Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Edinburgh 2013: Introduction to Korean Showcase

Part of Connor McMorran's coverage for MKC of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 19-30, 2013).

Following last year’s retrospective of the works of the long overlooked Japanese director Shinji Somai, Edinburgh International Film Festival’s artistic director Chris Fujiwara now brings focus onto two likewise overlooked aspects of global cinema: the films of Sweden and Korea. Film festivals are an interesting concept as they bring films from all over the world to one particular town or city, allowing local cineastes to explore and discover a wide variety of directors and works. Yet, unfortunately, their main flaw is often their attempt to house such a diverse range of cinematic voices over the relatively short space of one or two weeks.

This leads to something of a tension between the idea of a national cinema that film festivals generate, and the actual reality of a particular nation’s domestic cinema. In other words, it becomes very hard to fully encompass an entire nation’s cinema through an unfortunately narrow range of films. Often, it is the films which display certain attractive qualities to European arthouse sensibilities which are chosen, rather than films which have been heralded in their native country. A large part of this is due to film festivals being seen as a way to give independent and alternative voices a platform, allowing the more artistic films space to breathe outside of their own mainstream dominated markets. This is especially true in Korea, where mainstream cinema and conglomerate cinema ownership puts independent films at a large disadvantage, even after Kim Ki-Duk’s Pieta won big at Venice last year.

Film festivals, then, are undoubtedly beneficial to filmmakers who struggle against the dominant mainstream industry. However, in accepting this we must then at all times be aware that films shown at film festivals ultimately do not fully represent their domestic cinema.

Well, usually, that is.

Chris Fujiwara’s focus on Korean cinema, and indeed the Korean presence at film festivals this year (Cannes being the main exception), has brought some unexpected changes to this model. Fujiwara’s selection in particular features none of the usual cannon of Hong Sang-Soo, Lee Chang-Dong or Kim Ki-Duk that people would usually expect to see. Instead, he has chosen to focus on up-and-coming directors like O Muel (Jiseul), Shin Su-Won (Pluto) and Lee Hyun-Jung (Virgin Forest). Also featured are Chung Ji-Young’s latest National Security, and Kang Yi-Kwan’s Juvenile Offender can be found competing in the International Feature Film category. Perhaps most surprising of all, however, is the inclusion of Ryu Seung-Wan’s The Berlin File. Not only because its UK premiere occurred just over one week ago in London at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival, but because it can be seen as a clear example of contemporary, mainstream Korean cinema. With its star studded line-up, high budget and focus on delivering a genre experience, The Berlin File helps to provide a fuller picture of the Korean cinema of today.

The films chosen to screen at film festivals help us to shape how we perceive certain countries, indeed for many it may be the only films people see from a particular country. Thankfully, Chris Fujiwara has managed to provide a succinct selection to represent Korea to the West, allowing a mainstream film to co-exist alongside independent voices that often go unheard back home. As Korea’s industry and international status goes from strength to strength, it seems inevitable that more people will look to its models and films for inspiration and study. Through representing many different aspects of Korean film, from mainstream genre cinema right through to experimental works, the EIFF will hopefully inspire people to reconsider their ideas as to what constitutes Korean cinema.

Over the next two weeks, I will look at all the Korean films being screened, as well as highlight any other films which I manage to see. I hope that you will enjoy my thoughts and opinions on these films, and I wish the EIFF all the very best with the festival this year.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  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).

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