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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.

There is no doubt that this is the most anticipated Korean movie of the week (and of the month) and its place at the top of the box office is already assured. This production first aroused the curiosity of the South Korean media for the adventure it represented for CJ Entertainment, since it was largely shot in Europe (Germany, Switzerland, and Latvia). Ryoo Seung-wan returns with his most ambitious project so far, after his very good The Unjust (2010), particularly remembered for its intricate screenplay (but written by Park Hoon-Jung) in which the manipulations were inclined towards action. But this is also a return of Ryoo Seung-wan as a screenwriter, he has already taken on a conspiracy with the mildly convincing Troubleshooter (2010) and the parodic side of the secret agents with Dachimawa Lee (2008). What can be said is that they’re not very subtle scenarios, which raises some questions about his handling of a serious subject. The trailer, although it may be misleading, focuses on a series of chases, explosions and brawls, and the first Korean reviews don’t lead us to imagine that it will be any different as a whole. The cast has a gallery of first class personalities, four stars who alone are expected to attract crowds. Apart from Ryoo Seung-beom who is a regular in the films directed by his brother, Ha Jeong-woo, who still drags behing him his impressive performances in The Chaser (2008) and The Yellow Sea (2010) should perform will in his role, just as Han Seok-kyu will be in familiar territory, having having already played a north Korean spy in Double Agent (2002). Finally, CJ went to pick Jeon Ji-hyeon to bring a little of glamor and a feminine side to the film, after having been highly praised for her appearance in The Thieves (2012). I think we can at least expect a well-groomed and extremely effective action movie that should easily stay two months in the theaters and will remain one of the major events of the year.

Watch the trailer here.

A Fish (물고기)


A teacher and a private detective hired to find his missing wife go together to Jindo Island, where she was seen training herself to become a shaman. But events become increasingly ominous for him, as the detective gets more violent and incoherent as he meets stranger people.

I am particularly pleased that this film has finally got a distributor and a release date, because I had unfortunately missed it at its first screening at the Busan Film Festival in 2011 though I became quite intrigued. Its paradoxical peculiarity is that this is an independent film shot entirely with a 3D camera, like Persimmon introduced the same year. This is the first feature film for director Park Hong-min, and it experienced success on the festival circuit since it went to Rotterdam, Vancouver, London, Toronto and Warsaw. The irony is that it has finally returned to Korea being distributed by Mirovision, which is more specialized in art films from abroad. Its target audience is of course limited, but very good feedback from viewers and critics who attended BIFF could enable it to secure a nice run in the bigger cities.

Watch the trailer here.

That Woman and That Man's Inside Story
(그 여자 그 남자 의 속사정) 


In the space of one year, Soo-jung gets committed to three relationships with three very different men, as she desperately hopes to live with each of them for the first time in the most romantic way, but as soon as possible. The first one, Sang-cheol, thinks only to spend the night with her. Jung-soo shows a lot of attention and concern for her. Finally, Seok-tae is very mysterious and always appears unexpectedly to take care of her.

Another independent production this week, however this one is more likely to interest the broad audience than A Fish with its universal theme of love relationships and first experiences between young people. Besides it can be seen in the trailer that the promotion tries to cling to the war of the sexes. The interest seems to be focused on the development of different relationships and should therefore focus on what is hopefully well-written dialogue. Director Lee Yoon-hyung signs his first feature film, he was previously an assistant director on Where Is Ronny (2009). The main actress, Jung Da-hye, is better known to dramas viewers, especially for her part in Rude Miss Young-ae, which is now in its 11th season. A film that could eventually live through the same surprising fate as Love Fiction last year, but it is more likely that it’ll only become a modest success. But for it's still movie to keep an eye on.

Watch the trailer here.

The Three Musketeers 
(삼총사: 용감한 친구들)


In France in the 17th century, the Cardinal Richelieu develops a diabolical plan to conduct King Louis XIII in a new war with England. D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers will have to prevent the worst from happening by finding a lost bracelet diamond. To achieve this, they will be accompanied by four animals that have joined their ranks.

Very little information is currently available about this movie, except that it is directed by Lee Jong-gwan, whose first film this is. He joined the club of Korean filmmakers venturing abroad since this film was co-produced (read: fully animated) in Italy and is found distributed in Korea by Yejilim Entertainment, which has in the past brought in several animated films from Japan and Europe. With no Korean personalities lending their voices to the characters, this film will have great difficulty to compete with Pororo on his land.

No trailer available.


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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