Friday, February 27, 2015

New Korean Films: Wandering Souls (2015 Week 8)

By Fabien Schneider

Yes, I know, you must have been profoundly perturbed from waiting in vain for my column last week. But rest assured that this absence wasn't caused by my laziness, but was actually the result of an event that is quite rare: there simply was not a single Korean film released that week. No need to worry, the rhythm that you've been used to is back again with three new films gracing theaters this week, all of them independent productions.

The Avian Kind

Jeong-seok is a famous novelist who spent the last fifteen years exploring the most remote areas of the country, looking for his wife who disappeared suddenly without leaving any trace. His last book recalls the events he went through, which doesn’t go unnoticed. A mysterious woman contacts him on the pretense that she can help him in his quest, while a group of people who also saw their dear ones vanishing think that Jeong-seok is the most fitted to get them to the truth. All the clues put together seem to point toward a village. But what they will discover there goes beyond everything they could imagine.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL Is a Surreal Anti-War Drama

By Chris Horn

There is perhaps no region better suited to make a unique anti-war film than Korea, a country itself split and in a constant state of escalated threats of renewed warfare. Not quite content to make a film weighed down by excessive melodrama, new director Park Kwang-hyun made a splash in 2005 with his quirky, surreal adaptation of Jang Jin’s well-regarded play Welcome to Dongmakgol. Though imperfect, this feature film debut ultimately proves more memorable than most other anti-war films that pile on the misery.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Korean Box Office: Detectives and Spies Lead Lunar New Year Weekend (2015 WK 8)

By Pierce Conran

Business shot up 70% over last week, as 3.88 million holiday spectators flooded the theaters, however that figure was over a million lower than last year's Lunar New Year weekend. Granted it's not exactly as fair comparison as LNY itself fell on Friday in 2014 and fell just before the weekend this year. Against stiff competition from British films and foreign animation, local films barely maintained their market share with 50.2%.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: WAIKIKI BROTHERS, A True Korean Classic

By Pierce Conran

Yim Soonrye could lay claim to being the first female director to forge a lasting career in the Korean film industry. Indeed, she has one of the most varied filmographies among current filmmakers, yet ironically, or perhaps necessarily, she rose to prominence by making a pair of films that explored Korean masculinity far more successfully than the majority of her male contemporaries. 14 years on, her second feature Waikiki Brothers (2001) stands up as one of the best works of contemporary Korean cinema. Though the movement is generally considered to have ended with Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy in 1999, it’s also a film that could easily be included among the best of the Korean New Wave. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Coming Attractions: CHINATOWN to Battle In Theaters This April

By Rex Baylon

It seems that almost every trailer I write about ends up being an upcoming thriller or crime picture and this time is no different. Han Jun-hee, screenwriter for the 2013 thriller The Gifted Hands, debuts as director this April with Chinatown, or for people who've been paying attention, Coin Locker Girl. Starring Kim Hye-soo, of The Thieves (2012) fame, and Kim Go-eun, who you might remember from the erotic drama Eungyo (2012), Han's picture seems to be a gangster-cum-family melodrama with Kim Hye-soo playing a stern and powerful Chinatown gang boss and Kim Go-eun as her troubled adopted daughter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: THE KING AND THE CLOWN is a Bawdy, Heartfelt Period Classic

By Chris Horn

There’s no question that Korean period films have continued to increase in popularity in recent years as three of the top ten grossing Korean films by ticket admissions are set during the Joseon dynasty. As Korean studios allocate increasing resources to the next big period films they would do well to study Lee Joon-ik’s masterful The King and the Clown. Not only does Lee capture a thematically interesting story rounded out by compelling performances, but The King and the Clown is brilliant in its sympathetic look at all levels of Joseon society.

Reel Talk: The Thriving, Yet Embattled Korean Indie Scene

Every Friday I appear on a segment called Reel Talk for Arirang TV on the 2 o'clock news, mostly covering Korean cinema.

There's plenty to celebrate in Korea's contemporary indie scene, with fascinating new works appearing year-round and across the world's biggest festivals, yet few viewers in Korea are getting a chance to see them. In the most recent Reel Talk I preview a few of the films that will get limited runs in Korea soon as well as the challenges the industry faces.

Korean Box Office: DETECTIVE K 2 Opens Over Original (2015 WK 7)

By Pierce Conran

2.25 million spectators shuffled into theaters during the weekend before the Lunar New Year holiday, which was better than last week but still far behind the comparable weekend last year, when Frozen and Miss Granny led the market. Local films maintained a slim majority with a 50.7% screening share.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

News: Golden Bear for Korean Short HOSANNA

By Pierce Conran

For the second time in five years, a Korean film has walked away with the Berlin International Film Festival's Golden Bear for Short Film. Na Young-kil trumphed with Hosanna four years after brothers Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong took home the same award for Night Fishing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

News: Bae Doo-na Boards Omnibus THE ROMANTIC

By Pierce Conran

Bae Doo-na is close to signing on to what would be her first commercial Korean film since 2012's As One. The film in question is The Romantic, an omnibus drama in the same mould as Love Actually (2003).

New Korean Films: Smart Moustaches (2015 Week 6)

Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island
(조선명탐정 : 사라진 놉의 딸)

By Fabien Schneider

Two years after his investigation of a series of murders led to a conspiracy by government officials, Kim Min, the best detective in Joseon, has been sent to forced retirement on a remote island. The only people who still come to meet him are his partner in crime, Seo-pil, and a mysterious girl who desperately asks him to find her younger sister. Kim Min comes to hear a rumor about counterfeit silver ingots that have been spread in the country. That’s exactly what he needed to get back on track. He decides to escape from the island with the help of Seo-pil and to investigate the mystery of the silver ingots as well as the missing young girl. But as they delve deeper into these affairs, they constantly come across Hisako, a woman with an unknown background.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: Im Sang-soo's THE OLD GARDEN, A Heady Cocktail of Art, Ambition and History

By Pierce Conran

Ambition, artistry and Korea’s painful recent past combine to fascinating results in The Old Garden (2006), an impressive yet flawed work from director Im Sang-soo which frames the trauma of a nation through a brief, yet passionate romance.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

News: Choi Dong-hoon's Period-Thriller ASSASSINATION Wraps

By Pierce Conran

Choi Dong-hoon's much anticipated period action-thriller Assassination wrapped its shoot on January 31st in Paju, Korea, after having begun in Shanghai back on August 27th last year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: C'EST SI BON Trades Rich 60s Music Setting for Dull Romance

By Pierce Conran

A terrific period setting is squandered in the disappointing C'est si bon, a twee and lethargic romance masquerading as a dynamic folk music biopic. Programmed as one of this year's two major Lunar New Year holiday releases (the other being period action-comedy sequel Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island), Kim Hyun-seok's sixth film seeks to expand on the director's proven credentials in the rom-com field (Cyrano Agency, 2010) by enticing older viewers with music and period detail designed to evoked their youth.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Top 10 Korean Contenders for Cannes 2015

By Pierce Conran

Guessing what films might go to Cannes is a bit of a fool's errand, but as those go, it can be a fun one. Korea doesn't always get features selected (though it has its fair share of award wins) yet, in the months leading up to the fest, people in the local industry often like to speculate about what might make the lineup.

Review - DETECTIVE K: SECRET OF THE LOST ISLAND, Another Underwhelming Korean Period Action Comedy

By Pierce Conran

Detective Kim is back with his trusty sidekick Seo-pil in the follow up to 2011’s hit period action-comedy Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Widow. A hodgepodge of genres delivered at breakneck speed, this new instalment, subtitled Secret of the Lost Island, comes on the heels of a raft of period successes, and will again open during the busy Lunar New Year period.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Coming Attractions: SOCIALPHOBIA Logs on to Korean Screens This March

By Rex Baylon

I love a good mystery and Hong Seok-jae's feature debut Socialphobia, opening in Korean theaters on March 12, has it in spades. Centering on a couple of police cadets played by Byun Yo-han and Lee Joo-seung sniffing around for clues about an online user with the handle Re-Na who made waves by posting a vicious comment about a dead soldier. These wannabe Hardy Boys eventually track her down, but before they can wring an apology out of her they are shocked to find something else.

Review: THE CONTACT Provides a Glimpse of Romance at the Speed of the ‘90s

By Chris Horn

The romance genre is always teetering on the edge of a dangerous precipice: an original plot and strong chemistry between the leads are the essential yet often elusive elements of successful romance. In 1997, Jang Yoon-hyeon struck gold, courting both viewer and critical approval with his hit romance The Contact. While it has its share of self-indulgence, it ultimately deserves its reputation as a refreshing genre film.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Korean Box Office: Soft Opening for C'EST SI BON Ahead of Lunar New Year (2015 WK 6)

By Pierce Conran

In the warm up to holidays, 1.81 million people visited theaters as a Korean film reclaimed the top of the charts. Local films were dominant with 62% of the market.

Reel Talk: Korea's Lunar New Year Contenders

Every Friday I appear on a segment called Reel Talk for Arirang TV on the 2 o'clock news, mostly covering Korean cinema.

The Lunar New Year, one of Korea's major holidays, takes place next Thursday so local studios are pitting their biggest releases against each other to capitalize on the busy theatergoing period. This week I talked about this year's holiday releases, C'est si bon and Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island.

News: ODE TO MY FATHER Becomes 2nd Most Successful Korean Film of All Time

By Pierce Conran

Yesterday, JK Youn's Ode to My Father surpassed The Host (2006) and The Thieves (2012) to become the second most successful Korean film of all time. Still in third place on the charts in its eighth week, the blockbuster melodrama added 89,809 viewers on Saturday to bring its total to 13.02 million admissions ($92.16 million). Including foreign films, the film is in third place, behind Avatar's (2009) 13.62 million viewers.

News: GANGNAM BLUES Targets Lee Min-ho Fans with New Edit for China

By Pierce Conran

Yoo Ha's gangster epic Gangnam Blues will be released in China next month but local viewers will be treated to a different cut of the film. In order to capitalize on star Lee Min-ho's big fan base in the region, changes were made affecting his character.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Review: FUTURELESS THINGS, A Bright, Gleaming Comedy Well-Stocked With Laughs

By Rex Baylon

Towards the latter half of Kim Kyung-mook's Futureless Things, a niggling question kept popping into my head, "Why a convenience store? What makes a convenience store the perfect spot for this peculiar film?" I racked my brain trying to find an answer, hoping that maybe if I could discover the answer Kim's film might not be so muddled for me. Thinking about all the seemingly random events that transpired during the film's 105 minute runtime I came away with one thought: set anywhere else, this film, a not-so subtle commentary on the modern day South Korean psyche, would have been bogged down by a lot of dramatic cliches if it had been shot in an office, a classroom or even a cafe, in turn diluting a lot of the satire and replacing it with obtuse social commentary.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New Korean Films: Tellement bon! (2015 Week 5)

C'est si bon

By Fabien Schneider

At the end of the 60s, the “C’est si bon” music hall was the place where new trends in folk music were created. Every night, young people would gather there to discover the new hits of tomorrow, while many rookie artists would go on stage to put their songs to the test. Among them are Yoon Hyeong-Joo, “The Diabolic Sweet Voice”, and Song Chang-Sik, “The Gifted Musical Genius”, in competition with each other since the time they met. The manager of “C’est si bon” decides to introduce them with the trio that would take the name of his music hall. To fill the gap of the third musician, the producer hires Oh Geun-tae, a guy from Tongyeong, on the Southern coast, who has never played a guitar yet but has a wonderful baritone voice. Of course, the early days of this band are difficult, but when they all fall in love with Ja-young, they suddenly find the inspiration to write love songs.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

News: Record Sales & Slim Profits for Korean Film Industry in 2014

By Pierce Conran

South Korea's film industry topped the two trillion won mark for the first time in 2014, reaching 2.03 trillion won (USD 1.84 billion), which was a 7.6% improvement over the previous year. Growth was recorded overall in exhibition sales, the digital online market and overseas sales, yet within those figures Korean admissions, online streaming sales and film exports were all down. Worryingly, despite some record-breaking local hits, the return on investment rate for Korean films almost fell into negative figures.

Review: Grand and Mysterious, THE AVIAN KIND Soars

By Pierce Conran

A great many gems have emerged from the Korean independent scene of late, but some worry that the milieu lacks the unique voices that it used to cultivate 10 to 15 years ago. Director Shin Yeon-shick may already be on his fifth film, but with his latest work The Avian Kind, the filmmaker has positioned himself as a fresh and distinct voice, challenging the realist aesthetic that defines the contemporary indie field.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review: CASA AMOR: EXCLUSIVE FOR LADIES, But Really Just a Man's World

By Pierce Conran

Every so often, Korean cinema presents us with a new film, filled with the promise of titillating erotica. Invariably, these turn out to be rather chaste affairs and Casa Amor: Exclusive for Ladies (the original title of which is Working Girl, in English but spelt in Korean), proves to be no exception. However, stylish though it may be, this new work proves more egregious than most, as it hints at the freedom of female sexuality yet ultimately sinks into woefully patriarchal archetypes.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: The Past is Present in Lee Yoon-ki's THIS CHARMING GIRL

By Rex Baylon

We love to watch. It’s impossible to deny that fact as advances in technology has made people-watching a popular guilty pleasure. As more and more of our gadgets and software are built to not only connect everyone but also document every banal detail of our lives, it’s become quite easy to learn everything about someone without every meeting them face-to-face. In the realm of cinema, the concept of voyeurism has always been a popular topic for filmmakers. Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, the Maysles brothers, Michelangelo Antonioni, Michael Powell and many others have devoted entire films or, in rare cases, entire careers to utilizing voyeuristic techniques to arrive at some sort of truth.

News: MEMORIES OF MURDER Coming to the Small Screen

By Pierce Conran

It looks like Snowpiercer isn't the only Bong Joon-ho film getting the remake treatment. I don't normally cover TV news but I thought I'd make an exception for this. Considered by many to be one of the greatest Korean films of all time (it's my favorite), Memories of Murder is heading to the small screen in Korea as Signal.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Korean Box Office: Heroes Top Fathers and Gangsters (2015 WK 5)

By Pierce Conran

A Hollywood film topped the Korean box office for the first time in 2015 while a pair of Korean blockbusters battled for second place. Local films did hold a combined advantage though with a 55% market share in a weekend that saw 2.08 million spectators visit theaters.

Coming Attractions: GRANNY'S GOT TALENT's Schtick Ain't Ready For Television

By Rex Baylon

Bawdy Korean comedies more often than not fall on deaf ears when they reach foreign audiences and Shin Han-sol's new film Granny's Got Talent is no different. Structured on the thinnest of premises, a swearing contest that has drawn various foul-mouthed individuals to compete for the title of master of cursing.

Reel Talk: Busan City vs. Busan Film Festival

Every Friday I appear on a segment called Reel Talk for Arirang TV on the 2 o'clock news, mostly covering Korean cinema.

Just over a week ago, a controversy erupted when Busan City asked the director of the Busan International Film Festival to resign. Events have unfolded in quick fashion, and for this week's Reel Talk I talked about what has happened so far and the possible implications of the situation.