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.
You may have heard from various sources that in South-Korean society it’s not easy to build a strong relationship with someone. It is all the more true when that someone is of the opposite sex. As a friendship between a man and a woman gets stronger, it seems to inexorably develop into a romantic relationship. This may explain why being “just” a friend with Hyeon-wu seems to be such a pain for Jun-su, as their bonding is hardly acknowledged by their societal environment. Of course, this movie being a romantic comedy, you can bet that the two will eventually get a happy ending as a couple. Saying that this movie will be a success would be an understatement, as it is the very first one starring Lee Seung-gi, a very famous singer who broke through in 2004 and also conquered the TV screen with dramas such as Brilliant Legacy (2009), one of the most popular Korean dramas ever (the last episode reached a peak rating of 47%). At this point, it’s a wonder why he hadn’t been cast sooner for a feature film. And do you know who else played in that drama? None other than Moon Chae-won, who is the other star of this movie. So, here we are: two very famous drama actors meeting again for the first time since their most popular roles. As a matter of fact, the ticket reservations for this movie account for 25% of the whole sales, thus becoming first in the box-office. It’s not the first time that Park Jin-pyo directs a romantic movie, but one could hardly call them “comedies”. His debut, Too Young to Die (2002), showed the steamy passion between two widowers over 70, while You are my Sunshine (2005) dealt with the sensitive topics of farmers’ love life and HIV infection. He also directed one of my own favorite films, Voice of a Murderer (2007), with its shocking external story. Korean critics don’t seem so fond of the director’s depiction of love, but at this point this won’t have any serious impact of this CJ production’s success.
Watch the Korean trailer with English subtitles here.
Chronicle of a Blood Merchant
After the end of the Korean War, in the country-side, Heo Sam-gwan falls in love with the prettiest girl of his small village. Now married and settled down with his wife and their three sons, he struggles in order to offer them the best. But his work at a local factory doesn’t earn him a sufficient wage, so he turns to the local blood donation center as a way to complement his income. He will go on with this trick for eleven years, without even letting his family know. But his visits become more and more frequent, and some long forgotten secrets threaten to break the family.
Obviously the intent with this kind of story is to move the audience with a story of self-sacrifice. This is even made explicit in one of the poster’s catch lines: “A family story that draws laughs, tears and makes the nose run.” Ha Jung-woo, the director and leading actor, offers himself a tailor-made role by adapting the Chinese best-selling novel of the same title wrote by Yu Hua in 1995 and translated in English in 2003. Of course, the novel’s historical background was quite different from the one in South-Korea, what with the Cultural Revolution and the different ideologies of that time. How has the director translated the harsh description of the book is still to be seen, as the trailer seems more interested in showing a sad story than a political manifesto. Ha Jung-woo is a polyvalent actor who starred in art-house films as well as in blockbusters. I guess most of you know him from his roles in famous thrillers like The Yellow Sea (2010), Nameless Gangster (2011) and The Berlin File (2013). As for me, he’s an actor that I like a lot since his incredible performance in My Dear Enemy (2008). His wife in the movie is probably one of the best known actresses by Korean cinema lovers: Ha Ji-won. She has played in a lot of comedies and rom-com, but her more recent appearances have been in As One (2012) and The Huntresses (2013). With such a cast, the distributor Next Entertainment may reasonably expect a sound success in theaters. But there is a catch: there is already a tear-jerking family movie set at the very same period that is still performing oh so well one month after its release: Ode to my Father. Both movies benefit from a very wide distribution. So how can these two movies make a difference? The stats on Naver about the netizens who gave a rating to these movies show that both of them mainly attracted people in their twenties; but while Ode to my Father’s audience is mostly male, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant predominantly attracts a female audience. Is this Ha Jung-woo’s effect? In any case, that seems not to be enough to beat Ode to my Father, as it is currently ranking third in the box office, right below its forerunner.
Watch the Korean trailer here.
Torment in the Paradise
Choi Mi-ra is a woman in her late twenties who is concerned about the problems in the world and is losing confidence because of economic insecurity. One day, she suddenly feels the urge to embark on a boat, without even knowing its destination. The boat is actually delivering thirty thousand books to a small village on Jeju Island where a books charity fair is taking place. Despite spending her time on the boat talking with the many volunteers and sailors, she doesn’t yet know what to expect from this trip. But that’s not important, because whatever she does there, it’ll be her own personal journey to heal her mind. But when they arrive in the village, the road is blocked by police officers.
Despite the plot sounding like coming from a fiction, it’s actually an original travel documentary (called in Korean “The Travelog of Mira-cle”). The director, Heo Chul, already made a lot of documentaries and short movies in the USA before coming to South Korea. He has taught media studies in Korea University and also directed Ari Ari the Korean Cinema (2011), a documentary exploring the hectic history of Korean cinema and the personal struggle of various directors against political censorship or the harsh competition against US productions. So this is quite a departure as he now tackles what seems to be a very personal journey, but it may also have its say about some broader issues, like the social struggles in the country or the distress of the young graduates who have a hard time finding jobs. This film has been showcased at the Seoul Green Film Festival and is now self-distributed by the production company in a few theaters in Seoul, Busan, Daegu and Andong.
The Cat Funeral
Dong-hun and Jae-hee met while attending a friend’s wedding ceremony. Their relationship started in the best way possible, but they eventually broke up after some time. One year later, Dong-hun suddenly calls Jae-hee. Gureumi (“Cloud” in Korean), the young cat that they looked after while living together, has just passed away, and he would like to meet her again to hold a funeral. They decide to go on a two-day trip to the seaside, and as they look for a good place to bury their cat, they start to remember their relationship and what caused it to end, and even wondering if they could start it all over again.
This indie production is actually the adaptation of a popular webcomic by Writer Hong (nope, this is not a typo) published in 2009 on the web portal Daum.net. The premise is quite interesting for a romantic movie, as one can expect the absence of embellishment that has almost become mandatory in Korean love stories. It is the first feature for director Lee Jong-hoon, but the exposure of this film will be greatly enhanced by the charisma of Kangin, the male lead, who also happens to be a member of Super Junior. So, for those who don’t know who Super Junior are, let say that they’re the standard-bearer for the so-called “Korean Wave” that hit the world at the end of the last decade. It’s not his first experience on the silver screen, since he had already appeared in Attack on the Pin-Up Boys (2007) and Hello Schoolgirl (2008). Park Se-Young started a few years ago when she appeared in various dramas, but it’s only last year that she got starring roles in the movie Fashion King and the TV drama Glorious Day. It’s distributed by Indieplug, and will be opening in a decent amount of theaters, reaching most Korean cities.
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 Update, Korean 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.