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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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