Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Korean Films: Meta-Narratives and Binge Drinking (2013 Week 9)

(by Fabien Schneider)

The program for this week looks quite unique, with only two new films, but two independent productions that both have many similarities: they were screened in the Berlinale this month, and propose experiments with narrative. Nothing that could shake the top of the current box office of course, but it will be interesting to see which of these two movies will get the most endorsement from the public.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon  (누구 아닌 해원)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Divorce, Korean Style: All About My Wife (내 아내의 모든 것, Nae Anaeui Modeun Geot) 2012

(by Rex Baylon)

There used to be a time when America was known as a manufacturing giant. In agriculture, electronics, and automobile design America seemed not to have any contenders. With regards to film, Hollywood was the first and last word when it came to cinema. Even as the US began its slow decline, the soft power of American cinema never seemed to waver even through all the social upheaval of the twentieth century; while presidents came and went, one hit wonders rose and fell, and wars were won or lost, Hollywood never lost its luster in the eyes of foreign and domestic audiences.

Monday, February 25, 2013

For Eternal Hearts (별빛 속으로, Byeolbit Sokeuro) 2007

(by refresh_daemon)

There is an almost early Korean New Wave sensibility to the storytelling of For Eternal Hearts with its loose, observant narrative, that gives it an almost art-film like aesthetic, but the film's rather forced and self-cancelling narrative fails to build any significant dramatic tension, even despite throwing in several twists, to elevate this romance-less supernatural romance film from its murky story and visuals.

It all starts with a German literature professor, Hyeon Suyeong (Jeong Jin-yeong), who runs into a classroom full of students who ask him to recount his first love. He then tells of how as a young man (Jeong Gyeong-ho), he was taken by a spunky fellow student, nicknamed Pippi (Kim Gyu-ri), but shortly after he meets her, she commits suicide following a few cryptic comments about following love into death. However, shortly after her death, Suyeong starts seeing Pippi and she leads him to a job tutoring a high school student, Suji (Cha Su-yeon), who is instantly infatuated by Suyeong, but things are not what they seem.

KBO: Close Race as New World Beats Miracle (02/22-02/24, 2013)

Close Race as New World Beats Miracle

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 New World 13/02/21 35.50% 860,754 1,038,890 671
2 Miracle in Cell No.7 13/01/23 33.10% 855,942 10,386,785 667
3 The Berlin File 13/01/30 12.00% 303,727 6,608,013 440
4 An Ethics Lesson 13/02/21 4.30% 104,494 145,437 302
5 Delhi Safari (In) 13/02/21 3.30% 90,837 110,358 289
6 How to Use Guys With Secret Tips 13/02/14 2.10% 56,007 454,704 223
7 The Giant King (us/th) 13/02/21 1.80% 52,646 66,897 228
8 A Good Day to Die Hard (us) 13/02/06 1.60% 40,442 1,422,089 169
9 The Last Stand (us) 13/02/21 1.40% 34,220 44,280 296
10 Marco Makaco (de) 13/02/14 0.80% 22,656 159,640 131

Friday, February 22, 2013

Park Chan-wook's Stoker (2013)

Hollywood has a history of cherry-picking the world’s greatest filmmaking talents. Though many greats such as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau and Roman Polanksi have made some of their finest works on American soil, the same can’t always be said of Asian directors. Besides Ang Lee, most Asian cineastes have had trouble adapting their style to the US. This year all eyes are on a few Korean directors making their Hollywood debuts to see if they can buck the trend.

It’s been a longer wait then usual for Park Chan-wook’s new film and the prospect of him working in the States with internationally recognizable faces has meant that expectations for his latest have been sky high. Unlike Kim Jee-woon, who was forced to work on a very controlled project with his Hollywood debut The Last Stand, Park was given much greater freedom for his film.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Korean Films: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (2013 Week 8)

(by Fabien Schneider)

This week will be very bloody and will features many deaths, both within these new films and between them at the box office. Two of the largest distributors in Korea, NEW and Lotte, will each propose a thriller full of promise. And although I will not dwell on this film because technically it isn't Korean, CJ Entertainment is also going to unsheathe The Last Stand by Kim Jee-woon. Three films not allowed for children, three films that seem to have each their strengths and weaknesses. Which one will manage to make it out alive?

New World (신세계)

Monday, February 18, 2013

KBO: Miracle Stays Flat for 4th Straight Weekend (02/15-02/17, 2013)

Miracle Stays Flat for 4th Straight Weekend

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Miracle in Cell No.7 13/01/23 41.20% 1,129,726 8,867,424 721
2 The Berlin File 13/01/30 24.10% 644,456 5,980,252 579
3 A Good Day to Die Hard (us) 13/02/06 7.80% 210,178 1,297,703 329
4 How to Use Guys With Secret Tips 13/02/14 7.40% 200,891 266,891 367
5 Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (us) 13/02/14 5.70% 138,407 177,571 297
6 Marco Makaco (de) 13/02/14 2.90% 88,766 96,848 276
7 South Bound 13/02/06 3.00% 84,070 772,586 240
8 The Snow Queen (ru) 13/02/07 1.90% 58,181 245,463 229
9 Silver Linings Playbook (uk) 13/02/14 1.90% 48,935 70,731 223
10 Pororo: the Racing Adventure 13/01/23 1.10% 30,952 867,20102

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Korean Films: A Wide Variety (2013 Week 7)

(by Fabien Schneider)

This week, compared to last week, is rich with new releases. But with two documentaries, an indie fiction andharmless romantic comedy, The Berlin File and Miracle in Cell Number 7 don't have to worry about their top spots at the box office. At least until next week, when the highly anticipated The New World will climb aboard the stage.

From Seoul to Varanasi (불륜의 시대)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dirty Blood (나쁜 피, Nah-beun pi) 2012

As a society Korea has been slow to change despite its economic growth. At times it can seem like a gigantic, perpetually simmering pot of discontent that seems dangerously close to boiling over. One aspect of Korean society that is often brushed under the carpet is repressed sexuality and while it isn’t something you will encounter much in TV dramas, music and the news, the Korean film industry, of late, has been vocal in its depiction of the widespread abuse that rages through the country. Truth be told, it is often used opportunistically and many of the works in question tread a very fine line.

Dirty Blood is one such film that exists in dangerous territory. While other 2012 features that examined sex crimes in an aggressive fashion, such as Don’t Cry Mommy and Azooma, did so in a relatively black and white fashion. Director Kang Hyo-jin opts to operate in a grey area, much like Lee Don-ku did with his incendiary debut Fatal, also last year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Ultimate Revenge Narrative: 26 Years (26년, 26-nyeon) 2012

Just like anyone else, I come from a country (Ireland) with historical scars that refuse to completely fade away. The sad fact is that these days my connection with my home is tenuous at best. Nevertheless, as we approach the centenary following the Easter Rising of 1916, this terrible event that saw a group a passionate Irishman stand up to their English oppressors, only to be brutally suppressed, is still an indelible part of who I am.

My grandmother (who recently died aged 100) was only four when it happened. It should be ancient history for me: a bygone event that took place in a country I didn't spend much of my youth in and that I don’t easily identify with. Yet somehow, I feel a sense of solidarity with those young men (and a few women) who stood up to an unvanquishable foe in the name of what they felt was right.

KBO: Miracle, Berlin Dominate Lunar New Year Frame (02/08-02/10, 2013)

Miracle, Berlin Dominate Lunar New Year Frame

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Miracle in Cell No. 7 13/01/23 37.10% 1,308,317 6,281,296 802
2 The Berlin File 13/01/30 33.50% 1,153,414 4,181,031 784
3 A Good Day to Die Hard (us) 13/02/06 14.30% 479,370 625,388 458
4 South Bound 13/02/06 8.30% 292,274 402,602 420
5 The Snow Queen (ru) 13/02/07 1.90% 73,355 84,889 311
6 Pororo: the Racing Adventure 13/01/23 1.70% 59,252 756,564 287
7 Monsters Inc. (us) 1/12/20 1.20% 31,377 34,863 173
8 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/12/19 0.50% 18,153 5,835,054 51
9 Man on the Edge 13/01/09 0.40% 13,499 3,884,380 64
10 Life of Pie (us) 13/01/01 0.20% 4,728 1,568,566 10

Monday, February 11, 2013

Berlinale 2013: Pluto (명왕성, Myeongwangsong) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Film festivals can be a great place to catch up with big films from established luminaries of world cinema but for the ardent cinephile, the most exciting thing is to make a fresh discovery. With patience and some discerning selecting, you will almost always come away with a few pleasant surprises but, while it is wonderful to stumble upon an accomplished debut or sophomore films from emerging talents in the field, every so often you will see something that gives you a special feeling. It is an unmistakable sense of being part of something new and exciting, in the presence of an artist with raw talent, effortless ability and an intuitive understanding of film. These spine-tingling moments don’t happen at every festival but when they do it makes all the searching worthwhile.

Shin Su-won’s second feature Pluto gave me this feeling. However, before singing too much of its praises, I should say that it is a flawed work. More than the film itself, it is the potential of the director that gave me goosebumps. Without a doubt, Shin is about to be a major player in Korean cinema and could well become a force on the international scene before long.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grape Candy (청포도 사탕, Chungpodo Satang) 2012

(by Rex Baylon)

Although it’s often seen as two different conditions, a fear of loneliness and an awareness of one’s mortality, in retrospect, are two sides of the same coin. In between birth and death we all struggle with defining ourselves and giving meaning to our lives. In Kim Hee-Jeong’s sophomore feature, Grape Candy (2012), that inner conflict is played out as a drama between three women, two adults and the third a girl perpetually frozen by death as a junior high student.

The first woman we meet, Sun-Joo, played by Park Jin-Hee, is the perennial girl who seems to have everything but actually has a secret that keeps her at arms length from everyone around her. Her nice job at the bank, charming fiancée, and comfortable life keep her distracted enough to not have to deal with her emotionally desiccated heart until an old classmate So-ra (Park Ji-Yoon) reappears in her life. Working alongside Sun-Joo’s fiancée Ji-Hoon (Choi Won-Young) to complete a new book, the film at first seems to be about a love triangle with So-ra and Sun-Joo competing for Ji-Hoon’s attention. But as quickly as that plot thread is introduced it is soon dropped and we get a series of mysterious scenes of Sun-Joo looking forlorn, So-ra rocking out to music, a woman in a bookstore who refuses to take the phone whenever So-ra calls, and most mysterious of all a flashback to three junior high girls outside, each with an expression of terror on their faces.

Berlinale 2013: White Night (백야, Baekya) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

South Korea’s rapid development over the past 20 years has been nothing short of an economic miracle but, though there’s no denying how far it’s come, not every element of society has progressed at the same breakneck pace. Various elements, particularly as they relate to social change, have stubbornly lagged behind. One such facet is the acceptance of homosexuality. As gay marriage is slowly becoming a part of daily life in various countries in the western world, gay rights are progressing haltingly in Korea. Given the nation’s advances in other areas, this, along with other social problems, seems a little incongruous when compared with the modern image projected through the nation’s media.

Through the prism of a highly developed film industry such as Korea’s, this divide seems that much more vivid. LeeSong Hee-il, Korea’s first openly gay filmmaker, has been busily working away on short films for quite some time but earlier this year he finally unveiled his sophomore feature White Night at the Jeonju International Film Festival, coming six years after his very well-received debut No Regrets

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Isle (섬, Seom) 2000

(by refresh_daemon)

The Isle is the first film I have seen by the prolific Kim Ki-duk. It's a film that's light on plot, but heavy on conflict and angst and that results in a rather slow moving film, but one fraught with enough tension to drive patient moviegoers to its conclusion. What's particularly interesting about the film is how limited the communication is; characters have little dialogue and yet the struggle, especially for the main characters, is to connect, despite their personal problems. That said, the male protagonist is a little weakly drawn and there are also some moments that weaken the film's credulity, but I found the tension and internal conflicts of the characters and how they impact their interactions compelling.

In The Isle, a taciturn woman with a cruelty streak, Huijin (Seo Jeong) runs a set of fishing floats on a lake that are rented out to people looking to get away and fish for a bit or possibly hide from the law. In addition to selling them fishing supplies, she also makes a little extra money by selling her body to some of the fishermen. A new guest, the sullen and withdrawn man with a past, Hyeonsik (Kim Yu-seok), arrives and ends up drawing Huijin's attraction. However, when a local call girl who frequently does business on the lake also develops an attraction to Hyeonsik, Huijin's sadism and ability to relate come to a boil.

Berlinale 2013: Behind the Camera (뒷담화, 감독이 미쳤어요, Dwitdamhwa, Gamdokyi Micheotseoyo) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

E J-yong’s new feature Behind the Camera is a follow-up to his popular mockumentary Actresses (2009), which featured famous stars playing themselves as they took part in a Vogue shoot. That film poked fun at Korea’s entertainment industry and its willing participants were not scared to send themselves up on screen. Many of the same stars return here and are joined by numerous others, but this time E takes his game one step further as he includes himself as the main protagonist.

The conceit is simple: E J-yong is making a short film but there’s a catch, he’s directing it from Los Angeles via Skype. Things get more complicated as the film he is shooting concerns a filmmaker directing a film from overseas via skype.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Berlinale 2013: Fatal (가시꽃) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Fragile and ephemeral, life is a series of moments, of complicated and random connections that constitute the fabric of our character. Each decision we make affects our path irrevocably: our actions may not always be consequential but they are nonetheless inerasable. Like a thin sheet of glass, our lives can shatter in an instant. The briefest moment can reveal our brittle fragility.

Fatal, a New Currents section debut feature from Lee Donku, begins with a life-altering moment for five people. A young woman has been drugged and raped by a gang of high school students, though one of them is an unwilling participant bullied into performing an act that will torment him for the rest of his life. Ten years later, this now 28-year-old man works for a low-rent clothes manufacturer. An encounter with a Christian group of missionaries on the street prompts him to seek some kind of salvation through religion but when he joins the group he discovers that one of his new colleagues is the woman that he and his friends raped a decade prior.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

KCN: Box Office Glory and New Glimpse at Snowpiercer (02/01-02/07, 2012)

2013 couldn't be getting off to a better start for the Korean film industry. It didn't take for local films to swiftly reassert their dominance as The Tower carried through from its December opening while gangster shaman comedy Man on the Edge surprised with a strong performance, However, the fireworks were really set off at the end of the month when prison drama Miracle in Cell No. 7 and spy thriller The Berlin File lit the charts on fire. The month's final weekend was particularly strong as the top two films drew over a million spectators a piece, check out MKC's full report here. February is looking like it will be exceptionally strong as a result of the latter two not to mention a slew of big new releases which are also expected to perform well.

Speaking of blockbusters, the first official poster for Bong Joon-ho's long-awaited Snowpiercer was revealed yesterday. The sci-fi extravaganza is a film I'm particularly excited about.

Berlinale 2013: Ten Korean Films on Show

The Berlin International Film Festival, one of the world's most prestigious film events, is getting underway today for its 63rd edition. As has been the case for the past few years, Korean cinema is featured prominently in this year's lineup, with no less than ten titles screenings across the fest's various sections. While not in attendance, MKC will highlight some of the films screening over the coming days, many of which previously screened at Korean festivals such as Jeonju and Busan.

Hong Sangsoo takes center stage as his latest film Nobody's Daughter Haewon will compete in the prestigious international competition. Following Pieta's win at Venice and Jiseul's triumph at Sundance, might Hong bring home the Golden Bear?

Man on the Edge (박수건달, Baksoogeondal) 2012

The gangster comedy, once one the biggest money-spinners in the Korean film industry, has fallen out of favor recently. Truth is, most high concept comedies struggle in the Korean marketplace these days. Yet for many years they were the king of the charts. In 2001, the gangster comedies Kick the Moon, My Wife Is a Gangster, Hi Dharma and My Boss My Hero, as well as Jang Jin’s hitman comedy Guns & Talk, all featured among the year’s top seven films. A year later, the first entry in the Marrying the Mafia franchise (which would spawn five installments) rode its way to the top of the chart.

What is it about the mix between gangsters and comedy (frequently romantic comedy) that has so enticed Korean viewers? Narratives featuring organized crime have always been popular the world-over and things are certainly no different here. However, in a male-driven country dominated by social hierarchy, it could be that the infantilization of these hoodlums was a welcome source of respite within the safe confines of the country’s multiplexes. In any case this clever piece of genre hybridity burned bright for a number of years before suffering increasingly diminishing returns. A few months ago, the final installment in the Marrying the Mafia franchise failed to attract over a million viewers, demonstrating that the format was running on empty.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Korean Films: One Against All (2013 Week 6)

(by Fabien Schneider)

Small week for Korean film releases, since there is only one new film that will land in theaters. But it's not slouch as this is another movie widely anticipated by the public, and it will bravely attempt to overthrow the established order in the box office. I can easily understand why no other distributor has dared to release a film at the moment, as the market is now completely saturated by three Korean films, that together attracted three million viewers last weekend. Thus the film Fool has been postponed until next week to afford him a better chance.

Southbound  (남쪽 으로 튀어)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Taste for Blood and Money: Traffickers (공모자들, Kongmojadeul) 2012

As a young cinephile and crime fiction fanatic there was a smorgasbord of noir-tinged goodies for a kid growing up in the Nineties to watch, rewatch, and obsessively pore over. Vice, scandal and pulp theatrics were alive and well during an era when Tarantino’s jigsaw narratives, John Dahl’s nihilistic seductresses, Scorsese’s late-era gangster sagas, and the budding humanist crime dramas of Paul Thomas Anderson were playing on the big-screen while paranoid Grand Guignol dramas like the X-Files were simultaneously playing on network television. Of course, no film embodied all the tropes and failures of the crime thriller in that decade quite like Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects (1995).

Billed as a post-modern crime caper, the popularity of Singer’s film rode on the back of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction which was released a year earlier and also employed an atypical plot structure. Of course, what has kept the film from being forgotten is its iconic twist ending. A double whammy revealing to the police detective interrogating the film’s narrator and our guide that the entire story we were just fed was a lie, an unoriginal trope in foreign and arthouse cinema but a relatively enervating gimmick to a young cine-educated audience raised on cable television and VHS tapes. A few years later another director, M. Night Shyamalan, would utilize the twist ending as a personal signature to all his films starting with the supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense (1999) and by the mid-aughts the trope became a well-worn and overused cliché.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Berlin File (베를린, Bereullin) 2013

From North By Northwest (1959) all the way to Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy (2011), spy thrillers have long captured the imagination of filmgoers. Over time they have become more elaborate and their appeal has led to a number of blockbuster franchises. James Bond recently celebrated his most successful outing with the chart-topping Skyfall while both the Mission Impossible and Bourne series have also stirred up some serious business.

Korea is no stranger to the genre. Shiri was the country’s first blockbuster hit in 1999 and the country’s contentious relationship with its Northern neighbor has yielded many a spy narrative since then. Ryoo Seung-wan previously dabbled in spies with his deliriously playful and inventive (but financially poisonous) spoof Dachimawa Lee (2008). He found greater success with his next work, the tense thriller The Unjust (2010), through which he channeled New Hollywood works of the 1970s. Now he’s returned to the spy genre for his most ambitious and commercial work yet.

KBO: Miracle in Berlin, Record 1-2 Finish at Korean BO (02/01-02/03, 2013)

Miracle in Berlin, Record 1-2 Finish at Korean BO

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 The Berlin File 13/01/30 43.40% 1,532,210 2,245,404 897
2 Miracle in Cell No.7 13/01/29 37.50% 1,360,776 4,191,854 869
3 Man on the Edge 13/01/23 6.20% 223,531 659,045 388
4 Pororo: the Racing Adventure 13/01/09 3.80% 137,896 3,826,738 367
5 Hotel Transylvania (us) 13/01/17 2.40% 93,290 868,382 297
6 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/12/19 1.70% 62,422 5,785,971 208
7 Detective Conan (jp) 13/01/24 1.00% 39,576 165,382 127
8 Life of Pie (us) 13/01/01 1.40% 34,584 1,550,725 89
9 The Impossible (sp/us) 13/01/17 0.70% 25,772 617,916 118
10 The Life of Guskou of Budori (jp) 13/01/30 0.30% 12,778 16,251 113

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Gothic Fantasy: A Werewolf Boy (늑대소년, Neukdae Sonyeon) 2012

(by Rex Baylon)

Of all the film cultures in the world that embrace the ideals of romantic love it is only in South Korea where the connection between the ghosts of the past, the shifting of the seasons, and the tragic melodramatic love story can exist and thrive. While the French may have their amour fou, the Italians and Spanish their unbridled passion, and the Americans their once witty rom-coms South Korea has, for over a decade now, been cornering the market on never-can-be romances. If one were to retrace the genesis of this popular genre you wouldn’t need to go further back than 2002 with the broadcast of Winter Sonata on television screens all over the peninsula. Part of the Endless Love quadrilogy of stories that charted the ups and downs of a couple who meet in adolescence, were separated by some uncontrollable force, reunited later in adulthood, and then depending on the whims of nature and the show’s producer would either come back together again or be painfully ripped apart from one another.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Korean Films: Big Blockbuster In Sight (2013 Week 5)

(by Fabien Schneider)

This week finally offers a little more variety in the cinematic landscape, with no less than four films: a romance, an animated movie for children, an action thriller and a mystery drama.

The Berlin File (베를린)

North Korean secret agent Pyo Jong-seong is on a mission to Berlin to conclude a deal on the sale of weapons when he a price is out on his head and that of his wife by their own government for treason. Jung Jin-soo, a South Korean agent, is also on site to investigate the contract, but faces off with Pyo Jong-seong, an unknown enemy.