Friday, May 31, 2013

New Korean Films: Behold, K-pop Star in Approach! (2013 Week 22)

Rockin' on Heaven's Door 
(뜨거운 안녕)

A K-pop star, Chung-ui, caused a scandal by being involved in a brawl after consuming too much alcohol, and so sees himself condemned to 300 hours of volunteer work in a hospital institute welcoming terminally ill patients. These people do not comply with the regulations, and the institute is threatened with closure. Only Anna still tries to maintain order, and she doesn’t hesitate to yell at Chung-ui as he always tries to do the bare minimum. When he comes upon patients rehearsing in their own band, he decides to personally get invested to help them improve.

Get your tissues! People about to die? Check! A cute and innocent little girl among them? Check. A true star of K-pop who will be carried away by emotions? Check! And while at it, why not accompany the release of the film with a single? Check! Here we have a canonical example of the Korean drama, in the form of a feel-good movie (poster clearly emphasizes  the word "happy-ending") that combines all the elements that have recently proven to help engender a popular hit. In fact, the film seems to have been built around the superstar Lee Hong-gi, the lead singer of the band FT Island, only to promote him in a positive and sympathetic light. With such a charming asset to appeal to the young female audience and a truly wide distribution covering all cities, there is no doubt that this film has the potential to rank high at the box office .. Unless the timing is pretty bad, the period is traditionally on for exam revision, which affects the audience that may be for once unfaithful to Lee Hong-gi. For those who are not too interested in K-pop, rest assured that you may find some familiar faces in this film, like Ma Dong-seok, the reliable supporting actor (The Unjust, 2010), and Lim Won-hie who often appears in comedies (Dachimawa Lee, 2007). This was apparently not enough for critics of Cine21 who found the film – what a surprise - too maudlin. Also, on a more personal note, I'm always skeptical when one pretends to put in the same project rock music and a K-pop singer, but whatever.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Sleepless Night 
(잠 못 드는 밤)

A married couple of two years is considering the possibility of having a baby. Their parents and their friends put a lot of pressure on them while they are mostly worried about their financial stability, the husband being exploited by his employer.

If you have follow MKC since last year, you have probably realized that this film was particularly appreciated here. Pierce in fact chose it as the best Korean film of 2012. I will avoid to dwell on the film again, as other articles have already done the job for me. Director Jang Kun-jae had long been satisfied with short films before making his debut in 2009 with Eighteen, which already showed a lot of sensitivity concerning young couples. Sleepless Night has already had an exceptional career in the world at various prestigious festivals such as Rotterdam, Mar Del Plata, Vancouver, Tokyo, Edinburgh and Fribourg. And the following seems to be under the best auspices, the film being distributed by Indiestory – also currently known as the most active independent distributor - and the film will be found this week in 19 theaters around the whole country. The film also raises a not negligible interest on Korean search engines, so hopefully it is in its favor.

El Condor Pasa 
(콘돌은 날아간다)

Park, a Catholic priest, feels some responsibility when a girl with whom he had close contact is killed while returning from his church. He visits the victim's sister, Soo-hyun, to send his condolences but also to offer help in overcoming their grief together. Throughout the meetings, feelings develop between them to the point that Park gets excommunicated. In a deep depression, he decides to fly to Peru in order to find an old friend to whom he can confess.

Jeon Soo-il is one of the few directors to have a greater recognition and reputation abroad than in Korea. A key figure in independent films in Busan, he studied film at several schools in Paris, like Kim Ki-duk, before making his debut in 1998 with Wind Echoing in My Being. But it was not until With a Girl of Black Soil in 2007 that he made it out in foreign festivals, including Deauville. He subsequently signed Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells (2008), starring Choi Min-sik, and one of my own favorite recent Korean films, Pink (2011). This one seems to follow the same theme as the previous films, namely lost and isolated characters that roam imposing scenery. After Choi Min-sik in the Himalayas, it is now turn to Cho Jae-Hyeon in the Andes, who already embodied the leading role in the first film of Jeon Soo-il, but was also the favorite actor of Kim Ki-duk in his early films (Crocodile in 1996, Address Unknown and Bad Guy in 2001). Just like Pink, the soundtrack will be provided by one of the best singers of folk-rock, Kang San-eh, who has already made some wonders of composition in various films. The film opens in 9 theaters, which doesn't seem like a lot, but the distribution is very well spread out in the country, reaching almost all the regional capitals.This film has already been seen and critiqued by MKC, Pierce lamenting the pace of the narrative and the lack of significant events.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Read MKC's review here.


Every morning Myeong-hui and Myeong-ho go to the airport and the bus terminal, hoping to find their mother and spending the day begging for money from passengers. She left six months earlier saying she’s going to try to find their father. The two children are left to fend for themselves every day. One day, Myeong-hui meets Yong-gyu in her neighborhood, a boy addicted to glue, with whom she becomes friends. While visiting them, he finds an envelope of money and supplicates for them to lend it to him so that he could pay his medical expenses. Myeong-hui later discovers that he spent the money on drugs.

The second independent film by director Kim Baek-jun, Farewell is one of those movies with delicate social issues, dealing not only with the abandonment of children, but also drugs and illegal immigration. The film introduces us to the young Da Ju-yeong in her first major role in a film after having appeared occasionally in Taegukgi (2004) and Private Eye (2009), and especially after an already successful career in TV dramas. Lee Ju-seung, who plays Yong-gyu, is an actor who has played important roles in other independent films, the best known perhaps being Members of the Funeral (2008). The film isn’t going to be released in theaters but only as a VOD movie on LG U +, one of the big providers of all-in-one TV boxes, thus the number of viewers will not be counted in the box office, while the title already doesn’t even appear among the most searched titles on web portals. It’s always a pity to see a movie fall into oblivion like this, but it gives us a glimpse of the current state of indie productions in South Korea. I hope there may be soon another way to watch it in a better condition.

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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