Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: HORROR STORIES 2 Slightly Improves Upon Its Predecessor

By Patryk Czekaj

At first glance, Horror Stories 2 looks like a more mature and self-conscious version of the original film. Though the chapters are still uneven and often come close to being simply absurd, the directors seem aware of the predecessors’ mistakes and ultimately create a gripping and penetrating atmosphere of terror, grounding their visions both in dreams and in a three-dimensional reality. This clarifies the structure of all the segments and gives them a much-needed touch of intrigue. Less cheap thrills based on jumps scares and nonsensical gore material makes Horror Stories 2 a serviceable allegory for the soul and its journey towards redemption.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: THE BOOMERANG FAMILY Swings For Your Heart

By Rex Baylon

The concept and role of family has gone through several evolutions in the history of man. At first being just an institution for the birthing and raising of offspring. Back than, it took, as the old saying goes, a whole village to raise a child. As populations increased and values shifted away from group think into a more individualistic mode the definition of family became more constrained.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Hong Sang-soo's Beautiful But Slightly Strange OUR SUNHI

By John A. Riley

Some critics have characterised Hong Sang-soo's latest film as evidence of a prolific director running out of steam. In fact, Our Sunhi demonstrates a refinement and distillation of the director’s technique as he approaches an Ozu-like mastery of his craft.

Friday, February 21, 2014

News: Three Wins for South Korean Cinema at this Year's Berlin Film Festival

By Rex Baylon

As the Berlin International Film Festival closes its doors for another year Korean cinema was not completely left out of the loop, even if no films from South Korea made it into the main festival competition. Two documentaries A Dream of Iron and Non Fiction Diary both took home a NETPAC Prize for Best Asian Film and Sprout was awarded the Crystal Bear for Best Short in the Generation Kplus section.

Having both premiered at last year’s Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Non Fiction Diary, a harrowing documentary about South Korea in the early 1990s when true democracy was still in its infancy, won the Mecenat award for Best Documentary and Sprout, a charming tale of a little girl’s quest to get some bean sprouts for her grandfather’s funerary rites, received a special mention for the Sonje Award. While A Dream of Iron, a stylishly done picture about the POSCO steelmaking factory in Pohang, had its world premier at this year’s Berlinale Forum section.

Last year, other South Korean films like Cheong, Shin Su-won’s Pluto (2012), Hong Sang-soo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon have all received awards and accolades at the Berlin Film Festival and this year continues the trend, proving that South Korea’s indie film scene is still going strong.


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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Thursday, February 20, 2014

News: Kino Lorber Purchases Tartan 'Asia Extreme' Catalog

By Rex Baylon

For film fans of the early aughts their first introduction to the violent but beautiful world of Korean genre cinema most often came from the UK-based DVD label Tartan Films. Known for their Asia Extreme sub-label in the early days of DVD the company curated a unique catalog that showcased various genres and talent from all over Asia. From South Korea, Tartan was responsible for being the first English language company to release films by Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon and Kim Ki-duk as well as titles such as Memento Mori (1999) and Nowhere to Hide (1999). By 2008 though, the company facing financial trouble sold most of its catalog to the Palisades Media Group and its Asia Extreme catalog was left to go out of print.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: BETWEEN THE KNEES Lies Korea's Sexual Awakening

By Pierce Conran

While eastern and western sensibilities co-exist somewhat happily in Korea these days, this wasn't always the case. Faced with independence after a long spell of colonial rule in 1945, albeit divided from the Soviet-controlled North, South Korea, through the presence of the US military, was presented with the trappings of the West for the very first time. Ever since then, there has been an uneasy relationship between respect for established local tradition and cravings for imported comforts.

Many films have examined this dichotomy, including Early Rain (1966). However few have done so as aggressively as Lee Jang-ho's Between the Knees (1984), a fascinating and frustratingly paradoxical work from the Korean New Wave. Both progressive and surprisingly conservative, it's a little hard to peg exactly what director Lee's angle is at different points of his film.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: SPROUT's Short and Sweet Seoul Odyssey

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and the 18th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

A little girl’s trip to the market becomes a charming journey through modern Korea in Yoon Ga-eun’s delightful short film Sprout, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last October. Korean indie cinema often makes a point of demonstrating what’s wrong with society while many of the values most prized by citizens are typically found in the nation’s commercial output, albeit through rose-tinted windows. Thus it has been treat to see some younger, low-budget filmmakers explore the positives of their country in recent years. Films like Koala (2012) have not forgotten the realities of the society they inhabit, but they have also placed the good right alongside the bad.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: NON-FICTION DIARY Offers Captivating Glimpse of 1990s Korea

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and the 18th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

I stepped onto Korean soil for the first time almost 13 years after the end of the 1990s but there's no arguing the otherworldliness of that time, which can still be picked up on today by sampling the available media from that era. These days, some Koreans even reminisce about that special, indefinable feeling if a certain 90s song pops on in a basement bar.

Though a fan of documentaries, I've remained somewhat on the periphery concerning those from Korea despite my keen interest for the rest of the industry's output. A number of the subjects that they embark on are captivating, even essential at times, but they haven't always been made in the most gripping fashion. Mind you, I'm loath to admit that I still haven't seen some of the major recent successes, such as Talking Architect (2011) and Planet of Snail.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: Grand and Hypnotic, A DREAM OF IRON Won't Soon Be Forgotten

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Early on in A Dream of Iron, a new documentary premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival this year, director Kelvin Kyung Kun Park shows us images of whales moving through the vast blue expanse of the ocean - enormous creatures that were once considered grand and mysterious. Soon after, Park brings us to the expansive POSCO steel-making plant on the coast of Southern Korea and proceeds to show us the process of shipbuilding through a series of arresting visual tableaux. Gargantuan in size, these vessels demonstrate the soaring ambition of the human race, as enormous components are each readied for assembly with minuscule laborers dotting their surface.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: Subdued yet Powerful, NIGHT FLIGHT Soars

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

LeeSong Hee-il returns to Berlin a year after White Night (2012) with his fourth feature Night Flight. While his last film was a subdued but powerful work about lingering memories of homophobia in modern Seoul, his new feature is his most ambitious yet. Retaining queer themes, Night Flight goes beyond the scope of his past works by weaving a wider tapestry of social motifs that touch on many of the issues facing youths and minorities in contemporary Korea.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: Bong Joon-ho's SNOWPIERCER Delivers the Goods

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Cinema is a medium of motion and if anyone understands this, it appears to be Bong Joon-ho, whose visionary new work is a demented and stunning thrillride. In his first production outside his native South Korea, Bong has delivered his most ambitious project yet, and proves more than capable of handling an international, multilingual cast and a large budget.

News: New Wildflower Awards Recognize Independent Korean Cinema

By Pierce Conran

The Wildflower Film Awards (들꽃영화상), a new audience-led initiative to recognize achievements in independent Korean cinema, is getting underway this month. Launched by Korean film expert and founder Darcy Paquet, the awards will be handed out each February to outstanding contributions in Korean cinema's low-budget realm. Winners will be selected in categories for Best Film, Director, Documentary, Actor, Actress, New Actor, New Actress, New Director and Cinematography, in addition to a Documentary Jury Prize.

News: SNOWPIERCER Stays Uncut but Release Downsized

By Pierce Conran

Deadline has just broken the news that Bong Joon-ho and The Weinstein Company have finally reached on agreement on Snowpiercer. The good news is that it appears the director's cut that Bong had been fighting for has been retained. The bad news is that depending on where you live, you may not get a chance to see it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Berlinale 2014: Overview - Strong Korean Lineup in Berlin

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and the 18th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Long recognized as one of the bastions of independent and foreign cinema, the Berlin International Film Festival, also known as the Berlinale, will kick off its 64th edition later today. Korean cinema has become an increasingly prominent fixture at the event and in recent years has featured in Berlinale lineups with anywhere up to a dozen titles. This year there will be seven Korean films on show, one short and six features, which is a little below average. Yet, in this writer's opinion, it is also one of Korea's strongest lineups to feature at the fest.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: Jang Joon-hwan Returns With Dark Thriller HWAYI: A MONSTER BOY

By Pierce Conran

Korean cinema has become known for its thrillers, and though the genre is one that is popular around the world, there is one particular take on the genre that Korea has excelled at: let's call it the emotional thriller. By blending thriller and action elements with melodrama, a cultural mainstay, the emotional thriller is something we come across time and again in Korean films. Characters in these films are often scarred by their pasts, which are invariably colored by events from Korea's dark contemporary history. Coinciding with narrative elements, these backstories invariably play a central role and prime the gears for enormous emotional releases in the final act.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: THE SUSPECT Eschews Drama for Action, and Lots of It

By Pierce Conran

Thinking back to Shiri (1999) and Secret Reunion (2010), North Korean spies have a history of success at the Korean box office. Local producers have been especially keen to capitalize on their appeal this year with no less than four big budget spy thrillers infiltrating screens. Of the three released to date, two of them (The Berlin File and Secretly Greatly) were big hits (around seven million admissions a piece) while last month's Commitment failed to generate much buzz (barely one million viewers). On Christmas Eve, The Suspect will bring its high-octane cocktail of action and intrigue to theaters, bringing the count to four.

News: Ha Ji-won Cast in Ha Jung-woo's CHRONICLE OF A BLOOD MERCHANT

By Pierce Conran

Before he makes a decision on his offer to potentially star alongside Lee Jung-jae and Jun Ji-hyun in Choi Dong-hoon's 30s-set blockbuster thriller Assassination, Ha Jung-woo is going to spend some time both before and behind the camera with his sophomore directing gig Chronicle a of Blood Merchant. Joining him in this adaptation of a 1995 novel by Chinese writer Yu Hua will be Ha Ji-won, the actress known for her spunky action roles in Duelist (2005) and Sector 7 (2011).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: THE SATELLITE GIRL AND MILK COW Shows Promise for Korean Animation

By Pierce Conran

There is no shortage of skilled animators in Korea but following the floundering of the local animation industry in the 1970s, most of that talent went into domestic TV production or were sucked into the outsourced contracts of far more lucrative foreign shows such as The Simpsons. Over the last few years, a handful of new feature animations have cropped up in Korean cinema and are serving as embers for what will hopefully become a full-fledged industry in the coming years. 2014 has a few Korean animations in store and the first of those to hit theaters will be The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, the feature-length debut of Jang Hyung-yun, who previously made a number of acclaimed shorts including A Coffee Vending Machine and Its Sword (2007).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Korean Box Office: MISS GRANNY, FROZEN Lead Korea's Biggest Weekend

By Pierce Conran

It was a huge weekend for theaters during this year's Lunar New Year, the biggest in fact, with around five million tickets sold. This was above the 3.5 million recording during last year's Lunar Year frame and significantly above the previous 4.5 million viewer record set during late summer last year when Snowpiercer and The Terror Live duked it out. What's more, a surprisingly close battle for first place took place as the two leading pictures swapped places a few times over the course of the week. With Lunar New Year falling on a Friday this year, the holiday stretched over Thursday to Saturday. Figures below are for the standard three-day frame.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

News: HAN GONG-JU Picks Up Yet Another Award in Rotterdam

By Pierce Conran

Following its debut at the Busan International Film Festival last October, Lee Su-jin's film Han Gong-ju has been blazing a trail on the international film festival circuit ever since. It's most recent win came last night at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it picked up the coveted Tiger Award. It is the fifth time a Korean film has picked up the prize in the last 18 years.

After picking up the Citizen Reviewers' and CGV Movie Collage Award in Busan, Lee's film went on to win a minor award at the Seoul Independent Film Festival and the Marrakesh International Film Festival's top prize, the Golden Star, in December. Han Gong-ju also screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival last month.