Thursday, January 31, 2013

KCN: Jiseul Triumphs while CinDi Bites the Dust (01/24-01/30, 2013)

It's been a little over a month since the weekly Korean Cinema News has appeared on MKC. Apologies for not getting back to it sooner. Work has become a little trickier and I'm still trying to strike the right balance between my personal and work projects.

I've decided to shake things up a little with KCN and try something new. Researching news and then putting them together in an article that is little more than glorified formatting is not the most exciting way to deliver the news (for you as well as myself I imagine). What I will try to do is to sum up what has happened on a weekly basis, give a few of my opinions as well as a couple of links to particularly good articles if there are any. Let's see how it goes, feedback is welcome!


This past week came with both good and bad news for the industry. As you may already be aware, O Muel's Jeju Massacre film Jiseul, which premiered at last October's Busan International Film Festival, has been awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the World Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival. It's the first time that a Korean film has won an award in Park City and the news concludes a particularly successful week for Korean filmmakers at the event following the positive reception of Park Chan-wook's US debut Stoker.

Miracle in Cell No.7 (7번방의 선물, 7beonbangeui seonmool) 2013

The Korean film industry has many great supporting players but perhaps none more so than the versatile Ryoo Seung-ryong. The dependable and chameleonic performer has been active for many years, however, 2012 was by far and away his biggest. He was excellent as the King’s right-hand man in Masquerade and he shined as the Cassanova-esque next door neighbor in All About My Wife. So popular was his performance as the middle-aged lothario that he has reprised the character for a number of local advertisements (like this one), which I must say I have enjoyed quite a lot. Following all the attention he’s been getting, it’s about time he got his own vehicle, and that’s just what’s happened, or almost. Ryoo takes center stage for the first time in his new film Miracle in Cell No.7.

Yong-gu, a grown man with the mental capacity of a six-year old, is a loving father to Yesung who is falsely accused of killing a young girl. He finds himself in jail where more than anything he misses his daughter. As his cellmates gradually warm towards him, they concoct a scheme to bring his daughter into the prison under the nose of the watchful warden.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

MKC Thought Leaders' Corner: January 2013

Welcome to the first MKC Thought Leaders' Corner! We are thrilled to present this new feature where every month we will ask the top experts on Korean cinema a pressing question regarding the Korean film industry.

Without further ado, here is this month's question:

Given the enormous success of Korean cinema in 2012, is there any cause for concern over a rise in streamlined productions as quality gives way to financial interests?

Many to thanks to all the contributors for their time and insightful comments. Responses listed alphabetically, followed by the thoughts of MKC's teammembers.

Monday, January 28, 2013

KBO: Miracle in Cell No.7 Dominates the Chart (01/25-01/27, 2012)

Miracle in Cell No.7 Dominates the Chart

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Miracle in Cell No.7 13/01/23 42.00% 1,238,809 1,628,475 769
2 Man on the Edge 13/01/09 16.50% 482,961 3,469,054 542
3 Pororo: The Racing Adventure 13/01/23 10.30% 296,695 342,773 451
4 Hotel Transylvania (us) 13/01/17 5.70% 179,874 707,925 357
5 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/19/12 5.40% 156,426 5,629,952 344
6 Jack Reacher (us) 13/01/17 4.00% 116,100 727,261 320
7 The Impossible (sp/us) 13/01/17 3.20% 97,402 559,576 242
8 Life of Pie (us) 13/01/09 4.60% 86,099 1,480,176 155
9 The Tower 12/25/12 2.80% 83,963 5,133,494 261
10 Conan: the Movie (jp) 13/01/24 2.50% 82,108 102,059 139

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Korean Films: Pororo Is Back (2013 Week 4)

(by Fabien Schneider)

While last week we had two completely different visions of sexuality and extramarital affairs, this week seems rather to adopt the theme of mental disability, and once more with a production for general audiences on one hand and an independent film on the other. The Korean animation is also set to disrupt the schoolyards, since it is none other Pororo, the president of children, who celebrates his 10th birthday.

Pororo, The Racing Adventure (뽀로로 극장판 슈퍼썰매 대모험) 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Padak (파닥파닥, Padak Padak) 2012

(by Rex Baylon)

Although the United States and Japan have a far more illustrious history when it comes to producing animated features, South Korea has been the industry’s worst kept secret for many decades. At first, merely an outsource center for foreign filmmakers who needed a platoon of talented but cheap inkers and illustrators, this long overshadowed country has in the past few years emerged as a real contender within the animation field. And even though Korea hasn’t produced an animation studio with a ready-made and recognizable style like Pixar in America or Ghibli in Japan this situation has allowed many young animators to forge ahead and create their own unique works, regardless of global economic interests.

In 2011 alone, Yeun Sang-ho’s bleak revenge drama King of Pigs and popular children’s picture Leafie, A Hen into the Wild were released and both attained a level of unexpected success. The former as a searing indictment of school bullying became a critical darling on the festival circuit while the latter became South Korea’s most financially successful animated feature, raking in 2.2 million ticket sales. Unlike the American and Japanese markets that produce content to be exported and exploited by foreign interests these two films were created primarily for Korean audiences with no real expectations that they could travel outside their country of origin. And though a lot of the domestic output by Korean animators is influenced a great deal by the West and Japan their work does have an indelible personal stamp to it. Thus the quality of the animation being released is not only equal to those produced in America or Asia but the films themselves are still inarguably Korean.

KBO: Man on the Edge Maintains its Edge (01/18-01/20, 2012)

Man on the Edge Maintains its Edge

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Man on the Edge 13/01/09 31.40% 876,555 2,501,068 603
2 Jack Reacher (us) 13/01/17 14.00% 389,003 465,281 431
3 Hotel Transylvania (us) 13/01/17 11.50% 335,707 393,587 489
4 The Impossible (sp/us) 13/01/17 9.70% 277,529 339,730 408
5 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/19/12 9.70% 271,876 5,317,090 373
6 The Tower 12/25/12 9.10% 259,016 4,941,668 406
7 Life of Pie (us) 13/01/09 8.50% 169,036 1,316,624 279
8 The Reef 2: High Tide (us/kr) 13/01/10 1.70% 51,573 248,266 235
9 Cloud Atlas (us) 13/01/09 1.80% 48,035 426,480 235
10 Love 911 12/19/12 0.60% 16,333 2,469,056 97

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Korean Films: Steamy Winter (2013 Week 3)

(by Fabien Schneider)

Despite all the snow that has recently covered the Korean peninsula, there will be no need this week to adjust the radiators to warm up all the movie-goers. By a strange coincidence that only the distribution companies bosses can explain, the two Korean movies opening this week are adults-only, due to their racy content. It will be very interesting to compare their approach and the resulting public reception. In fact, I could have also included in this article the co-produced (China, Korea and Japan) Speed ​​Angels, but I hesitated as it is more of a Chinese film shot in South Korea, and anyway the critics have reported that it’s not indispensable.

Tummy (배꼽)

Monday, January 14, 2013

KBO: Man on the Edge Edges Out Competition (01/11-01/13, 2012)

Man on the Edge Edges Out Competition

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Man on the Edge 13/01/09 30.10% 796,748 1,029,672 599
2 The Tower 12/25/12 19.10% 512,677 4,455,084 482
3 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/19/12 13.20% 351,246 4,825,497 410
4 Life of Pie (us) 13/01/01 12.80% 246,741 1,019,831 312
5 Cloud Atlas (us) 13/01/09 8.40% 213,580 299,644 382
6 The Reef 2: High Tide (us/kr) 13/01/10 4.60% 129,992 151,226 298
7 My Little Hero 13/01/09 3.10% 85,624 121,372 324
8 Love 911 12/19/12 3.20% 84,309 2,414,195 257
9 Wreck-it Ralph (us) 12/19/12 1.70% 48,509 893,331 220
10 Zambezi (us) 12/25/12 1.10% 31,011 454,896 141

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Company Man (회사원, Huisawon) 2012

(By Rex Baylon)

There is no archetype in film that is more hip than the lone hitman. From a laconic Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire (1942) to the Gallic cool of Alain Delon in Le Samourai (1967) or the neurotic hipster played by Jean Reno in Leon: The Professional (1994), cinema has helped to elevate the occupation of murderer into not merely a tragic figure, as gangsters have been, but as something akin to warrior poets. Becoming a hitman, cinematically speaking, means more than just donning on the right costume and learning how to aim a gun though. The hitman figure in films must adopt a philosophy and lifestyle that is wholly alien to the average moviegoer but would not be all that unusual to an Ancient Spartan or Samurai in the Tokugawa era. To live as a hitman means ultimately to be intimate with death in all its forms.

Of course, with all that said there is a certain level of ludicrousness to the whole mythology of the hitman. First of all, to be in such an isolated state for such a prolonged period of time does not breed calm collected assassins but rather emotionally unstable psychopaths; people are social creatures and thus self-imposed social isolation goes against the grain of human nature. And then of course, there is the obvious fact that hitmen are the equivalent of ghosts; whether they succeed or fail, live or die, their personality is subsumed by the identity that they have taken upon themselves to adopt. To be a hitman means giving up not just your identity but also your humanity.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Korean Films: Raising Social Issues With A Musical (2013 Week 2)

(by Fabien Schneider) 

After a first week which left the field open to independent productions, CJ Entertainment and Showbox enter into the dance with two medium-budget films that should have difficulty unseating The Tower from its box office perch.

My Little Hero (마이 리틀 히어로)

A music director opportunistically accepts to lead the rehearsal of a troupe for the musical adaptation of King Jungjo’s life. To cast the main role, he organizes a competition on a national TV channel in which applicants are auditioned blindly and thus selected solely on the basis of their voices. He is completely taken aback when he realizes that the chosen boy, Young-kwang, is actually a mestizo. While teaching him the choreography, the music director begins to become more interested in his Philippine origins.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top 10 Korean Films of 2012

2013 has just gotten underway and what better way for MKC to ring in the new year than to reflect on what has simply been a gargantuan year for Korean cinema. The vaunted 10 million admissions club welcomed two new members as The Thieves and Masquerade rode their way into the top three of the all time Korean box office chart. Indeed commercial cinema across the board enjoyed spectacular success as well over 100 million tickets were sold to domestic films at the Korean box office, a first for the industry. As of this writing seven films have crossed 4 million admissions (with an eighth on the way in the form of The Tower). What's more Kim Ki-duk became the first Korean filmmaker to prevail at one of the big three European film festivals as he took home the Golden Lion from Venice for his 18th feature Pieta. Elsewhere on the festival circuit a flurry of Korean films took home big awards, including Juvenile Offender, Barbie, The Weight, Circle Line, and many more.

Monday, January 7, 2013

KBO: The Tower Repeats to Ring in the New Year (01/04-01/06, 2013)

The Tower Repeats to Ring in the New Year

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Tower 12/25/12 32.80% 812,841 3,539,879 638
2 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/19/12 21.40% 525,258 4,207,834 587
3 Life of Pi (us) 1/1/13 17.70% 345,807 610,835 392
4 Love 911 12/19/12 10.00% 246,937 2,221,828 374
5 Wreck-It Ralph (us) 12/13/12 3.60% 92,471 802,151 279
6 The Hobbit (us) 12/13/12 3.50% 79,246 2,776,058 262
7 Zambezi (de) 12/25/12 2.90% 78,403 390,759 238
8 Niko 2: Little Brother (gr) 12/25/12 2.20% 60,030 371,661 226
9 Marrying the Mafia 5 12/19/12 2.00% 50,052 1,133,216 210
10 The Nutcrack 3D (us) 1/3/13 1.00% 26,933 34,821 132

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Tower (타워, Taweo) 2012

Following the biggest ever year for Korean cinema, it is perhaps fitting that the very last work to be released in 2012 was a spectacle-driven disaster film highlighting the industry’s technical proficiency. Likened to previous blockbuster failures such as Sector 7 (2011), My Way (2011) and this year’s R2B: Return to Base, there was a danger that The Tower could have made for a sour note to conclude Korean cinema’s fortuitous year. Any such qualms were quickly dispelled however as the film registered the industry’s all time second-biggest opening day and is well on its way to an enormous finish.

It’s Christmas Eve and the brand new Tower Sky complex, a brilliant pair of skyscrapers soaring over Seoul’s skyline, is busily preparing for its glitzy holiday party. During the festivities, a helicopter dropping artificial snow crashes into the building and ignites a fierce blaze, threatening the lives of hundreds. Now, a building technician, his daughter, a restaurant manager and a legendary firefighter must brave the flames.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Korean Films: Indie Filmmakers Celebrate the New Year (2013 Week 1)

(by Fabien Schneider)

Each week on Modern Korean Cinema you may carefully follow the evolution of the Korean box office, and you certainly see many film titles as you scroll through but they may not be very evocative. To remedy this and to allow for a better monitoring of the current releases in Korean theatres we have decided to establish a new weekly feature for the new year, presenting each new Korean film as it makes its way into theaters, accompanied by a commentary on my expectations for their success and quality, all with a full dose of subjectivity of course. I hope I can keep the pace, but moreover that it will be worthy of your interest in the long term.

This year begins quietly with no big releases but under the best auspices, since a few independent productions will perhaps give us an opportunity to discover some new talents. Two feature films and a medium-length film are in the program for the opening of this new column.

Sister (누나)

A woman, Yoon-hee, has suffered since childhood from a dramatic event that happened then. In order to save her from a flooding river, her younger brother paid with his life. Her ailment keeps her from improving from her precarious situation, as she cannot set foot outside her home during heavy rains and therefore is regularly getting fired from every part-time job she manages to find. She also undergoes the systematic wrath of her husband who beats her. While working as a waitress in a cafeteria of a high school, she comes face to face with Jin-ho, a teenager who earlier stole her wallet. Each one suddenly realizes their need for the other to overcome their demons.

Coming from the prolific Korean Academy of Film Arts, Lee Won-sik signs a first feature film that appears to run on several dramatic situations, which in my opinion may run the risk of doing just too much. The film owes its achievement in the supporting fund for the preproduction that was awarded by the Seoul Christian Film Festival in 2009. It was also during this festival that the guest of honor and actress Seong Yoo-ri, known as a former singer of the pop band Fin.K.L and then for her dramas, decided to provide crucial support by accepting without asking any fee to endorse the lead role, giving some much-needed exposure to a film that would have otherwise no chance of scoring high in the box-office. Filmed during the fall of 2010, the film seems to have encountered difficulties to find a distributor until now. The early opinions from the Korean media are for the moment quite positive.

Watch the trailer here

Moksha : The World or I, How Does That Work? (모크샤) 

A man in his forties wakes up one morning in the middle of a small public park, with his ankle attached to a steel chain. He has absolutely no idea how nor why he has ended up in this situation. However much he calls for help, there seems to be no one around there to help him. A saw innocently placed near him is getting more and more appealing.

Here is exactly the kind of original idea that stings my interest. Koo Seong-joo had hitherto realized as the dispensable Long and Winding Road in 2005, a road-movie following the long march of a mother to a far city only to attend the wedding of her daughter. But with what seems to be a sour metaphor for life, the director seems to be trying an experimental way to convey his message. Although it will likely be welcomed only with limited success in theaters, it is should be shown in several festivals around the world.

Watch the trailer here

Ohayo Sapporo (오하이오 삿포로) 

A young woman with hearing loss, Mo-re, meets a Japanese man, Hiro, on a dating website with whom she soon gets in the habit of talking to every evening after returning from her modest job in a factory. In order to meet him in real life, she strives to raise the money needed to pay for her trip to Sapporo.

With its 40 minutes, this film is positioning itself in a niche particularly dangerous financially, as it’s too long to be screened prior to a feature film, but also considered too short to justify for the general public a trip to the movies. But on the other hand, it’s a very appreciated move that the production has avoided to artificially lengthen the duration of the film like too many Korean movies that try to fill the regular two hours of running time. Director Kim Seong-joon debuted in 2009 with his feature film Audition, which already featured a hearing impaired woman seeking contact away from her comfort zone, by embarking that time in the break-dance scene. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two stories, the first film having been criticized by some critics for its lack of depth in the exploration and depiction of a handicapped person.

No direct link to the trailer of the movie, but here is the musical video using some of the film's footage.

New Korean Films is a weekly feature which provide an in-depth look at new local releases in Korea.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean Reviews, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (Korean Standard Time). Reviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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