Friday, April 5, 2013

New Korean Films: US Companies Rush In (2013 Week 14)

(by Fabien Schneider)

Running Man

The one and only dream of Cha Jong-woo is to raise enough money to live under the same roof with his 17-year old son, who resulted from a youthful indiscretion. This is why he works in a garage by day and spends his nights as a taxi driver. One day, he suddenly realizes that that the rich client he was driving to his destination has been murdered, not understanding how this could have happen. By bad intuition, he decides to flee, and thus the next day becomes the prime suspect. Meanwhile, his son, not believing the news, is trying to find out what really happened.

This new month begins in the strongest way possible with this highly anticipated film, which, for two weeks, has already been one of the films that netizens were most looking forward to, and whose promotion already haunted the web and newspapers long before this week. Why such a buzz about this film? The concept of the innocent culprit is commonplace and has already been used in Korean cinema. Director Jo Dong-oh has showed us so far only the disappointing The Restless in 2006. Perhaps the main actor Sin Ha-gyoon? He may have a filmography that I find particularly impressive (JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Save the Green Planet, Welcome to Dongmakgol, The Front Line, Cafe Noir and The Thieves), but he still doesn’t have the aura of celebrity that would alone attract attention to a film. And it is not Lee Min-ho, despite his long career in soap-operas. No, the explanation lies in the fact that it is the first Korean production of one of the American major film studios, namely 20th Century Fox, which made the headlines last year by announcing that it would now invest heavily in the Korean industry. A release in the U.S. market is obviously already planned. That’s a long way from the protests against the Hollywood powerhouses that took place in the 80s when US companies opened their first Korean divisions for direct distribution in the market. The reception seems this time a lot warmer since Lotte and Megabox rushed over to program Running Man in more than 170 theaters and ticket sales suggest that the film would be neck and neck with G.I. Joe 2 for the top spot at the box office. Critics of the magazine Cine21 seem rather more mixed, for the film showing an excessive use of action and drama. One thing that is certain however is that a new page in the history of Korean cinema is being written this week.

Watch the Korean trailer here, or the international teaser here.

In My End Is My Beginning
(끝과 시작)

While Jung-ha is still mourning for her husband, who died in a car accident, a woman named Na-ru presents herself at the front door as having been the mistress of her husband, the one who was driving when the accident occured. She asks her a favor, to let her live under the same roof, where her lover lived. Jung-ha initially refuses, and then accepts under certain conditions. A strange relationship begins between them.

In 2009, the director Min Gyoo-dong, who is known mainly for Memento Mori (in my opinion the best part of the Whispering Corridors series), Antique and All About My Wife, took part in a very interesting omnibus film, Five Senses of Eros, in which he presented a segment called My End is My Beginning. Four years later, he gives us the long version of his story, with nearly another hour he was unable to include at that time, and seems to bring to it a real conclusion. The cast was already of very good caliber for a short film, and should at least arouse curiosity for the feature version, since Uhm Jung-hwa (also a popular singer) and Hwang Jeong-min (recently seen in New World), two actors who later found themselves playing a couple again in Dancing Queen in 2012. Kim Hyo-jin is a young actress I can only applaud for the courage involved in her choice of riské roles, since she appeared in Everybody Has Secrets, The Taste of Money or Ashamed, in which she also had a homosexual relationship. This film will benefit from a broad distribution across the country, executed by Lotte, which should not hurt it since its ban for minors, and especially the difficult social theme, recurrent in this director’s filmography, should naturally limit its potential audience.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Jeju Prayer

Kang Sang-hee is an old woman who sleeps every night with a rusty saw under her pillow, as is the local tradition of Jeju when you want to get rid of bad dreams. Like many women of her generation on the island south of the peninsula, she lived the tragic events that followed the uprising of the 3rd April 1948, when the forces dispatched by Rhee Syngman hunted down communist sympathizers. She lost her husband. A drama unfortunately not unique that is still haunting villages of Jeju like Napeub and Kangjeong, and which traces can even be found in Japan.

This documentary had its theatrical release stalled to coincide with the anniversary of the revolt, but comes with excellent timing as it closely follows the release of the fiction-movie Jiseul, that managed to come in 10th place of the box office last week. So viewers who would like to delve deeper into the memories of this tragedy will be able to do so in one of the 21 theaters that will project it, a surprisingly wide and well dispersed distribution for a documentary. This is the first documentary and also the first feature film for director Im Heung-soon, and it's Indie Story that will take care of its distribution, which means given the reputation of the label that it may be found selected by foreign festivals in the following months.

Watch the Korean 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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