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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)


A detective has been sent undercover in a mafia gang in which he easily manages to climb the ladder to become the number 3. With the death of the godfather and the promotion of his immediate superior, he suddenly has the opportunity to take more responsibility in the organization, while at the same time feeling a lack of recognition from the chief of police.

This film has been highly anticipated since its director and screenwriter Park Hoon-jeong has clearly stated his ambition to compete with Hong Kong thrillers in their representation of the underground world of violent crime. Obviously, the issue of conflict of interest for an undercover cop recalls the cult film Infernal Affairs (2002), which can only increase expectations. If one based his anticipation only on the other film directed by Park Hoon-jeong, The Showdown (2011), which seemed promising but also suffered from a lack of inspiration in scriptwriting, one would already be suspicious of a new damp squib. But he also signed the excellent script of The Unjust (2010), proving that he can write an exciting and interesting thriller. The film is also an opportunity to bring together three huge stars which makes it the favorite horse to bet this week. Be it only with Choi Min-sik, the single best known Korean actor in the world (for whom I won’t make the offense to quote the movie for which he is famous), the film would already ensure profitability in his own country and a great future in Europe and North America. But Lee Jeong-jae is not to be outdone with his credits Il Mare (2000), The Housemaid (2010) and The Thieves (2012), which earned him a celebrity that goes well beyond the Korean peninsula, especially amongst female audiences. Hwang Jeong-min is certainly the least "bankable" between the three actors, yet his presence is completely justified and the one I am looking forward the most, as his performance in The Unjust was outstanding. To see him take the role of a top flight gangster should be particularly enjoyable. The distributor NEW makes no mistake, as the promotion revolves almost exclusively around these three names, and has even proposed an international teaser applying the same strategy. The only real question is whether this will be enough to dethrone the seemingly invincible Miracle in Cell No. 7.

Watch the trailer here.

An Ethics Lesson  (분노 의 윤리학)


Jung-hoon, a police officer, fell in love with his neighbor, a university student, and for a long time spied on her in his spare time. One day she is found murdered, and Jung-hoon instantly gets personally involved in the investigation. But he is far from being the only one interested in this case, as three other men and women, who all have something to hide, are mysteriously related to this case.

By reading this synopsis, I necessarily thought of some classic American thrillers (Rear Window, 1954; Body Double, 1984), but also a few failed attempts on the theme of distrust of neighbors (Neighbors, 2012). However, this film could well spring a surprise. This is the debut film of the director Park Myung-rang who had previously participated in the scenario of Romantic Island (2008). Although this is not a good reference, it can hardly be put to his credit. Where it gets interesting is when you realize that this is only the third film from the TPS Company that had gratified us with the astonishing Paju (2009) and The Front Line (2011), which is a real guarantee of quality that I hope will be respected again. The fact that Lotte Entertainment, the distributor, dares to directly confront New World on its own ground, must mean that it is confident that the film has the qualities needed to appeal to the general public. The average score of audiences and critics aggregated by Naver, for what they are worth, are slightly tipping the balance in favor of An Ethics Lesson. But it will still be extremely difficult for An Ethics Lesson to compete with the parade of stars that is New World. Its greatest asset is perhaps Lee Je-hoon, who has participated in intimate and courageous projects as Bleak Night (2010) or The Pit and the Pendulum (2008), as well as in more accessible and successful films such as Architecture 101 (2012) or The Front Line (2011). Also notable is the presence of Moon So-ri, who we never see enough after having made such an impression in Peppermint Candy (2000) and especially Oasis (2002).

Watch the trailer here.


The Sunshine Boys (1999 면회)


After finishing high school, three friends find themselves separated by their choices and obligations. Sang-Won succeeded in entering university, while Seung-jun has to spend the year  revising for the next national exam for university entrance, and Min-wook starts his two years of military service. One day, Sang-Won and Seung-jun decide to visit their military friend. But the girlfriend of Min-wook also asked them to give him a letter in which she announces their separation. Together they will spend the weekend to remember their memories and discuss the future.

Here is the all designated victim of this clash between the titans that is announced for this week: a small independent film produced by the young company Gwanghwamun Cinema but that finds itself distributed by Indiestory, which has over the years built a reputation but also a faithful audience with its own cinema Indie Space. Kim Tae-gon had so far directed the poor while ambitious The Pot (2009). He also wrote several short films and had even participated in the compilation Short! Short! Short! in 2010. The film seems to have been very well received by the public after the first projections, but not so well by the critics. It will be the opportunity for us to see Ahn Jae-hong who had already been discovered in Kim Ki-duk’s Crocodile (1996), but also more familiar faces such as Kim Kottbi, who had marked the spirits in Ghost Theater (2006) and Breathless (2008).

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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