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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

New Korean Films: Let's Make Up the Delay Part I (2015 Week 20-25)

After more than two months of silence, I'm finally back for more discussion about Korean films getting released every week. Since I've missed a lot of interesting films and that I couldn't make my mind to just resume my weekly article as if nothing happened, I've decided that it was better to still present every film released during that period and to add my usual commentary only for the most important of them. This is the first part, covering the films released between May 18th and June 21st, and you can read the second part here.


By Fabien Schneider

Jeong-cheol tries to make ends meets despite all the odds against him. He has to keep an eye on his mentally ill sister who wishes to leave for Seoul and he tries to fulfill his niece’s wish to play piano, while he’s not even sure to have a job to feed them and repair their house. When his coworkers suspect him when an associate runs off with the pay of everybody, Jeong-cheol offers them to take a job all together at a bean plantation.

Makgeolli Girls

Cho-rong is a high-school student who often arrives late and drunk at school. She’s not a lazy drunkard, but actually trying to take over her family business that happens to be brewing makgeolli, the famous Korean rice wine. As a way to make it profitable, she’s looking for brevetting a new recipe. One of her teachers grants her a special permission to sell alcohol at the market despite her being underage, while a contest challenges her and her friends to make the tastiest makgeolli.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

The Treacherous

Now that Prince Yeonsan is done with his killing rampage in his court in order to get revenge for his mother’s death, he’s thinking of bringing a lot of courtesans to his side. He asks his best friend, Im Soong-jae, now made retainer of the court, to scout the country in search of pretty women, even among married women and peasants. Soong-jae is saved one day by Dan-hee, who asks him in return to help her enter the royal court. Despite his rejection, she manages to make her way to the palace.

The dramatic tale of Prince Yeonsan is one of the most famous stories that have survived from the Joseon dynasty. Often compared to Hamlet, it’s one of those tales that are part of the common knowledge in Korea and therefore each cinematographic adaptation tries to offer an original vision in order to keep the story fresh. This one imagines what happened after the tragic events that set a very deleterious atmosphere among the nobles. The director, Min Kyu-dong, debuted with Memento Mori in 1999 and have since tried many other genres, like in 2012 with a romantic comedy called All About My Wife. With this court drama, he received moderate opinions from the press, but it seems to gather a lot of interest from the general audience. This could be in large part due to the casting of Ju Ji-hoon as the lead actor, who became very popular thanks to TV drama Goong in 2006 and is currently starring in a drama called Mask. The director had already worked with him on Antique (2008). With Lotte Entertainment as production company, this film will have a very expansive distribution, which seems to be justified as it’s already bound to the higher ranks of the box-office.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

The Coin Locker

Yeon cannot bear anymore the violent behavior of her husband, Sang-pil, who also has the habit to gamble all of their money. She then decides to flee to New-Zealand, but to do so she needs to get a lot of money. As she cannot take her son with her at her job, she puts him in a coin locker of a subway station.

Watch here the trailer in Korean.

The Shameless

Police detective Jae-gon is put under pressure and could do anything to catch a criminal who disappeared after his murder. Hye-kung, the girlfriend of the criminal, works now in a karaoke bar to pays her debt and is the only lead he has left. He decides to conceal his identity in order get hired by the bar and approach her. But he soon discovers that Hye-kyung has been suffering a lot since the dramatic event, and he slowly becomes infatuate with her.

What better way to start a theatrical run than being released only a few days after a world premiere at Cannes Film Festival? But it’s probably thanks to the notoriety of Jeon Do-yeon among the visitors of this festival, since she had been awarded Best Actress at this same festival in 2007 for her performance in Secret Sunshine and came back there in 2004 as a member of the jury. She played many films that have been widely discussed among Korean films aficionados, like My Dear Enemy (2008) and The Housemaid (2010), but have been recently off the radar, only appearing in forgettable films. Kim Nam-gil may not have the same glamor attached to his name, but he’s nonetheless a celebrity in Korea. In his best known work, the TV drama Queen Seondeok, which broadcasted in 2009 and reached as much as 45% of the audience nationwide, his popularity in his supporting role was such that the producers rewrote to script in order to feature him as the main male protagonist. Oh Seung-uk is another director who seems to have had a really hard time to make his sophomore feature film, as he debuted in 2000 with Kilimanjaro, another thriller. He took part before this in the scriptwriting of Green Fish (1997) and Christmas in August (1998). There have been many good opinions expressed by Korean critiques, especially for the two actors’ performances, while only a few papers have appeared outside of Korea. But we can still expect to see this film show up in many other festivals in the following months.

Read here our review.

Watch here the trailer in Korean.

Perfect Proposal
(은밀한 유혹)

Ji-yeon is stuck working a low-pay job at a bar in Macao, because her former business partner disappeared while leaving here a huge debt to pay off. One day, she meets a young man named Sung-yeol, who invites her to board on his yacht to fly away. But Seok-koo, Sung-yeol’s father, is also among the passengers.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

My Fair Wedding
(마이 페어 웨딩)

Film director Gwangsoo Kim Jho has proposed to his boyfriend after 9 years of relationship. But preparing for a public wedding ceremony brings its share of problems, like harsh comments from people around them or arguments. Even in the hall on the day of the ceremony, they have to do with verbal abuse. But they don’t care as long as they’re happy together.

Gwangsoo Kim Jho has produced some high-profile films but this is not what’s interesting now. Along with director Leesong Hee-il, he made in 2006 the first ever gay feature film of South-Korea : No Regret. He also directed short movies and a feature one that are all dealing with homosexuality and homophobia, based on his own observations and experiences. He’s one of the only persons in the film industry to have been vocal about his sexual orientation and decided to fight for the rights of LGBT community by organizing the public wedding ceremony that this film is about. His idea was to benefit of the lack of law in South Korea forbidding same-sex union, but due to the negative answer from the officials, he decided to bring this fight to the court. The final decision is eagerly awaited since this could create a precedent. This documentary has been directed by Jang Hee-sun, a fellow director from Young Films, the film company of which he’s the president. Jang Hee-sun is known for having been the first director award at the Women Film Festival in Seoul, and most of her short films have been dedicated to another sex-related fight : feminism. Because we live in such a “wonderful” world, this film has been targeted by a lot of homophobic netizens, but the best comment came from Song Gyeong-won, journalist at Cine 21, who said that it was no different than watching yet another video of a friend’s wedding, which is at the same time a negative statement about the interest of the film, but the best conclusion for the social claim it presents.

Watch here the trailer in Korean.

A Midsummer's Fantasia
(한여름의 판타지아)

In the first story, a Korean film director visits a small town in the Japanese countryside, in order to scout out locations and local stories for his next film. Along with him is his assistant director who does the interpretation between him and the locals. In the second story, we discover the film that resulted of these various encounters, as the assistant director and a civil servant of the town play respectively a tourist and a persimmon farmer bound by romance.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

The Silenced
(경성학교: 사라진 소녀들)

In 1938, Ju-ran is sent to a girl’s boarding school in the then Japanese-occupied Seoul. There, the students are completely cut off the outside world. But one day, a few students who presented strange symptoms suddenly disappeared. Ju-ran pretends to have seen them, but nobody, even the principal, takes her seriously. This is enough to make Ju-ran’s doubts grow bigger, but soon she discovers she has the same symptoms than the disappeared girls.

The Korean title Kyeongseong School : The Disappeared Girls is much more evocative. This is the much awaited third film of director Lee Hae-young. While his debut, Like A Virgin, came out in 2006, he had to wait until 2010 to make the forgettable Foxy Festival. But it seems that it was worth the wait : local critics have wrote positive articles about the mix of genres and the social thematic. In the lead role stars one of the most famous young actresses, Park Bo-young, who had been revealed by playing along Cha Tae-hyun in Scandal Makers (2008). She also helped A Werewolf boy (2012) to become one of the most successful Korean films of all times. And now, she’s becoming very active, with three films scheduled for this year, while also going back to the TV dramas after a seven years hiatus with Oh My Ghostess. There is no doubt that her popularity will make wonders for such a moderate-budget film. In the role of the principal, we’ll be able to see again the lead actress of Tale of Cinema (2005). The distribution, helmed by Lotte, will obviously be very efficient, so you can expect to see this films among the higher steps of the box-office.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

Angry Painter
(성난 화가)

A mysterious painter and a romantic driver chase devilish murderers at full speed to enact their own justice. One day, the driver meets Elbe, an attractive dancer from Estonia, but their love ends up in a fatal way for both of them because of the jealousy of an American soldier. The painter decides to bring Elbe’s ashes back to her country, but when he meets there by chance Elbe’s sister, Kristi, this journey takes a personal note.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

The Classified File

In Busan in 1978, a young girl from a wealthy family gets kidnapped. Her family asks specifically to a veteran detective, Gil-young, to find their daughter back, after consulting many fortunetellers. Among them, Jung-san is the only one who give them hope of seeing again Eun-ju alive and foretold that Gil-young would be the one who will find her. Gil-young agrees reluctantly on the condition that the investigation remains private. But this case is far from being an easy one, as the kidnapper apply a lot of care in not leaving tracks. With no lead in sight, Gil-young decides to work with Jung-san.

Kwak Kyung-taek is back after having pleased our tastes with Friend in 2001 and not really please them with its follow-up in 2013. Once again, the story takes place in Busan, but is this time based on a true event. An elementary school girl of a wealthy got kidnapped two times, and while the second case had been widely mediatized to the point that the then president had to intervene, the first one is much more obscure. This film is not without reminding us of another difficult crime affair that has been ported to the silver screen, Memories of Murder, and it seems to take after that one since the local critiques have been exceptionally positive. In the leading roles are two famous actors, the first one being Kim Yun-seok who got to be known as “that violent guy” in Haemoo (2014), The Thieves (2012) and Yellow Sea (2010), the second one being Yu Hae-jin, seen in The Unjust (2010). Both of them already played together in less grim films like Tazza: Hidden Card (2014) and Jeon Woochi (2009). The release is massive and will without any doubt help the film raise into the box-office.

Watch here the trailer in Korean.

Intimate Enemies
(나의 절친 악당들)

A car that was conveying a bag filled with money gets into an accident despite going alone on the street. Four people get their hands first on the wrecked car and decide to keep the secret and share their discovery. Among them is Jinu, who was tailing the car, and Nami, a truck driver. But the rightful owners of this money are after them, and while on the run they become closer. They decide that it’s now time to change the way it goes and to become the hunters.

After having spent many years exploring through slow-paced dramas the corruption of the mightier and richer strata of the Korean society, Im Sang-soo takes action in order to solve the problem once and for all, in the most violent form possible. This is quite a shock to see the name of the director of The Taste of Money (2012), The Housemaid (2010) and The President’s Last Bang (2005) attached to a high-octane action film. It’s all the more surprising that this project has been supervised by the Korean branch of 20th Century Forx, whose it's their third production in this country. With Ryoo Seung-bum (The Berlin File in 2013, The Unjust in 2010) as the male lead, the film sure is targeting at a younger audience. While Koh Joon-hee is far from having the same exposure, she’s an experimented supporting actress who finally gets a chance for an important leading role. Both actors had already played together in the first part of Doomsday Book. Despite the very massive distribution through the country and an intensive promotion, the film seems to raise little interest, which for such a production is like a condemnation. Reviews have been mixed, some enjoying the breeze of fresh air brought to Im Sang-soo’s filmography, while others are complaining about the substances being sacrificed for the style.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

Minority Opinion

In the sake of urban development, residents of a neighborhood are ordered to leave their home. But instead they get together to fight for their rights. The police is then sent to put an end to the demonstration, but this operation turns to the tragedy. The son of a protestor and a young police officer die in the operation. As the boy’s father is arrested for killing the policeman, he claims that he was merely protecting his son from getting beaten. The affair is brought to court to once and for all understand what really happened. Jin-won, the attorney appointed on this case, smells that something is fishy when he’s asked to give up the investigation.

And yet another film based on tragic yet true events, but the screenplay of this one remains fictive, as it takes its source from the homonym novel by Son A-ram that has been inspired by these events. It happened in 2009 right in the center of Seoul, in Yongsan, where 5 protestors and 1 officer lost their lives. So, while Northern Limit Line serves nationalistic intentions, the purpose of this one is to bring light on the problem of police abuse in the many evictions that precede the raising of shiny new buildings, and the attempt from the justice to cover them. There is already a documentary about the same events, Two Doors, by Kim Il-ran and Hong Ji-yoo. But by taking the fiction way, this film can denounce the system without specifically accusing any individual, in the same way that Unbowed (2012) was already tackling corruption in the justice institution. The leading role is taken by Yoon Kye-sang, former singer in the boys band God, who starred in Flying Boys (2004) and Poongsan (2011). He’s accompanied by a bunch of well-known actors, like Kim Ok-vin, Yu Hae-jin and Lee Kyoung-young. It’s the first time that the producer Kim Seong-je takes the directing role, his last production dating from 2002. He surely didn’t take an easy road to make his comeback with such a difficult subject, and he seems to have had a hard time finding a distributor, since this film has been completed already two years ago! But it seems to have been well worth the wait, since it will be projected on almost 400 screens across the country and has been praised by the critiques.

Watch here the trailer in Korean.

Northern Limit Line

On the 29th of June 2002, in the wake of the final of the World Cup hosted conjointly in South Korea and Japan, the Chamsuri 357, a South Korean patrol boat on the Yellow Sea, was doing its usual duty of keeping an eye on the Northern Limit Line. Among the crew were Captain Yoon Young-ha, Sergeant Han Sang-guk and Medic Park Dong-hyeok. In the morning, they suddenly spotted a North Korean patrol boat crossing the line, soon followed by a second one. In answer to the Chamsuri’s order to go back into their own waters, the North Korean vessels opened fire, thus starting one of the rare open battles since the armistice.

As a South Korean films aficionado, I’ve often been taunted from my entourage about North Korean films and their evident propaganda (go figure). To which I usually answer that every national films industry is somehow producing propaganda of the ideology of said nation, and that South Korea is no exception. This film could become one of the most blatant proof of that phenomenon, and the poster is a wonderful case study: the tagline says that while South Korea was already tainted in red on that day (referring to the Red Devils, the South Korean supporters during the World Cup, seen on the lower half of the poster), some people showed even much passion, which is to say the three main protagonists seen on the upper half (spoiler alert: they’ll all get to know a fatal end). That passion linking all of them is expressed through the national flag in the center. Don’t get me wrong: the people who died on that day deserve to me remembered properly, but I don’t see a bombastic dramatization of their lives as a proper way to pay respect. By doing this, they lose their respective personality to become defined and remembered only by the fact that they fell under the enemy’s attacks. This is far from being a humanist tale like JSA, in which soldiers from both sides would be represented as victims of a struggle between high-level powers. The North-Korean marines seem bound to remain invisible, a menace expressing itself only by means of bullets. Dramatic slow-motion, crying family members and bombastic music are to be expected in this production that didn’t really convince the critics. It’s a wonder how Kim Hak-soon, who only directed an intimate film, Rewind, in 2003, reappeared after so many years on such a big budget production. It will be available on more than a thousand screens in the country, and is already set to become one of the most successful film of Korean cinema.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

All About My Father
(욕정이 활활)

Three stories about fathers dealing with homosexuality. In the first story, a father discovers that he has feelings for his son. In the second one, a father and his son are attracted by the same man. In the last one, a father finds a gay magazine in his son’s stuffs, despite him being a kid.

Watch here the trailer in Korean.

Made in China
(메이드 인 차이나)

Chen, a Chinese man who makes his living by importing eels to South Korea gets his life turned upside down when the Korean authorities announce having found mercury in his fishes and thus ban him from trading them. The shock is so huge for Chen’s father than he succumb to a heart attack. Chen wants to prove that he did nothing wrong. He illegally goes to South Korea in order to ask for a reexamination of his case. It’s at the Food Administration that he meets a woman, Mi.

Watch here the trailer with English subtitles.

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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