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Saturday, March 21, 2015

New Korean Films: Foreign Perfumes (2015 Week 11)

Mongolian Princess
(몽골리안 프린세스)

By Fabien Schneider

Dan-woo has lived 34 years without having a single girlfriend. The only experiences he has had came from the roles he played during his career as a film actor. One day, as he was watching the preview of his last movie, he meets a French writer, Elizabeth. Despite his clumsiness, they become attracted to each other and soon start a relationship that seems like a dream for him. But before they know it, tension arises between them. Dan-woo doesn’t want to leave that dream and decides to direct his own film.

You cannot find a more autobiographical film than this one: Jung Dan-woo is directing his debut film in which he also plays himself as the lead actor, and this seems to follow where the synopsis ends. This film being an attempt at portraying relationships without the usual glint of romanticism, one can wonder how far Jung Dan-woo is willing to take us into his own private life. This actor has appeared in many international films, like the Singaporean Crossings (2010) or the Portuguese One Way or Another (2012). As if to follow the thematic of the film, the distribution will be very intimate: only three theaters will screen it, all of them in Seoul and around.

Heartbreak Hotel
(태양을 쏴라)

John lives as an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles along with his friend Chen. One day, they meet the boss of a local gang who offers them some work. They enthusiastically accept, eager to leave their miserable life. When John goes to his boss’ jazz bar, he immediately falls in love with one of the singers, Sarah.

It’s not the first time that a Korean film has shot entirely in another country, but it’s still a feat to manage to do so, especially when there’s no such name as Park Chan-wook or Kim Ji-woon attached to the project. But Kim Tae-sik was already accustomed to working abroad, as he studied film in South Korea and Japan and also directed Tokyo Taxi (2009) and assisted on Kazoku Cinema (1998), two co-productions shot in Japan. But he’s still better remembered for his debut feature, Driving with My Wife’s Lover (2006). We know Kang Ji-hwan, the lead actor, for his impressive performance in Rough Cut (2008) but he actually started as a musical theater actor and became a true celebrity by starring in popular TV dramas like Hong Gil-dong in 2008 or Incarnation of Money in 2013. Park Jeong-min may be less renowned, but he too featured in a film acclaimed by critics, such as Bleak Night (2010). Last but not least, Yun Jin-seo has played in many films since her debut in the early 2000’s, but her most popular work remains The Fugitive: Plan B, one of the most successful dramas of 2010 that was also broadcast in Japan and Southeast Asia. So far, this film doesn’t seem to be attracting a lot of people, but it will still be available in a lot of theaters around the country.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Strangers on the Field
(그라운드의 이방인)

In 1982, just a few months before the establishment of professional baseball in South Korea, high schools were the closest you could get. The Phoenix Flag National High School Baseball Championship was the most popular event in sports. That year, a team composed of unknown players appeared on the field; they were the Zainichi Team, Koreans living in Japan, who had been invited in the championship. They managed to advance up to the final against Gunsan Commercial High School. Many years later, the former members of that team come back to the stadium where they shared these wonderful memories.

Baseball is like the national sport in South Korea and this passion is often expressed in theaters. There have already been a lot of films revolving around this sport, and there will be another one coming in two weeks. But what makes this one distinguish itself from the other ones is that it’s focused on a page of South Korean baseball history that is unknown even to Korean fans. The director, Kim Myeong-jun, tries to understand the reasons why this story is not only forgotten, but even avoided by Korean people. Zainichis are how the Japanese call the Koreans who moved to Japan during or before the Japanese occupation. They are not really favorably regarded in South Korea, and this is pointed out by the original term used for “strangers” (이방인) whose meaning is actually closer to “alien”. Kim Myeong-jun is born in South-Korea, but has been very interested by the life of the Zainichi for some time: his first film, Our School (2006), depicted the life of Zainichi students in a pro-North Korea school in Japan. The local critics are enthusiastic about this noble project, and noted that this film is an excellent representation of the life of Zanichis and of the Korean society of that time. This film will be screened in around 30 theaters, mainly in Seoul and other big 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 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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