Sunday, March 29, 2015

New Korean Films: First Steps (2015 Week 12)


By Fabien Schneider

Three friends are spending together the most confusing period of their lives, when they enter their twenties and are confronted with many opportunities but also struggles. Chi-ho is a popular guy who wishes he could live a life of excess without doing much. Dong-wu is a lively and strong man who never stops practicing to become a cartoonist. Gyeong-jae is an excellent student who has all the best qualifications to be employed by a major company but has a problem with alcohol.

This film doesn’t beat around the bush to appeal to the most important group of movie-goers in South-Korea: young people. Lee Byeong-hun, the director, has indeed had some experience in crowd-pleasing storytelling, as he participated in the screenwriting of highly-acclaimed films like Scandal Makers (2008) and Sunny (2011). He debuted as a director two years ago with Cheer Up Mr. Lee, a film about a young film director. But if this film is already bound to top the box office, this is mainly thanks to its cast almost exclusively composed of popular idols. At this point, this strategy to increase the potential audience is manifest. But it’s still quite a feat for an indie production to gather so many high-profile figures. Kim Woo-bin first started his career as a model before appearing in TV dramas; he gained popularity in 2013 with his roles in The Heirs, a drama, and in Friend: The Great Legacy, the sequel to Kwak Kyung-taek’s classic. He also became the host of M! Countdown, one of the most popular music programs, has been chosen by Calvin Klein as their first ever East Asian model. So, yeah, we can safely presume that his popularity will greatly benefit the film's success. Kang Ha-neul also appeared in the drama The Heirs, but more importantly starred in Misaeng (An Incomplete Life), a drama that became a cultural phenomenon during its broadcasting last fall. Lee Junho, the third main actor, is a member of 2PM, one of the most famous Korean boys-band abroad. As surprising as it may seem, local critics found out that there is an interesting film beyond the stars. According to them, the story is solid and nothing more, but the film is at its best when the actors come out with their smart and funny lines. This film will be heavily distributed throughout all of South-Korea.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Screenings with English subtitles: Lotte Cinema Hongdae in Seoul (Fri).
Screenings with Chinese subtitles: Lotte Cinema Avenuel in Seoul (Fri, Sat & Sun), and Lotte Cinema in Jeju (Fri, Mon & Tue)

The Trip Around The World

Ji-ho is a 9-year-old girl who often scolds others and is always busy at home taking care of her little brother, Seon-ho, a 7-year-old reckless boy who has learned too fast how the world works. One day, they get a call from the police. Their eccentric father, who has been in a hopeless hunt after the driver who killed their mother, is now in danger. They decide to take on a journey that will make them go through the suburbs of Seoul. But since they’ve lost their wallet, they soon resolve to walk instead of taking the subway and meet a friendly gangster who offers to help them.

This film seems to come from a long way, since its shooting wrapped in 2012 and it’s only now that we finally have the occasion to watch it. It hasn’t even been showcased at a film festival yet. Its director, Lee Hang-Bae, debuted in 2006 with a big production, Monopoly, only to disappear all these years until now. This film features two star children, Park Ha-young and Goo Seung-hyun, who have already appeared in many TV dramas and films. But it’s the first time that they take upon their shoulders alone a whole film. It will be screened in the major cities of the country, and the only critics I could find so far are quite negative, blaming a very poor story.

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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