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Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Korean Films: Snowpiercer Belongs to the Front (2013 Week 31)


In the near future, while an attempt to stem global warming results in a deadly new ice age. everyone is fighting for one of the few seats on a train destined to contain what’s left of humankind by traversing the world with an inexhaustible energy source. Seventeen years later, the population of passengers is split between the elite who occupy the luxurious first-class carriages at the head of the convoy, and the common people who live in the rear of the train. This is too much for Curtis and Gilliam who are fomenting a revolution whose aim is to take control of the engine, which became a sacred place with time and that only Wilford, the creator of the train, knows how to work.

Assuming you did not stay locked up in a cave the last two years, and since you're interested enough in Korean cinema to read this website, you should definitely have already heard of this film, and if you’re like me currently not staying in Korea, you must be particularly jealous of the lucky people who can already enjoy it this week. The level of expectation is unprecedented in the history of Korean cinema. Let me prove it: it's already been two weeks now that Snowpiercer dominates unofficially (as it’s not released yet) Korean box office with up to 19.3% of tickets sold. This expectation is shared as much by the general Korean public than by local and international critics and film lovers, as director Bong Joon-ho has always managed to associate quality and popular success (Memories of Murder in 2003, The Host in 2006, Mother in 2009). Adapted from the French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" created in 1983 and discovered by Bong Joon-ho in 2004, it was not until the moment when Park Chan-wook as a producer bought the rights for adaptation that the project was finally launched. We didn't know yet at that time that we would have to wait so long for the shooting to finally happen only last year. I told you two weeks ago that Mr. Go was the most expensive Korean film in history, with $25 million; well it could not maintain this record for a long time since Snowpiercer blithely went beyond with more than $39 million. The production is particularly exceptional because it is co-produced with three countries: the USA, France and the Czech Republic for the filming. The cast is also quite impressive with not only Bong’s favorite actor Song Kang-ho (lead actor in Memories of Murder and The Host), but Chris Evans too, who had featured in The Avengers that was hugely successful in Korea last year. The film's success is already assured with over 170 theaters that got it programmed this week (i.e., almost all theaters of the country), an invasive marketing campaign, and a critical press that has never been so appreciative this year for a local production. And if the Korean profits were not sufficient, let’s not forget that rights for international distribution have been sold to 167 countries, which is as far as I remember a record for a Korean film, and makes it already cover half of the budget.

Watch the international trailer here or read MKC's review by Pierce here.

The Terror Live
(더 테러 라이브)

A former anchorman for TV news has been transferred as a radio host after an incident. One day, during his program, he receives a call from an auditor who claims to be on the verge of destroying the Mapo Bridge, which crosses the Han River in Seoul. The host believes in a joke until he sees the bridge explode in front of his own eyes, as it’s located just in front of the recording studio. He sees then the perfect opportunity to return to his former job, and sets up a special live broadcast during which he will hold discussions with the mysterious caller.

This film will be the first victim of exceptional success expected from Snowpiercer, and that's a shame because it has qualities that could have easily allowed it to dominate the box office had it came out even a few weeks earlier or later. Director Kim Byeong-woo made his debut in 2007 with the very interesting Written, an independent and experimental production, but is now found back in charge of a totally different film, a blockbuster funded by Lotte Entertainment, which is not without its disappointment. It reminds me another thriller distributed by Lotte, Midnight F.M. (2010), which also showed some kind of race against time broadcasted live, and which topped the box-office. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Nevertheless, this one was selected as the closing film at the Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and critics praise the editing and also the performance of main actor Ha Jeong-woo, who became known through The Chaser in 2008, but became more popular thanks to films such as Love Fiction released in 2012. The film is available in 165 theaters this week, and thus assumes the infamous role of "comes next" for those who are not interested in Snowpiercer or already saw it earlier this week, which reduces a lot of its potential audience but should still provide it a solid success.

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

Young Mother
(젊은 엄마)

Jin-goo is a student who likes to fantasize about his beautiful English tutor. Their relationship takes a different turn when he convinces her to teach him everything about sex, but she soon breaks their romance to marry another man. A few years later, Jin-goo gets married, becomes a father and moves in with her parents. When he learns that his wife is cheating him, his stepmother offers him compensation. He agrees, but has a specific kind of compensation in mind.

The distributors of this independent production have apparently understood it could not overcome the weight of two blockbusters this week and instead delivers it directly on VOD through various suppliers, including Daum and Naver, which also has the advantage of offering it a lower price. Thanks to Naver’s statistics I can assertively tell you that the viewers targeted by this film are (surprise!) men in their thirties. Director Kong Ja-kwan is apparently a specialist in erotic films, his last one was The Sex Film in 2007, and the lead actress, Lee Eun-mi, is a mannequin who also starred in several erotic films and dramas in recent years.

No trailer available on Internet.

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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