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Monday, March 16, 2015

New Korean Films: Vengeful Society (2015 Week 10)

Socialphobia
(소셜포비아)


By Fabien Schneider

Ji-woong and Yong-min are two aspiring police officers who are soon going to take exams. When a mysterious “Re-na” leaves a spiteful comment on the Internet about the death of a soldier, they and seven friends decide to go on a vendetta against her. They soon discover who she is and where she lives. But when they go to her apartment to hold her accountable, what they discover is not a victim shamefully apologizing, but a woman who hanged herself. Since they’re now involved, Jin-woong and Yong-min decide to personally investigate what led her to her demise, as they are certain that things are not what they seem.

As far as I remember, this is the first time that a Korean film deals with this very important social phenomenon born with the rise of the Internet. It’s become common on Korean social networks to see self-proclaimed justice warriors expressing their own violence in operations of public shaming against anyone who exhibited a behavior seen as “inappropriate”. This people’s justice has already provoked too many deaths, and that doesn’t even take into account all the shattered lives. It’s not surprising to see such a contemporary subject coming from a young director. Hong Seok-jae, with the help of the prestigious Korean Academy of Film Art, has already accomplished a nice feat, since his film is unanimously recommended by local critics, something that barely any Korean film has managed to do in recent years. Obviously, it’s the unusual take (a cyber-investigation) on an original subject that they laud the most, but the actors too get their share of compliments. All of them have been known for independent films. The best known among them must be Lee Joo-seung, one of the two lead actors, who left a huge impression when he debuted in Members of a Funeral (2008). The good news about this film doesn’t stop here, as it’s currently on course for a rare success for an indie production: it’ll be screened in almost every city of the country, and its success in presales should guarantee a high rank at the box-office.

Read our review here.

The Deal
(살인의뢰)


Tae-soo is a veteran detective who gets to catch a serial killer, Kang-cheon, all thanks to a stroke of luck. But when both of them realize that his latest target was none other than Tae-soo’s younger sister, who disappeared on the same day, the balance of power shifts completely. Tae-soo begs Kang-cheon to tell him what has become of her, but Kang-cheon stays silent. Three years later, Tae-soo hears of someone in jail being after Kang-cheon and is puzzled about what to do with such information. At the same moment, Seung-hyun, whose wife has been killed by Kang-cheon, appears in front of the detective and presents him his meticulously planned vengeance.

It’s interesting to see that the plot of this film appears like an answer to Socialphobia: it’s alright to enact one’s own justice after all, as long as the criminal didn’t get what one feels he truly deserves. It’s important to remember that South-Korea is stuck in a paradoxical situation on the question of capital punishment. Even though there’s been a moratorium on executions since 1998, the death penalty still hasn’t been crossed off the constitution. And for every violent crime making headlines, they’re voices reigniting debates, calling for an end to the moratorium. It’s with this political conundrum as a background that this film gets released, and I can only hope that rookie director Son Yong-ho has interesting things to say. However, judging by local critics, the poor narration doesn't properly address these issues or convey emotions. The two mains characters are played by actors who have – let’s say – experience in the domain of serial killing and kidnapping. Everyone being a regular reader of this website must already know Kim Sang-gyeong as the young detective in Memories of Murder (2003), but he also investigated recently in Montage (2013). As for Kim Seong-gyun, he was a fearless killer in Neighbors (2012). The distribution is very important and shouldn’t spare any corner of the country, while the presales hint at first place in the box office.

Watch the Korean trailer here.


Watchtower
(망대)


In 2030, time travel will become a reality. But with it will appear a new array of social problems. A lot of people are ready to take the risk of going back in time just to see again the places and the people that are no more. The Korean government is concerned by these immigrants who illegally leave for the past and send a team of scouts to try to localize them. They learn about a watchtower in Chuncheon of 2013 that has become the hideout of many of these time immigrants.

Despite the plot suggesting a sci-fi thriller, this film is actually a documentary presenting in a very smart way the incessant urban development and the subsequent feeling of loss and nostalgia expressed by people. Chuncheon is the small capital city of the Gangwon province, located in the north of the country. The tower in question was built during the Japanese occupation, supposedly as a fire watch, and was one of the oldest buildings of the city. Among the ruins left by the Korean War, it stood as a landmark for the many people who lost their homes. Soon after, many refugees had gathered around it to form a village that got famous for having the narrowest street in Korea. Nobody really cared about this ugly building until 2013 when it was announced that the whole area would be demolished to make way for a new apartment complex. Moon Seung-wook, who is best known for his sci-fi feature Butterfly (2001), has not totally left behind fiction when he decided to make his first documentary. The sci-fi elements of his documentary allow him to take an original point of view, the one coming from the future, to make a stand about today’s philosophy of development. This film is made available in Seoul, Incheon and Deagu (not in Chuncheon, surprisingly) and also on VOD already, and has received very warm reviews from the audience.

Watch the Korean trailer here.



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