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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) 


Pororo the penguin and his friends decide to take part in a perilous racing competition called Super Sledding, with a new vehicle that Eddy the fox has just finished developping. But they will have to deal with some tough opponents, and that is without counting all the obstacles scattered along the track.

Before a certain Psy stole the show from him, the biggest star coming from Korea was a little penguin aviator, who managed to fly to more than one hundred countries in the form of CGI animated episodes of 5 minutes length. He had already taken strides towards the theater in 2010 after having some direct-to-DVD releases, but now Ocon Studios will celebrate in their own way the tenth anniversary of the character by bringing him to 3D screens. The profitability of the film seems already guaranteed as children across the country will want to go to the movies this weekend (if you had planned to go to the cinema on Saturday afternoon, I advise you to postpone your plans or bring along earplugs). The effect of nostalgia should affect some of the fans from the very beginning who are now teenagers, while also touch the older ones with the colorful and cute graphics.

Watch the trailer here.


Gift From Room 7 (7번방의 선물)



A mentally handicapped man who has kept the spirit of a child ends up in jail after a miscarriage of justice. Fellow inmates decide to do a good deed and facilitate his punishment by quietly bringing in his 7-year old daughter to visit him. Now, the five residents of cell number 7 will completely change their daily rhythm to become an unusual family and to conceal the child from prison guards.

This will likely be one of the first successes of the year for Korean cinema. Although it would have been more logical to release it during the Christmas period (it was previously announced under the title December 23rd), the film still seems to bring together all the elements to score a few million admissions. The cast combines both experienced actors of the silver screen and stars of the small one. Perhaps the most spectacular feat is the role played by Ryoo Seung-ryong. He who has made his place in cinema through very serious roles as bad guys or police officers now finds himself playing the naive child in an adult body, thus providing the majority of the gags. The actor is currently riding a wave of successes after having appeared in 2012's All About My Wife and Masquerade. He’s followed by a group of several famous actors used in supporting roles, among them Oh Dal-soo. Meanwhile the young Park Sin-hye, who was already seen in Cyrano Agency, will bring her fan base that she has constituted with her roles in dramas. The director Lee Kyong Hwan also returns with this film to a genre that he has been successful with, since his debut He Was Cool (2004) was a nice and efficient comedy. I think we can expect the same result with this film, plus a mild criticism of the judiciary, as it’s almost become mandatory. One to watch at the box-office.

Watch the trailer here.


Sea of Butterfly (나비와 바다) 


After seven years together, Jae-nyeon, nicknamed Jeje, and Ou-young, alias old bloke, consider taking the decisive step of marriage. The decision was not taken easily. Indeed, both have suffered since childhood with mental disorder that handicap them in everyday life and limit their independence from their relatives. They obviously had to first learn to overcome the eyes of others, but it is mostly the traditional gendered distribution of roles in the family, the alleged societal normality, which they must oppose.

It’s an excellent marketing decision, to release this documentary in conjunction with another company’s feature film that already addresses (but less subtly) the theme of mental disability. As a documentary, its prospects of success are of course minimal, but it is always a smart move to take advantage of the awareness of the general public on a social issue to send a more serious movie on the same subject. Last year, Talking Architect probably benefited from the success of Architecture 101, which was released shortly before. It is the fifth documentary for the director Park Bae-il, and it is important to note that he has already dedicated one of them to the difficulties encountered by this couple (My Love Jeje, 2008). This means that to avoid duplication, he would probably put the focus more on the issues of marriage and family in Korea, using the handicap as a way to put them out even more clearly. In 2010, the project received the Asian Network of Documentary Fund at the Busan International Film Festival. The subject is very sensitive, as always when talking about love among people excluded from mainstream society, so it’s not really the kind of movie that will be talked about much. The distributor Cinema Dal already brought us 2 Lines (2011), which offered, beside the obvious thematic of pregnancy, a very interesting reflection about the pressure experienced by young couples to get married and have children in order to match the mold.

Watch the trailer here.


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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