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Friday, April 17, 2015

New Korean Films: People Who Lend a Hand (2015 Week 15)

Black Hand

By Fabien Schneider

Jung-Woo is a married man, but he also has a secret relationship with Yoo-gyeong, one of the doctors he’s working with in a hospital. He works there as a neurosurgeon, but also does research on bioengineering. One day, Yoo-gyeong gets her right hand cut off under strange circumstances. But thanks to Jung-Woo’s reflexes and his skills, he manages to do the operation to put it back on her arm. During the following days, while Yoo-gyeong seems to have perfectly recovered, she starts to lose her mind. When asked, she pretends that there is now someone else in her.

With such a pitch, you know exactly what you’ll get if you watch this film, you may even guess where this will eventually leads. There could be many social reasons for the lack of interest from the target audience; in my opinion, it’s bad timing to release a horror movie on the day of the commemorations in homage to the Sewol victims, because people would either want to watch a film that gives hope or just avoid any entertainment at all. Whatever the reasons are, the fact remains that less than 1% of total ticket orders are made for this film despite screenings planed in more than 130 theaters. Another horror film, the US production Ouija, barely fares better. And as if it wasn’t enough, the local critics don’t seem to be more enthusiastic. This outcome is quite surprising when you know that the male lead is none other than Kim Seong-su, a popular actor on the TV screen who was in the main cast of Full House (2006), one of the most popular TV dramas in South-Korea as well as in Asia. He shared once again the screen with the popular idol Rain in R2B: Return to Base (2012), the Korean “Top Gun”. Han Go-eun too is quite a popular actress of TV dramas who has been very active during the 2000s. The director, Park Jae-sik, is an experimented director in that genre. He co-directed and produced a few thriller and horror films before debuting as a full-fledged director with Loner (2008), and this is now his sophomore film.

The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol
(다이빙벨: 진실은 침몰하지 않습니다)

On April 16th of last year, the Sewol Ferry left Incheon with a lot of high school students on a trip to Jeju Island. Along the way, the ferry unexpectedly capsized for reasons that would be later revealed to be the result of a chain of misdeeds, incompetence, recklessness and corruption. Since the passengers were told to keep calm and to stay on board, most of them were trapped in the sinking ship. While the rescue efforts expected that air pockets would have kept alive some of the people trapped underwater, Lee Jong-in tried to give his help to the Coast Guards by letting them use the diving bell owned by his private company. But as the hours passed, the hopes to rescue any one from the ferry shrunk. There were 304 deaths. Despite the responsibilities on various levels for the many mistakes made that day, the attention of the press and the authorities turned to Lee Jong-in, whose efforts had been blocked by bureaucratic issues. This documentary tries to seek the truth in this complex situation and to discover what has been hidden from the public.

To say that this tragic event that shocked the country would still be an understatement. It sparked a political earthquake that caused the demission of the Prime Minister and raised again on the front pages the questions concerning the concessions made on safety for economic reasons, a strategy that’s so common among Korean industries and which has already caused too many disasters. Many people, especially the young ones of the age of these high school students, lost on that day their trust in the government. It’s difficult not to be passionate about such an incredible accident that should have never happened in a developed country, and thus these ardent opinions are also expressed toward this film. It was the most controversial film of last year: the one that made Busan City mayor abuse his authority to try to cancel the screenings at the Busan International Film Festival and to then ask the festival director to step down; the one that ultimately brought back the question of political censorship of the selections of films made by local film festivals; the one that sparked outrage from many right-wing groups who called it propaganda and manifested in front of the theaters. But director Lee Sang-ho is used to stirring up controversy. In 2005, he made headlines by revealing a scandal of corruption between a Samsung Group vice chairman and the right-wing presidential candidate for the 1997 elections. But since Lee Sang-ho made these claims by disclosing wiretapped recordings conducted by national intelligence agents, he was sentenced to six months in jail and a year of suspension from work, while no Samsung official was charged in the affair. This famous case is considered as one of the most severe attacks on the freedom of the press in South-Korea, and many journalists are still afraid of reporting a negative image of Samsung. Lee Sang-ho was also fired in 2013 after having tried to interview the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. So, back to this documentary: Lee Sang-ho has many haters among the partisans of the ruling party who won’t change their mind with his new coup. Only a few independent theaters will dare to screen this film during this rerelease, never mind the eventual backlash, whereas the multiplexes chains seem to whistle casually while looking the other way.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

Read our review. 

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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