ha-gyun (Save the Green Planet, 2003) all give wonderful performances in what has endured to become a classic of Korean cinema. It doesn't have the stylistic excess or bizarreness of his later work but Park proved that he was a supremely gifted helmer on the strength of this taught and perfectly plotted thriller.

Waikiki Brothers (Im Soon-rye, Korea, 2001)
The only film in this retrospective I haven't seen is one that has been on my to watch list for some time. It has a stellar cast, including Ryoo Seung-beom (Crying Fist, 2005), Hwang Jeong-min (The Unjust, 2010) and Oh Gwang-ok (Night Fishing, 2011) and is an early work from a director who has become more and more impressive as time has worn on, her most recent work, Rolling Home With a Bull, being one of my favorite films from 2010.

A Good Lawyer's Wife (Im Sang-soo, Korea, 2003)
Im is a controversial director whose mordant, erotic and often rancorous films have divided viewers. Personally I find him fascinating but much of his work has fallen short for me. Save for A Good Lawyer's Wife, his most perfectly realized film starring two of the country's best actors on their A-game, Moon So-ri (Oasis, 2002) and Hwang Jeong-min. The film is both corrosive and lyrical and unlike some of his latter work, it does show that Im has some heart.

Bloody Tie (Choi Ho, Korea, 2006)
Once again staring two of my favorite Korean actors, Ryoo Seung-beom and Hwang Jeong-min, Bloody Tie may not be one of the very best Korean gangster films, such accolades should be reserved for A Dirty Carnival (2006), A Bittersweet Life (2005), Rough Cut (2008) and their ilk, but it is nevertheless a superb slice of genre entertainment whose routine narrative is more than compensated for by its magnetic leads.

Cyrano Agency (Kim Hyun-seok, Korea, 2010)
Ah yes, the romcom, there had to be one (this is Korean cinema after all)! Cyrano Agency may not be My Sassy Girl (2001) but it is one of better offerings of the genre from the last few years and it serves to remind audiences that romcoms have so much potential and can appeal to both genders. Hollywood cinema has sullied what used to be a beautiful form of cinema. Who will ever forget Bringing Up Baby (1939) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). Cyrano Agency doesn't reach those heights but it certainly heads in the right direction.

I am particularly excited for this sidebar which features six comedies from the 1970s, which served to brighten up the day during a very dark period for South Korea. Earlier this year Darcy Paquet ( programmed the magnificent Darkest Decade: 1970s Korean Cinema during the Udine Far East Film Festival which I was lucky to take in in its entirety. I don't expect the films in this program to reach the same level of quality but for any cinephiles in search of something rare you can't do a whole better than this. I have not heard of any of these films and I can't even find any information about them but I am very keen to check out Outlaw on a Donkey, an early 70s Korean Western Parody.

Top 10 Anticipated Films

Ace Attorney
I know he can be terribly inconsistent but I always get excited when a new Takashi Miike film comes out. His more recent Cannes entry For Love's Sake is closing the festival but I can't say that I'm too excited for it. Ace Attorney however looks to be full of energy and I'm hoping that it is Miike on top form and what I've heard so far has been good.

Blood-C: Last Dark
There are a number of interesting animations at this year's PiFan but none are as visually splendid as Blood-C: Last Dark, the trailer of which really impressed me. I am not at all familiar with the franchise but I'd be more than happy to lose myself in what looks to be a painstakingly constructed alternate reality.

The Brat!
The energy of this pic and the buzz surrounding it have gotten me very excited. I know James liked it when he saw it earlier this year and I'm hoping it lives up to its promise. I also love to watch films about filmmaking and this year has had some great ones, including The Woodsman and the Rain and Woman in a Septic Tank, not to mention Vulgaria, which is also screening this year.

Death of a Superhero
As I mentioned in my preview, it's an exceptionally rare thing for me to be excited about an Irish film. Though I'm a Dublin man myself I'll be the first to admit that my homeland has a woeful film history (sorry Neil Jordan but you're just not doing it for me these days). Death of a Superhero however has me quite intrigued with what looks like a good blend of pathos and comedy not a welcome injection of modernity in the form of comic book art.

Doomsday Book
Though not my favorite Korean filmmaker, when Kim Jee-woon releases a new film it is always something to get excited about. This sci-fi omnibus combines his ample mise-en-scene talents with the perhaps even more visually gifted Yim Pil-sung and the combination is something that has me foaming at the mouth. Although Doomsday Book came out in Korea a few months ago I still haven't had a chance to see it, clearly this is it!

The Heineken Kidnapping
As a young cinephile I partly grew up on Rutger Hauer, an actor who at once seems horribly typecast and yet was the lynchpin of a broad variety of classic films, including some of the 1980s best sci-fis (Blade Runner, 1982), horrors (The Hitcher, 1986) and arthouse films (The Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988). The Heineken Kidnapping seems to have some old school European style behind and the look reminds me a bit of the recent and exceptional Carlos (2010). Add Rutger to the that mix as a powerful man on a vendetta and that's me sold.

The Imposter
This documentary has received incredible buzz and I'm fascinated by its dark sociological angle. The truth is always stranger than fiction and this exceptionally bizarre story seems to be ample proof of that. Definitely the top documentary pick of the fest.

Outlaw on a Donkey
I'm a sucker for a rare screening and also a huge fan of 1970s Korean cinema, which, in my opinion, boasts some of cinema's greatest films from the likes of Kim Ki-young (Iodo, 1977), Ha Kil-jong (Pollen, 1972) and Kim Soo-young (Splendid Outing, 1978). I don't expect Outlaw on a Donkey to match the output of those cinematic giants but given the bizarre premise and the fact that it is a western parody I am strongly drawn to it all the same. May end up in the curio file but I have to find out for myself.

The Suicide Shop 3D
Veteran French cineaste Patrice Leconte has ventured into animation for The Suicide Shop, a maudlin affair that reminds me in equal measure of Delicatessen (1991) and the early work of Tim Burton. If all of its appealing elements can come together in a satisfying whole, this could be one of the week's highlights.

Quirky independent comedies can be really hit and miss but those that stick are well worth trudging through the muck that misses the mark. I have a feeling that Wrong isn't far from the bullseye so I'll be getting myself a good seat for this one!

Anyway, the fest gets underway tomorrow evening with Korean omnibus Horror Stories and I'll be on site all week, can't wait!

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