Saturday, January 31, 2015

Coming Attractions: THE AVIAN KIND is a Brooding Kind of Film Fowl

By Rex Baylon

Shin Youn-sik is back with a new film in February titled The Avian Kind. Over the last few years, Shin got quite a bit of attention for a pair of films that both premiered at the Busan Film Festival, the contemplative mystery drama The Russian Novel (2012) and the art-meets-life gangster picture Rough Play (2013).

New Korean Films: Trampled Flowers (2015 Week 4)

Shoot Me in the Heart
(내 심장을 쏴라)

By Fabien Schneider

Soo-Myung witnessed the traumatic experience of his mother’s suicide, and has since become a regular of a psychiatric hospital for the last six years. He has developed a form of schizophrenia, but he’s as honest as possible. One day, a new patient comes to share his room: Seung-Min is sound of mind, but has been sent here for no reason by some relatives of his. His only wish is to run away from this place as soon as possible.

Friday, January 30, 2015

News: All Aboard! SNOWPIERCER Spoof Coming This Year

By Pierce Conran

The most well known Korean film of the last few years is coming back to screens, reimagined as an erotic parody. Bong Man-dae, the director of Cinderella (2006) and Playboy Bong (2013), though most well known as a purveyor of softcore erotica, is turning Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer into Rice Cake Soup Train (Ddeok-gook-yeol-cha, 떡국열차). That title's a bit of a mouthful (sorry, had to do it) but it makes more sense in Korean. If and when they decide this could target a foreign audience, I'm sure they'll come up with something better.

Review: Stylish And Well Performed, SCARLET INNOCENCE Surprises And Delights

By Pierce Conran

Adapted from a Korean folk tale and starting off as a softly lensed romantic melodrama, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Scarlet Innocence, the latest work from noted visual stylist Yim Pil-sung, must be primed for a local audience. Yet this surprising genre-bending effort, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, holds off from showing its true colors until it has lulled you into a comfortable reverie. A successful exercise in subverting expectations, Scarlet Innocence may also prove a watershed moment for Yim, an acclaimed director whose high profile and gorgeously designed works have so far failed to translate into box office returns.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

News: BIFF Director Stays on, Censorship Concerns Linger

By Pierce Conran

Click here to read about the events leading up to this story.

It appears that Busan Film Festival director Lee Yong-kwan will not be leaving his post for the moment. Lee and BIFF executive programmer Kim Ji-seok met with Busan City mayor Suh Byung-soo and culture and tourism bureau director-general Kim Kwang-hee on Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: GYEONGJU, Not Just a Place But an Idea

By Rex Baylon

“You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

- Thomas Wolfe

News: Lotte Picks up TERMINATOR, Still No Release for MEMORIES OF THE SWORD

By Pierce Conran

In an unusual move, Paramount announced earlier this month that their summer tentpole Terminator: Genisys would not be distributed by their usual partner CJ Entertainment in Korea. That position has now been filled by Lotte Entertainment, which will release the film in July.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Coming Attractions: Can EMPIRE OF LUST Keep the Fires of the Period Drama Burning?

By Rex Baylon

The period drama boom in the Korean film industry seems to show no signs of abating as March will see the release of Empire of Lust, Ahn Sang-hoon's third feature after Arang (2006) and Blind (2011). The film stars Shin Ha-kyun (Save the Green Planet, 2003), playing Kim Min-jae, the supreme commander of the Joseon dynasty, Jang Hyuk (The Flu, 2013) as the king's son, and Kang Ha-neul (Mourning Grave) as Min-jae's hedonistic son.

News: Bong Joon-ho to Sit on Berlinale International Jury

By Pierce Conran

The Berlin International Film Festival just held a press conference to announced the full jury for the international competition of its 65th edition next month. Bong is also part of this year's Berlinale Talents, where he will give a talk on transnational filmmaking. His last film Snowpiercer was screened at Berlinale in 2014.

News: HAN GONG-JU Named Best Film by Korean Film Reporters Association

By Pierce Conran

Lee Su-jin's Han Gong-ju has been named the Best Korean Film of 2014 by the Korean Film Reporters Association. The group also voted the film's star, Chun Woo-hee, as last year's Best Actress, while veteran Choi Min-sik was deemed Best Actor for his performance in the record-breaking period smash Roaring Currents.

Monday, January 26, 2015

News: Busan Asks BIFF Director to Step Down, He Refuses (2nd UPDATE)

By Pierce Conran

2nd Update (01/27) - Though the basic facts remains the same (refer to the original post and 1st update below), here is some clarification on the current situation, as explained in a Screen Daily article:
  • Last Friday (January 23rd), BIFF Director Lee Yong-kwan met with Jung Gyung-jin, Busan's vice mayor for administrative affairs, and culture and tourism bureau director-general Kim Kwang-hee. Citing the poor results of a recent audit (which were not shared with Lee), they suggested he should step down. Lee inquired as to whether they were conveying Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo's opinion. They confirmed this to be the case.

Review: Straightforward Action in NO TEARS FOR THE DEAD

By Hieu Chau

Writer-director Lee Jeong-beom made a big splash in 2010 when his confidently made action feature The Man from Nowhere became a box office hit in South Korea. It made a believable action star out of its lead, Won Bin, and had an emotional core that helped it lean closer towards other, well-established action films of its ilk such as Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional (1994) or Tony Scott’s Man on Fire (2004). Lee follows a similar format with his newest ultraviolent follow up, No Tears for the Dead, which at times feels like it could have been another Tony Scott film.

Coming Attractions: A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION Leaves It Up To You

By Rex Baylon

Lee Kwang-kuk returns after a two year hiatus with his sophomore film A Matter of Interpretation. For those who might have forgotten, Lee spent his formative years as assistant director to festival darling Hong Sangsoo before finally debuting as director with 2012's Romance Joe.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reel Talk: GANGNAM BLUES and Korean Gangster Cinema

Every Friday I appear on a segment called Reel Talk for Arirang TV on the 2 o'clock news, mostly covering Korean cinema.

I've made no secret of my love for Yoo Ha's comeback Gangnam Blues (you can read MKC's review here) and this week on Reel Talk I took the opportunity to sing its praises and briefly look back over the rich history of Korean gangster cinema.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: GANGNAM BLUES, a Gorgeously Overwrought Gangster Classic in the Making

By Pierce Conran

Yoo Ha returns to gangster cinema and knocks it right out of the park with his latest, an evocative and immensely entertaining saga that pits a common tale of brotherhood and betrayal against a thrilling period setting mired in violence and corruption. Nine years after A Dirty Carnival, Yoo has maintained his knack for combining genre filmmaking and subtle symbolism, while also elevating his craft to encompass the full range of Korean cinema’s technical knowhow in Gangnam Blues.

Friday, January 23, 2015

News: Kino Lorber to Give US Viewers A HARD DAY

By Pierce Conran

One of last year's best Korean films, the thriller A Hard Day is finally going to find its way to American theaters after being picked up by Kino Lorber. The film will be released this summer before hitting the home market in autumn.

Discover a Wealth of Upcoming Korean Releases in MKC's New Database

It's taken some tinkering but, finally, we've finished the new Upcoming Releases page. While many excellent databases exist online with information on future Korean films, many are hard to navigate or far from comprehensive. We wanted to provide an easy to use resource listing all Korean films on the horizon and we believe we've been able to do that.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: THE ROYAL TAILOR Spins a Colorful Period Yarn

By Pierce Conran

Period dramas are all the rage in Korea at the moment, but while some have been setting records at the box office (such as Roaring Currents), not all have been successful. No film is a guaranteed hit but period productions are a costlier gamble than most and with those risks come certain strings. The Royal Tailor, a King’s court drama with a penchant for colorful fashion and plenty of humor, is a fine sophomore effort from Lee Won-suk, if one that feels bound by certain restrictions and obligations, particularly in its final act.

New Korean Films: At a Crossroads (2015 Week 3)

Gangnam Blues
(강남 1970)

By Fabien Schneider

In the 1970s, all eyes were turned towards the underprivileged neighborhood known today as Gangnam in the southern part of ever-sprawling Seoul. The prospect of the redevelopment of that area stirred up a hornet’s nest between the corrupted political authorities, real estate agencies and low-life gangsters. Jong-dae and Yong-gi are two orphans who ran away from their children's home where they met and since then struggle every day to survive in their shanty home. When their house is destroyed by mobsters, they get separated and take different paths. Three years later, Jong-dae has now settled down, living a quiet life with the family of his former boss, Kil-su. But this tranquility is put at risk when Madame Min, a real estate investor who has connections in political and media circles, is taking action to get all the rights over Gangnam’s territories. Jong-dae joins her in an attempt to enhance his life. Yong-ki, along with the most powerful gang of Seoul in which he became a highly-ranked goon, is going to fight back, and in the process will meet again his old friend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

News: Gong Yoo Joins Yeon Sang-ho's Live Action Zombie Thriller BUSAN-BOUND

By Pierce Conran

Yeon Sang-ho has come a long way in just a few years. After two highly acclaimed animations and another in post, the filmmaker will be making his live action debut this year, with the big-budget zombie thriller Busan-Bound. The Suspect's Gong Yoo has already confirmed his appearance, while Ma Dong-seok (One on One) looks set to sign on beside him.

Review: THE CON ARTISTS Aims Right Down the Middle and Is All the Better for It

By Pierce Conran

There are many things we demand from films, good stories, strong characters, style… the list goes on. However, more than everything else, there is one thing people clamor for the most, particularly in its absence: originality. We readily point out clichés and stereotypes and are quick to lament the prevalence of the done-to-death scenarios that litter today’s multiplexes. This applies to most films, but there are some, particularly within the heart of the mid-level commercial field, that can sometimes get away with it. The Con Artists, released last month, is such a film.

Coming Attractions: THE DEAL Offers Familiar Thrills

By Rex Baylon

First-time director Son Yong-ho will debut his film The Deal in March of this year. The film stars Kim Sang-kyung, Park Sung-woong, Kim Sung-kyun and Yoon Seung-ah in a story that revolves around a detective and a civilian who have had no prior connection to each other except for the fact that both men have lost loved ones at the hands of serial killer Kang-cheon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: CHRONICLE OF A BLOOD MERCHANT Favors Strong Cast Over Plot

By Pierce Conran

Outside of indie cinema, actors directing themselves in leading roles are quite rare in Korean films,  making Ha Jung-woo’s Chronicle of a Blood Merchant something of an oddity. One of the country’s biggest stars, Ha surrounds himself with a wealth of acting talent in an unassuming period-set comedy-drama that ultimately steers into histrionics. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

News: Seol Kyung-gu and Ko Soo Search for Clues in LUCID DREAM

By Pierce Conran

Seol Kyung-gu and Ko Soo are teaming for upcoming thriller Lucid Dream. From first time director Kim Joon-sung, the film will also star Kang Hye-jung. The story, if I understood it correctly, deals with a father who goes searching for his kidnapped child. He enlists the help of people who can find clues through lucid dreams.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: Meditative POHANG HARBOR Doesn't Quite Connect

By Pierce Conran

In a country with so many hardships out in the open and an unspoken swell of pain swirling just beneath the surface, there needs to be a release valve for the frustrations of ordinary citizens. In Korea, that role is often taken on by cinema.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

News: Jung Woo-sung to Hunt Monsters in New Period Film

In the midst of the incredible popularity of Korean period films, yet another production has been announced. Jung Woo-sung has boarded Jakseoui Byeon - Attack of the Water Monster (a literal translation of the Korean title). A Joseon Era creature feature, the film be helmed by Chaw (2009) director Shin Jung-won.

Friday, January 16, 2015

News: For Our Sins, D-WAR 2 Is Going into Production

I'll be honest, I haven't seen D-War (at least not all of it), but it's with a heavy heart that I tell you that Shim Hyung-rae will start filming a sequel to his much-maligned 2007 CGI dragon action film. Following casting, the film is set to go into production in May. The story will this time take place in 1969, as the US and Russia race for the first moon landing during the Cold War.

New Korean Films: Love is Overdue (2015 Week 2)

Love Forecast
(오늘의 연애)

Jun-su was once a young man who had just fallen in love with Hyeon-wu. They started to date, but he couldn’t work up the nerve to confess his love. His feelings have been stuck in his mind for a long time… Like, for a very long time. Eighteen years later, Jun-su now has a job as an elementary school teacher, but he still cannot make his relationships last longer than a few months. Part of the reason is that he still sees Hyeon-wu every day; they have meals together, go to the movies, hold hands, always rely on each other and even know the door codes of each other’s apartment. While Hyeon-wu’s rising popularity as a weathercaster makes her surrounded with suitors, Jun-su wishes to get out of the so-called “friend zone” and make his move.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

News: Chinese MISS GRANNY Set to Become Top Korean Film in China

In its first four days, 20, Once Again!, the Chinese version of Korean hit Miss Granny, topped China's box office with $19.9 million. Produced by CJ Entertainment, which was also responsible for last year's Korean version, the film's strong debut suggests that it will soon become the most successful Korean-produced film in China to date.

News: Rotterdam to Host 19 Korean Films

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is no stranger to Korean films but for their 44th edition, they've gone all out, programming 19 films across various sections. In addition to some of the latest Korean indie films, many from Busan, the festival has also announced a 12-title Jang Jin retrospective.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

News: ODE TO MY FATHER Joins the 10 Million Viewer Club

After four weeks, JK Youn's blockbuster melodrama Ode to My Father joined the 10 million viewer club last night. It is the 11th Korean film to do so at the local box office and the 14th overall. It's also the fourth film of 2014 to reach the mark (a record), along with Frozen, Roaring Currents and Interstellar, and the first time that a director has breached the barrier twice, since Youn's previously managed the feat with Haeundae in 2009.

Monday, January 12, 2015

23 Most Anticipated Korean Films of 2015

By Pierce Conran

Last year was a rough one for Korea's mainstream industry, at least creatively speaking. There were some big hits but not a lot of memorable fare, though the independent sector thrived. Thankfully, 2015 has a much more exciting lineup right off the bat. Major filmmakers like Park Chan-wook, Na Hong-jin, Ryoo Seung-wan, Im Sang-soo and Choi Dong-hoon are set to return and though period films and thrillers once again dominate, many upcoming projects feature promising combinations of talent and content.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

News: Oh Dal-soo is the 100 Million Viewer Man

We don't hear much news about Korea's wealth of talented supporting players but here's a nice little tidbit. Character actor Oh Dal-soo has become the first Korean actor to appear in films that have attracted over 100 million viewers at the local box office. Quite a feat in a country of 50 million people.

Friday, January 9, 2015

News: 6 Korean Films Headed to Göteborg

The film festival train is back in full swing and the Göteborg International Film Festival, one of the first major events of the year, revealed its 38th program, which kicks off on January 23rd. As always, there will be a strong Korean presence in Sweden with six titles in the lineup this year.

New Korean Films: Platonic Romance or Edonist Pleasure? (2015 Week 1)

by Fabien Schneider

After an excessively long break, I am pleased to announce that I am once again ready to make you discover every week the latest productions that find their way to South Korean theaters. Let me remind you the principle of this section: for each film I will briefly present the synopsis, then I will share my own commentary on the expectations that these films generate, the response of the public and critics, the way the film is promoted, and anything that might be relevant to assess the value (or lack thereof) of the film. It goes without saying that these comments are based solely on the information available at the time of writing. Of course, for the vast majority of these films, I would have not seen them before their theatrical release. Do not be surprised then if a movie that I would have viciously criticized turns out to be a wonder. So let's start this week with two very different movies.

Casa Amor: Exclusive for Ladies

Bo-hee is a business woman who places her career as the marketer of a toys’ brand before her family. Her husband is sexually frustrated, and his son feels abandoned. But following an unfortunate mistake during a presentation, she finds herself unemployed. As if it wasn’t enough to spoil her day, she comes back home only to find a note from her husband announcing their separation. Hopefully, she’ll attempt to retrieve her fortune by taking an unexpected job. Nan-hee owns a sex shop, and has become a true reference in matters of sex. According to her, the world is divided between women who take pleasure and those who don’t. But despite all her knowledge and experience, she still fails at selling her products. She decides to hire Bo-hee to promote her new line of “toys”.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: ODE TO MY FATHER Puts Blockbuster Spin On Melodrama

By Pierce Conran

Family takes centre stage in Ode to My Father, a new Korean melodrama that is every bit as bombastic as this year's naval battle hit Roaring Currents. Directed by JK Youn (Youn Je-kyun), whose last film Haeundae sauntered over the 10 million admissions barrier in 2009, this new epic drama proves to be an expert balance of scale and intimacy that will surely find a huge audience at home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Top 10 Korean Films of 2014

2014 was an interesting year for Korean cinema. From a financial standpoint, the industry remained strong and produced its most successful film of all time (Roaring Currents), even if sales weren't quite able to reach the peaks of the preceding two years. However, from a qualitative angle, the picture was far less rosy. Early in the year, studio slates looked promising but many of the finished products, while undeniably polished, felt overworked and lacked originality. This speaks to growing concerns over corporate influence in the industry's current creative streak. Some feel that talented and especially younger filmmakers aren't being afforded the freedom they used to.

Hong Sangsoo Taps Jung Jae-young, Kim Min-hee and More for 17th Film

Prolific auteur Hong Sangsoo is getting ready to shoot his 17th (as yet untitled) film this month after fixing his leading cast. Previous collaborators Jung Jae-young (Our Sunhi, 2013) and Yu Jun-sang (The Day He Arrives, 2011) will be joined by Hong first timers Kim Min-hee (Helpless, 2012) and Ko Ah-sung (Snowpiercer).