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Sunday, August 18, 2013

New Korean Films: Impending Contagion in Theaters (2013 Week 33)

The Flu

A new disease occurs overnight and causes confusion in all hospitals. It spreads particularly fast because the virus is propagated through the respiratory system and only needs 36 hours of incubation to cause death. Physicians, researchers and ordinary civilians are fighting to eradicate the outbreak before it is too late.

And now that Snowpiercer's finally left the station, producers are rushing to try to be the first to succeed it, though it will probably still stay undefeated for another week. The best competitor is this not very original film, which seems to be a relapse of last year’s Deranged. But while I quite enjoyed following the investigation into the origin of the disease in Deranged, The Flu seems content with a context that is all too commonplace. The first trailers already exposed what I feared the most, that it is nothing more than just an excuse to show the popular idol Jang Hyuk, Please Teach Me English (2003), Windstruck (2004), and Su-ae, A Family (2004), Sunny (2008), crying nonstop, just as they did in Haeundae (2009). What makes the film slightly more interesting, however, is that the director is a veteran returning from far and who I'm excited to see again. Kim Seong-su indeed didn’t release any film since Back in 2004, but rose to international fame with several popular hits such as Beat (1997), Musa (2001), and Please Teach Me English (2003). However, The Flu seems far from his universe, so I’m wondering about his real involvement in the project and what could remain of his style. Kim Seong-su offered us a few days ago a director's cut of the trailer to try to reassure us a little bit, but there is little doubt for its economic success. With this cast and the distribution that will contaminate all theaters in the country, the film should pose a serious threat to The Terror Live in second place at the box office, which is not bad for what is officially an independent production. For those of you who don't live far from Seoul but have difficulties in understanding Korean, the CGV multiplex in Yongsan will offer a few screenings with English subtitles.

Watch the Korean trailer here or read MKC's review here.

Hide and Seek

Sung-soo is man who leads a successful life, with his work as a businessman, his fancy apartment and his two children. When he learns that his brother has disappeared, he goes to his place and sees some strange markings next to each apartment door in the building, which seems to indicate the number of people living inside. He questions his brother’s neighbor about his disappearance, but she asks him to prevent his brother from spying on her daughter. Upon returning home, he realizes that his apartment also has a strange inscription next to the door. Therefore, he is convinced that someone is hiding in his own home.

Secrets in the neighborhood and domestic insecurity are what seems to be the recipe to make housewives in their seats for over 30 years. As if to confirm this impression, the cast is essentially composed of middle-aged actors primarily known for their numerous leading roles in television dramas. It is not traditionally a demographic that frequently occupies the cinema, but this film could still dig its place in the box office. This is coming from a young director who graduated from the Korean National University of Arts, Huh Jung, who not only directed but also wrote the script for this film, supported in this endeavor by NEW, the usual outsider of the Korean majors. Cine21 critics have not been fully convinced, but nevertheless noted that the film is at least very effectively scary. Despite its low popularity, this is a film that seems to have attracted the most attention from netizens, and it will also be available throughout the country.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Let Me Out
(렛 미 아웃)

A pretentious film school student who has acquired all the theory and stays very critical of contemporary South Korean cinema is forced by his teacher to make a movie himself as a condition to receive his degree. When he starts to criticize the work of a renowned director invited by his school, he’s even challenged by the director to do better than him. Suddenly, what was supposed to be yet another sloppy assignment becomes a work that will determine his life. And with his melodramatic scenario set during a zombie outburst, a cast composed entirely of students without talent rejected from all other projects, and a film crew consisting of friends equally unstable as him, the project looks to get off to a very bad start.

While everyone is waiting for the umpteenth “film about films” by Hong Sang-soo, for my part I am more excited by this one, carried out by two professors of cinema in the Seoul Institute of Arts, Kim Chang-rae Soh and Jae-yeong, with also a special cameo of Yang Ik-jun, director of Breathless (2008), interpreting himself. Probably tired of seeing during their lectures students who already believe to know everything about film-making, they decided to give them a lesson in the best possible way, through this film funded by their university and a government scholarship. The trailer already makes me laugh, and anyone who knows a little bit about the South Korean cinema industry should find pleasure in identifying many allusions. Selected last year by the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival and also the Mar Del Plata International Film Festival, this film has not gone unnoticed and has gotten some very good reviews, including one by Variety, which states that the film is very interesting and accessible. Unfortunately the film will be presented on only four theaters in Seoul, Busan and Daegu.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Let's Go To Rose Motel
(가자! 장미여관으로)

A man finally manages to persuade his girlfriend to go to a motel after six months of a chaste relationship. But as he was about to take a shower, he realizes that there is a small hole in the wall that allows him to observe a couple in the next room. He suddenly recognizes them as a famous politician and an idol.

Apparently summer is the prime season in Korea for the release of erotic films with two being released this week. Despite the fact that a certain segment of the population are attracted to this type of film, these films have no chance competing with other films in the box office, luckily these types of film don’t need a high attendance count to covers their costs. The film's director Shin Jeong-gyun, best known for being the son of the famous Shin Sang-ok who left an important mark in the history of Korean cinema as a daring producer. His son began in 1999 with Butcher's Wife and his last film was A Secret Scandal in 2007, but sadly he has never managed to get noticed by the critics or the audience. The film will be available in a dozen theaters from the Lotte group spread in several cities.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

The Bluff

Four friends who haven’t met for a long time are having a drink and play a game based on bluffing. One claims to have held the hand of an idol, another one says that he slept with one of the most powerful women. But as time goes on, the stories become stranger with one of them saying he slept with a ghost, the other one decide to tells them how he has spent a night with an alien.

Kong Ja-gwan is apparently a very active director at this time, since his previous film was released… two weeks ago! But while his Young Mother was distributed solely as VOD, this one marks an improvement as it is indeed getting released in theaters, or more precisely at Sponge House, an independent theater in Seoul. It is also sounds more appealing because it does not seem to take itself seriously, integrating many fantastic and quirky elements. This has allowed it to be selected for the latest edition of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. I think this film would deserves a lot of attention so keep an eye on it.

No trailer for this one.

The Big Picture
(그리고 싶은 것)

An illustrator, Kwon Yoon-duk, joined several other East Asian authors to put together a picture book about the comfort women used by the Japanese army during World War II. She remembers her painful memories and her colleagues have some arguments about her illustrations.

These kinds of documentaries on Korean comfort women are released every other year. As the problem is still not resolved with the Japanese government, it is difficult to criticize the insistence of those directors to recall the subject, but there is little hope that this film  will bring us a new insight especially if you've already watched The Murmuring (1995, 1997, 1999) trilogy by Byun Young-joo, the most important set of documentaries about this topic that has an artistic dimension. This film was already shown these last months at various Korean festivals highlighting independent film, documentaries or films on human rights, but thanks to many independent cinemas and a few multiplex cinemas, the documentary will be broadcast in all regions of the country.

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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