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Friday, June 7, 2013

New Korean Films: North Korean Spy To Save South Korean Market (2013 Week 23)

Secretly Greatly
(은밀하게 위대하게)


Ryu-hwan is a North Korean elite spy trained to kill. He was sent two years ago as a sleeper agent in Seoul. He lives in a small apartment owned by an old lady, for whom he also works. He knows everyone in the neighborhood but is only seen as that naive young guy with the mind of a child. Suddenly two other spies arrive in the area: Hae-rang pretends to be a rookie guitar player in a rock band, and Hae-jin a regular student. Ryu-hwan helps them to settle and get used to their new life, until they are ordered to commit suicide after a change of power in North Korea.

Undoubtedly the most highly anticipated movie of the month, and with good reasons. This is the second film by director Jang Cheol-soo that many moviegoers were expecting after his debut in the impressive Bedevilled (2010). He could not make more radical change of register than this one, since he’s giving a try on a comedy with dramatic overtones, the kind that Korean studios know so well how to produce. Showbox is set to dominate the Korean box office this summer, pulling up its first big movie scheduled for the season (Mr. Go and The Huntresses are expected in the coming months). Kim Su-hyeon, a young male idol who is gaining momentum since 2012 when he starred in The Thieves and the successful drama called The Moon That Embraces the Sun, is accompanied by two other young stars of the small screen, Park Ki-woong and Lee Hyun-woo, thus appealing very clearly to the young female audience. As is more often the case recently, the story is adapted from the most famous of all webcomics (estimated at around 250 millions of views), published on Daum between 2010 and 2011. The marketing campaign has been heavy and started more than a month ago in all kinds of media, the title is on top of the most popular movies searched on Naver and Daum, so everything indicates a great success for the release of this film, and certainly putting an end to the domination of the American productions. Only downside: the critical reception. This has so far not prevented more than 65% of moviegoers this weekend to book their tickets for this film.

Watch the Korean trailer here.


Horror Stories 2
(무서운 이야기 2)


Four scary stories are collected in this omnibus movie: a boss of an insurance company seeks to test the paranormal talent bragged about by his new employee by making her try to resolve possible cases of fraud. Two men stranded on a cliff must decide which of the two has to die to save the other. Three women go on a road trip after failing at a teaching exam. A teacher is harassed by his students from the first day, one of whom seems to have paranormal powers.

As you guessed, this compilation of short stories follows a first opus released in 2012. The panel of directors is quite varied, including regulars like Jeong Beom-sik, already present in the first part and director of the horror movie Epitaph (2007), Kim Hwi who made Neighbors (2012) and scripted Midnight FM (2010), and Kim Seong-ho, who made ​​his debut in 2003 with Into the Mirror (2003). The most surprising is the presence of Gyoo Min-dong, director of Antique (2008), The Last Blossom (2011) and All About My Wife (2012), but it would be forgetting that he has already participated in the first part of Horror Stories, and above all that he signed the acclaimed Memento Mori (1999), the second installment of Whispering Corridors. This could therefore form an interesting meeting of styles; especially as the short format should allow them more creative freedom. The film is endorsed by Lotte, and will be broadcast in almost every theater of Korea, but may bear the brunt of the success of Secretly Greatly because this one is also aimed to a younger audience as evidenced by its cast almost entirely made ​​up of twenty-something television stars.

Watch the Korean trailer here.


Miss Cherry's Love Puzzle
(앵두야, 연애하자)


Aeng-doo lives with her three best friends as roommates, and all are in their late twenties and in desperate need of boyfriends. Aeng-doo has been trying for years to become a writer, but is discarded from all the competitions she attends. When she finds a refused manuscript ditched in the street, her life and those of her friends begins to take a new turn.

With a title that literally translates into "Aeng-doo, let's become a couple!" or while seeing one of the catchphrase being "a drama that threatens all women of this generation”, there was enough reasons to fear a romantic comedy that would make single women feel guilty. But watching the trailer for this independent production, the direction actually seems more subtle and sensitive than expected. Consider me intrigued but not yet interested. Jeong Ha-rin is presenting her first feature film, after having gained much experience with short-movies. The cast is once again made ​​up of young actresses, but a bit older, which includes Ryoo Hyoun-gyoung who recently starred in Boy (2010), Mama (2011) and Two Weddings and a Funeral (2012). Unfortunately the film will be distributed in a few independent theaters scattered between Seoul, Incheon, Daejeon, Daegu and Busan, which is certainly not bad, but such a subject would have the potential to attract a wider audience if given the chance.

Watch the Korean trailer here.


Mai Ratima
(마이 라띠마)


Soo-young, a thirty year old man with a chaotic life, has accepted an arranged marriage to help Mai Ratima, a young Thai woman 22 years, to realize her dream to live and work in South-Korea. But a hostess bar, Young-jin, in love with Soo-young, mingles with the couple.

It may well be his first film, but this director is one of the most famous Korean film personalities. Yu Ji-tae, you most likely have discovered him in the role of the vengeful psychopath in Oldboy (2003), but it would be criminal to limit his filmography to this film when it also includes the delightfully punk Bye June (1998) and Attack the Gas Station (1999), the remarkable Antarctic Journal (2005), or the highly sensitive One Fine Spring Day (2001). Suffice to say that he found a very good school to become a director. Although the case of actors turned directors is rare in Korea, do not think he tries to exploit his fame. Since 2003 he has been making short films by himself, and he goes directly for his first long feature hand-to-hand with the ever sensitive topic of immigrants in Korea and international weddings. Two of the main actors, Bae Su-jin and So Yu-jin, are known for being TV series actors and friends of Yu Ji-tae. Mai Ratima is the first role for the actress Park Ji-su. The film has already been highly appreciated by MKC during its premiere at the Busan festival last year, announcing a great new career to come for Yu Ji-tae. But it’s certainly his name that allowed him to find support in Lotte for the distribution of the film. Distribution will remain modest, but at least all regions will be served.

Watch the Korean trailer here or read MKC's review 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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