Part of Connor McMorran's coverage for MKC of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 19-30, 2013).
This year’s Edinburgh Film Festival presented a wide range of films, both mainstream and independent, from many different countries. It also featured a focus on Swedish and Korean national cinemas, providing a strong selection of current works from both countries. Yet, during my time at the festival, I noticed far more of an emphasis on the Swedish selection; either through leaflets or e-mails sent out to all press members. Other than the beautiful poster for Lee Hyun-Jung’s experimental work Virgin Forest, I saw no other promotional materials for the Korean films on show this year. Also, the lack of critics in early morning screenings for works like Shin Su-Won’s Pluto left me wondering how much coverage such films would get. Despite my opening piece praising the selection of The Berlin File, does it really help to present a full view of contemporary Korean cinema if the only film critics attend is the big-budget, mainstream work?
Now of course, the critics are just as much to blame here as the festival through their decision not to attend the screenings, but how can a film festival be seen to provide a platform for independent voices to be heard if nobody attends the screenings? If the only reviews that emerge are for The Berlin File, how will awareness and knowledge of the fringes of Korean cinema increase? Korean cinema has a lot to offer international audiences, and is arguably at its best condition since the mid-2000s, so it would be a shame to see people stop at the familiarity of The Berlin File and not delve deeper. The selection of films for this year’s Korean focus covered many aspects of contemporary Korean cinema, and it should be fully praised for doing so. Let’s just hope that such a great range of films open up people’s eyes to the diversity of film that Korea offers.
As for the films, the Korean selection in particular provides an overriding focus on identity. All of the films featured seek to better understand Korean society in some way; through the actions of history (National Security), by displacing Koreans into a European setting in The Berlin File, or by analysing the problems plaguing contemporary Korean society (Virgin Forest, Pluto, Juvenile Offender). These films asked us not to forget our past, to reconsider our approaches to Confucian gender identities, and to ultimately focus on aspects of society that need attention. Korean cinema is already taking large steps into an increasingly international film industry and is creating a surprising amount of transnational works in recent years (Punch, Haunters and My Little Hero immediately come to mind), so it makes sense that identity has come to the forefront of many modern works: we saw similar self-reflection during the handover period of Hong Kong to China through films like Made in Hong Kong and Comrades, Almost a Love Story.
Personally, the standout film for me by quite a degree was Shin Su-Won’s Pluto. Elsewhere, I was also impressed with Motorway and The Berlin File – two genre films which really interested me for entirely different reasons – and Virgin Forest, which is one of the most singular works I’ve seen in quite some time. In fact, almost all the films I saw this year were of rather high quality, the only exception being the frustratingly simplistic Hawking.
Finally, I would like to thank Pierce for allowing me to cover this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. It was my first ever time doing anything like this, and despite the negative slant of this article I’ve really enjoyed the whole thing. That said, due to illness I was unable to watch some films I’d been looking to see for quite some time – namely Jiseul, The Conjuring, and Comrade Kim Goes Flying. Overall, I hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage, and thank you to anyone who took to the time to read my articles.
Connor McMorran is currently working on his dissertation for his Master’s Degree in Film Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He has been a fan of South Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong cinema for a decade, and is aiming to work as a freelance writer on anything and everything to do with films from these countries.
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 Update, Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean Reviews, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (Korean Standard Time).