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Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Korean Films: The Shifting Sands of Indie Films (2013 Week 13)

(by Fabien Schneider)

This week is the calm before the storm: I have only two independent films to introduce to you, and both will only have limited distribution. But this is not a reason not to be interested in them, because they are two quite original projects.

Following Sand River

(모래가 흐르는 강)


This documentary takes place over four years and follows the changes undergone by the river Nae-seong following the building of the Yeong-joo dam, and the consequent impact on the flora, fauna, but also the inhabitants of the surrounding villages .

One of the main enterprises of former President Lee Myung-bak was the Four Major Rivers Restoration, an allegedly ecological redevelopment plan that encompassed watercourse deviations and dams to better secure and regulate the water supply of the country. Highly criticized by the opposition, population and ecological organizations, this project still managed to come to an end in 2011. So I can only applaud the initiative to make this unusual documentary, especially since it was done individually by a Buddhist monk, Ji Yool, who has taken to heart this subject to the point that he equipped himself with a small digital camera and settled for four years on the banks of the river Nae-seong. Treatment of the subject will inevitably be a little more traditionalist than if it had been an ordinary director and the trailer seems to indicate a very naturalistic approach, without voice-over commentaries. This film will be shown on 16 screens, a modest yet surprisingly high number for a documentary that also includes some Lotte multiplexes, and also well disseminated, as it will be viewable in all major cities involved in the Four Major Rivers project. It’s an intriguing film, which brings both a love for rural Korea and politics, which could create a surprise as Old Partner did in 2009.

Watch the trailer here.

Good Friends

(좋은 친구들)



Four best friends, K, Tatsuya, Joon-oh and Yuji are invited by Sung-ho to be part of the gang that controls an entire Korean neighborhood in Tokyo. A turf war with the Yakuza causes many deaths on the Korean side, and the four friends decide to take revenge. But the group is on the edge of rupture, Tatsuya having been caught by the police and the three others becoming suspicious of each other. They will attempt to release their friend while trying to find out who is behind this series of murders.

Like almost every week for over a month, a new thriller makes its appearance. Good Friends comes after a long series (The Berlin File, New World, An Ethics Lesson, Your Time is Up, etc.) and thus must show much originality to stand out. Unfortunately, given the synopsis and trailer, the story seems obvious and the only good idea seems to be the place of action, a community of Koreans in Japan. It is surprisingly not a co-production with Japan but a full Korean independent production. The best known actor among the casting, however, is a Japanese one, Kitamura Kazuki, who notably played the main role in Takeshi Miike's Like a Dragon (2007), but also appeared in Kill Bill (2003). The director, Jin Hyeong-tae, is not making his first film, but none of his previous works were released in theaters. This one will be released in only three arthouse theaters this week, only in three cities in the Chungcheong region in west central Korea, which excludes the bigger cities like Seoul and Busan and therefore condemns the film to very poor results. I doubt that it can also emerge on the festival circuit. So we end up with a film that will have an extremely difficult time finding an audience in theaters, and will have to rely solely on its future broadcasts on television to capitalize on their few known Korean talents (soap opera actors).

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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