Monday, November 20, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: GLASS GARDEN, Spoiled yet Soiled by Ravishing Imagery


By Pierce Conran

One of Korea's foremost indie voices returns with a fable couched in verdant imagery but marred by a sense of deja vu. Shin Su-won's fourth feature Glass Garden, the opening film of this year's Busan International Film Festival, feels like a metaphorical anecdote winged with familiar side plots and stretched out to feature length.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

News: Actor Kim Joo-hyuk Dies in Traffic Accident


By Pierce Conran

It's with a heavy heart that we share the news of the untimely passing of actor Kim Joo-hyuk, who in a rich 20-year career appeared in works such as Singles, My Wife Got Married, The Truth Beneath and Yourself and Yours. He was just 45 years old.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

News: Hong Sangsoo and Kim Min-hee Start Filming 5th Collaboration


By Pierce Conran

Hong Sangsoo and Kim Min-hee are teaming up for the fifth time on a new project that began filming earlier this month. As usual their are no plot details for what is simply Hong Sangsoo's Untitled 22nd Project for now. The film comes amidst a busy year that saw Hong release three films, all with Kim, and will co-star Jung Jin-young (seen in Claire's Camera), Kwon Hae-hyo and Kim Sae-byuk (both in The Day After).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Short Watch: JOHNNYEXPRESS Delivers Devilishly Dark Laughs



Short Watch is a weekly feature dedicated to highlighting important short films from emerging and established filmmakers. Check back each Tuesday to watch a free and subtitled Korean short on MKC.

By Pierce Conran

This week on Short Watch, we invite you to check out the hilarious short animation JohnnyExpress. From director Kyungmin Woo, the tale involves a lazy intergalactic delivery man who causes quite a stir on his latest run.

Friday, September 8, 2017

News: Newcomer Jeon Jong-seo Cast in LEE Chang-dong's Murakami Adaptation BURNING

By Pierce Conran

Auditions appear to have wrapped up for Lee Chang-dong's sixth film Burning as it was announced today that newcomer Jeon Jong-seo will take on the lead female role in the adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story Barn Burning, originally published in The New Yorker.

Review: OPERATION CHROMITE, A Soulless, Calculated Cashgrab


By Pierce Conran

Summer in Korea guarantees a few things, hot humid days, the loud whir of cicadas and the guaranteed release of a jingoistic cashgrab. Recent summers have gifted us with Roaring Currents and Northern Limit Line and last year followed suit by treating us to Operation Chromite. Featuring a tacked on performance by global star Liam Neeson, this Korean War offering might have been more egregious had its clearly venal nature not been so readily apparent the moment the project was announced.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review: OUR LOVE STORY Offers Authentic, Modern and Compelling Romance


By Pierce Conran

2016 has seen Korean cinema make a big push to focus its narratives on characters from all walks of life, and particularly of different sexual orientations, with several major queer films bowing at festivals from Berlin to Busan. In between those events, one unassuming independent feature from a film school may have stolen the spotlight from the rest.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Short Watch: DEER FLOWER Will Bloom in Your Nightmares


Deer Flower from KANGMIN KIM on Vimeo.

Short Watch is a weekly feature dedicated to highlighting important short films from emerging and established filmmakers. Check back each Tuesday to watch a free and subtitled Korean short on MKC.

By Pierce Conran

Screened and awarded around the world since it debuted at Sundance last year, Kim Kang-min's deranged and remarkably original short animation Deer Flower deserves all the attention it has and continues to receive.

News: A TAXI DRIVER Enter Oscar Race and All Time Top 10 at Korean Box Office


By Pierce Conran

In addition to becoming the year's biggest film, Jang Hoon's Gwangju drama A Taxi Driver will now be hoping for Oscar glory as it has been selected as this year's Korean submission to the foreign language category of next year's Academy Awards. Meanwhile, the film overtook Taegugki to enter the all time top ten Korean films at the box office over the weekend. To date, the film has brought in 11.89 million viewers ($82.78 million).

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: MEMOIR OF A MURDERER Forgets to Untangle Its Intriguing Premise


By Pierce Conran

Just two weeks after V.I.P., Korean cinemas are getting another twist on the serial killer story with Won Shin-yeon’s new work Memoir of a Murderer, based on a 2013 novel by celebrated writer Kim Young-ha. Its name evokes the greatest Korean serial killer thriller of them all (though the Korean title actually translates to A Murderer’s Guide to Memorization), but this cat-and-mouse murder mystery and Alzheimer’s drama combo shares more in common with Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: TUNNEL Excavates Thrills, Drama and Politics Galore


By Pierce Conran

Last year's peak summer box office season wound down with Tunnel, a disaster film from A Hard Day (2014) director Kim Seong-hun. Featuring superstars Ha Jung-woo and Doona Bae in a powerful tale combining humanity and social commentary, this big-budget affair executes a effective two-handed play by suffusing its narrative with obvious melodramatic hooks while maintaining a restrained, clear focus throughout.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: THE NET Is a Simple Catch from Kim Ki-duk


By Pierce Conran

Complex issues get a facile treatment in The Net, the latest work from Korean provocateur Kim Ki-duk. More coherent than his last two outings but a far cry from his best work, Kim's film comes off as little more than a simplistic sermon brought to life through routine indie specs.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: THE AGE OF SHADOWS, Kim Jee-woon's Dazzling Period Spy Thriller


By Pierce Conran

Korean theatres have become inundated with films set during the Japanese Colonial period over the last few years but all are put to shame by The Age of Shadows, Kim Jee-woon's mesmerising return to home soil after directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand. The film also marks a strong start for Warner Brothers in the market, financing a Korean production for the first time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Short Watch: Neon Dreams of PLASTIC GIRLS


Plastic Girls from Nils Clauss on Vimeo.

Short Watch is a weekly feature dedicated to highlighting important short films from emerging and established filmmakers. Check back each Tuesday to watch a free and subtitled Korean short on MKC.

By Pierce Conran

Korea's problem with sex and sexuality has been explored by an enormous amount of artists in Korea, but never quite like in the dreamlike and powerful Plastic Girls. From Seoul-based German cinematographer and filmmaker Nils Clauss, this short takes a unique view of the objectification of the female form and explores a number of uniquely Korean spaces in the process.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: ASURA: THE CITY OF MADNESS Unleashes Unbridled Machismo in Brooding Noir


By Pierce Conran

It's a man's world in Asura: The City of Madness, and a rotten one at that. Cops, prosecutors and politicians jostle about with unbridled machismo in a noirish caricature of corruption in the latest thriller to balk at the irresponsible behaviour of Korea's power brokers, following Veteran, Inside Men and A Violent Prosecutor.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review: CLAIRE'S CAMERA, Hong Sangsoo's Low-Key Cannes Holiday


By Pierce Conran

Love him or hate him, Hong Sangsoo has been remarkably consistent with his films, which both offer viewers a familiar framework and new variations on his favorite themes. His 20th work Claire's Camera debuts this weekend as a Special Screening in the Cannes Film Festival, after shooting at the festival last year. The brief (68 minutes) film reunites him with his In Another Country (2012) star Isabelle Huppert and muse Kim Min-hee for the third time (with a fourth collaboration, The Day After, also premiering at Cannes in a few days in competition).

Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: THE TOOTH AND THE NAIL Does't Quite Scratch the Itch


By Rex Baylon

A fedora and trenchcoat, a beguiling femme fatale, a city in the throes of corruption. All elements of the film noir genre and all present in the picture The Tooth and the Nail. Adapted from a crime novel by Bill Ballinger, an author criminally unknown by mass audiences now but whose work from the early 50s till the late 70s had a marked influence on TV and the crime mystery genre. The Tooth and the Nail is pure period pulp. Helmed by one of the directors of the equally stylish period horror film Epitaph, Jung Sik later quit during post-production due to creative differences with the production company and was replaced by Kim Hwi, whose credits include a list of horror and suspense-thrillers (The Neighbors, The Chosen: Forbidden Cave).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: BAMSEOM PIRATES SEOUL INFERNO, Incendiary and Essential Viewing


By Pierce Conran

Four years after his sensational debut Non-Fiction Diary, director Jung Yoon-suk proves not only that he’s no fluke, but that he’s among the most exciting and visionary documentary filmmakers working in Asia today. An exhilarating exploration of the underground rock scene in Seoul while also a melancholic meditation on painful disillusionment in an arch-conservative Korean society, his latest work Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno is a music documentary unlike any you’ve seen before.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: THE TABLE Gathers Quartet of Superb Actresses in Elegant Drama


By Pierce Conran

Kim Jong-kwan assembles some of the finest actresses working in Korea today for his delightful new drama The Table. In some ways the Korean indie cousin of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, this elegant, delicate and humorous collection of four extended conversations works beautifully as a feature film, unlike the vast majority of omnibuses that are so popular in local cinema.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: THE PRISON Shackles Itself in Familiar Story


By Pierce Conran

The run of corruption thrillers that have proven so popular at the Korean box office of late shows no signs of abating with The Prison, which takes the same themes that have populated works such as Inside Men and Veteran, and applies them to the more intimate setting of a jail, which serves as a stand-in for society at large.

Monday, August 21, 2017

News: Will Steven Yeun Star in Lee Chang-dong's BURNING?


By Pierce Conran

Last week we finally got the news we'd all been waiting for when it was confirmed that Lee Chang-dong would finally be getting back behind the camera to shoot his next feature Burning, an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story. Now, with only a few weeks to go until its mid-September start date, news has broken that Walking Dead and Okja star Steven Yeun has been offered a lead role in the project.

Review: V.I.P. Is D.O.A.


By Pierce Conran

Following his period epic The Tiger, director Park Hoon-jung scales down his ambitions for the North Korea-themed investigative thriller V.I.P., a brooding procedural that lumbers its way through a serial killer tale mired in political intrigue. Much like his hit gangland opus New World, several (male) actors share top billing but each struggle in cliche-riddled roles.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

News: Song Kang-ho Drives into 10 Million Viewer Club for 3rd Time with A TAXI DRIVER


By Pierce Conran

Jang Hoon's Gwangju drama A Taxi Driver drove past the 10 million viewer mark ($69 million) this morning (August 20), on its 19th day of release. It's the 15th Korean film to do so (19th overall) and the only one this year.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

News: Fox Resuscitates A BITTERSWEET LIFE Remake with Michael B. Jordan


By Pierce Conran

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before but a remake of A Bittersweet Life is reportedly coming together at 20th Century Fox with Michael B. Jordan taking on Lee Byung-hun's classic gangster role and former animation director Jennifer Yuh Nelson filling Kim Jee-woon's shoes in what is tipped to be a franchise-starter.

Friday, August 18, 2017

News: Lee Chang-dong Gears Up to Film BURNING, Based on Murakami Short Story


By Pierce Conran

We haven't had a new Lee Chang-dong film since 2010's magnificent Poetry but we got our hopes up last year when his new project Burning was announced, only to have them savagely dashed when a copyright issue stalled the production. That snag has now been resolved and production is set to begin on his new film in the middle of September.

Review: OKJA Will Make You Jump for Joy and Burst into Tears


By Pierce Conran

An endearing family adventure, a bitter ecological plea and a rousing action film all rolled into one, Okja proves once more that Bong Joon Ho is a master of twisting something new out of the familiar. While Netflix's gamble screams to be seen on the big screen, this colorful fantasy should be warmly received by global subscribers when it goes live on June 28th.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: THE MIMIC, A Slick and Spirited Addition to K-Horror


By Pierce Conran

Four years after his strong debut Hide and Seek, director Huh Jung returns to a mid-August release date with his follow-up The Mimic. With better-than-average casting, this chilling and polished countryside take on a local urban legend may be the best Korean horror film in several years yet due to a problematic script it falls short of the genre’s heyday over a decade ago.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: ANARCHIST FROM COLONY Gets Lost on the Way Home


By Rex Baylon

Lee Joon-ik’s latest film Anarchist from Colony is a continuation of the director’s fascination with the grand events of Korean history. From King and Clown, a film about the relationship between a Joseon dynasty king and a troupe of street performers, to Blades of Blood, about a Zatoichi-esque character during the early days of the Imjin War, Lee has focused on the perspective of the marginalized. This continues with the story of Park Yeol, a Korean anarchist who had grand designs on killing the Japanese emperor Hirohito, all in the hopes of freeing Korea from Japanese control, but was arrested and tried for treason before he could put his plan into action.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: THE VILLAINESS Shoots and Chops Her Way to Bloody Revenge


By Pierce Conran

Korean action cinema bursts through to new horizons in the hyperkinetic pulp blade and bullet ballet The Villainess. Equal parts Kill Bill, Nikita, John Wick, Hardcore Henry and HK-era John Woo, the second film from Confession of Murder director Jung Byung-gil is an inspired but exhausting entry into this year's Midnight Screenings lineup at the Cannes Film Festival.

Monday, August 14, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: RYEOHAENG Casts Abstract Light on NK Refugees


By Pierce Conran

Director Im Heung-soon returns for his third feature, casting his artistic light on another under-served segment of the population with the documentary Ryeohaeng. Focusing on the lives of several female North Korean defectors in Korea, Im contrasts talking heads positioned in some unusual locations with dreamy reveries and musical sequences.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: THE FIRST LAP, Stellar Cast Warms Up Strong, Low-Key Drama


By Pierce Conran

Director Kim Dae-hwan builds on the strengths of his debut End of Winter with another character-driven drama dominated by family gatherings, long takes and strong performances. One of this year's Jeonju Cinema Projects, The First Lap debuted in Jeonju this past spring and is having its international premiere in the Filmmaker of the Present competition in Locarno.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: MIDNIGHT RUNNERS Reaches Finish Line with Gags, Brawls and Thrills


By Pierce Conran

Koala director Kim Joo-hwan graduates to commercial cinema in fine form with the entertaining youth cop comedy-thriller Midnight Runners. Featuring heartthrobs Park Seo-joon (Chronicles of Evil) and Kang Ha-neul (Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet) in roles that are equal parts cute and heroic, this slick bromance should prove particularly popular with young women at home.

Friday, August 11, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: SUDDENLY IN DARK NIGHT Goes Bump in All the Right Places


By Pierce Conran

From Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid in 1961 all the way to Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden last year, Korean cinema has delighted in torrid tales of disruptive house servants. Whether as a way to contrast social classes or explore illicit sexuality, it has remained a compelling source for bold filmmakers. Ko Young-nam’s 1981 erotic psychodrama Suddenly in Dark Night, though less complex than the aforementioned, is another fine example of the sub-genre.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: THE MERCILESS Punches Up Familiar Gangster Tale


By Pierce Conran

After helming a low-key music drama (The Beat Goes On) and a romantic comedy (Whatcha Wearin'?), director Byun Sung-hyun finally shows off what may be his true colors in the brash and confident half gangster thriller, half prison drama The Merciless, the second Korean film to be featured as a midnight screening in Cannes this year.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: COFFEE NOIR: BLACK BROWN Brews Fresh Prohibition Drama with a Bitter Kick


By Pierce Conran

An intriguing concept can be enough to pull you into a film but what keeps you there is a sense of purpose and steadfast execution. Korean indie Coffee Noir: Black Brown, the third film from emerging talent Jang Hyun-sang, which premiered last month in competition at Bucheon, delivers on all three counts. This delightful and odd prohibition drama is grounded by Jo Soo-hyang, whose performance remains unwavering, even when some of the story threads around her don’t quite mesh.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: THE DAY AFTER Offers Bitter Portrait of Infidelity


By Pierce Conran

Returning to black and white for the first time since The Day He Arrives (which screened in Un Certain Regard in 2011), Hong Sangsoo returns to the Cannes competition section with The Day After, a focused rumination on love and betrayal which is, much like his other 2017 films On the Beach at Night Alone and fellow Cannes-invitee Claire's Camera, an act of bitter self-reflection.

Monday, August 7, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: ROOM NO. 7 Gets A 6 At Best


By Pierce Conran

Following his acclaimed indie 10 Minutes, director Lee Yong-seung once again examines the plight of the working man in Korea with his commercial debut Room No. 7, which serves as the opening film of this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan). Shin Ha-kyun and new star Doh Kyung-soo partner up for the pressure cooker comedy with a hint of genre flair.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: REAL Makes Korean Noir Gloriously Camp, Weird and Amazing


By Pierce Conran

In the same week that a new release was embraced by the media (Bong Joon-ho's Okja), another was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. So strong was the vitriol for Real, a vehicle for Asian superstar heartthrob Kim Soo-hyun (Secretly Greatly), that lambasting it on social media quickly turned into a sport.

Friday, August 4, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: BEHIND THE DARK NIGHT Swedes Its Way to Victory


By Pierce Conran

Low-budget, semi-autobiographical indies about young men trying to make their feature film debuts have been done to death in Korea (Cheer Up Mr. Lee, We Will Be OK and Director's Cut come to mind), so expectations were muted for Behind the Dark Night, a new Korean competition film in BiFan this year. However, any negative assumptions were quickly dashed as this mockumentary of student filmmakers proved itself to be the most endearing debut to be seen in BiFan since Baek Sung-gi's riotous Super Virgin in 2012.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: A TAXI DRIVER Rolls Up to Korean History with Grace, Humor and Tears


By Pierce Conran

History and commerce combine to terrific effect in the protest drama A Taxi Driver. Song Kang-ho is remarkable in his second film with director Jang Hoon, following Secret Reunion, while German star Thomas Kretschmann delivers what is probably the best performance by a major western actor in a Korean film. Despite some slight overreach in its final act, this is Korean blockbuster drama done right.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: THE BATTLESHIP ISLAND, Impressive Action Torpedoed by Nationalism


By Pierce Conran

UPDATE (Aug 8): Following a rare change of heart after seeing the film a second time, I've decided to change my original star rating The Battleship Island. I can't say that my criticisms are any different, but watching the film without having to sort through the dense story and its characters allowed me to appreciate many of the film's impressive details.

Following a pair of blockbusters, action maestro Ryoo Seung-wan aims to outdo his past successes with The Battleship Island, the biggest Korean release of the year. Set on a Japanese labor camp island, this star-driven, big-budget period escape drama strives for greatness but falls short, with a harried narrative too consumed with nationalist sentiment. That said, a bombastic climax sees Ryoo and his team put their best feet (and fists) forward in an impressive display of choreography and staging.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: A SINGLE RIDER Subtly Ponders the Small Regrets of Life


By Pierce Conran

A few months after the explosive period spy thriller The Age of Shadows from genre maestro Kim Jee-woon, Warner Bros is back with its second Korean production A Single Rider. Though both films share star Lee Byung-hun, who appears as an extended cameo in Kim’s work, A Single Rider, from debut filmmaker Lee Zoo-yong, is a far smaller work with only a handful of characters and which is largely concerned the theme of regret.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: FABRICATED CITY, Mediocrity Hidden Behind Big-Budget Thrills


By Pierce Conran

Twelve years after the success of Korean War comedy-drama Welcome to Dongmakgol, director Park Kwang-hyun is finally back in theaters with the action-thriller Fabricated City. A tale of gamers and conspiracies in modern Seoul, Park's latest presents itself as a high concept twist on a familiar story but quickly abandons its ambitions and proceeds as a gratingly by-the-numbers effort.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Berlinale 2017 Review: ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE, Hong Sang-soo's Most Personal and Cruel Film to Date


By Pierce Conran

A new year has arrived and with it the challenge of reviewing a new work from Korea's arthouse darling Hong Sang-soo. On the Beach at Night Alone, which borrows its name from the title of a Walt Whitman poem and premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival, his third time there in competition after Night and Day and Nobody's Daughter Haewon, certainly does not depart in any significant way from the stylings and themes of his body of work to date.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: DONGJU: THE PORTRAIT OF A POET Offers Sober and Compelling Look at Korean History


By Pierce Conran

During the last year, the floodgates have opened for the Japanese Occupation Period in mainstream Korean cinema, yet The King and the Clown (2005) helmer Lee Joon-ik, arguably Korea's top purveyor of commercial period fare, has opted to tackle the period with his first ever indie film, and shot in black and white no less. A sober account of a difficult time in modern Korean history, Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet combines a young cast with a literary script, delivering one of the most unique Korean period films of recent memory.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: PANDORA Melds Melodrama and Fukushima Fears


By Pierce Conran

Though not a new phenomenon in Korean cinema, the disaster drama has been particularly popular in 2016 and just as we wind down the year the local industry is preparing to launch one final assault on multiplexes with the release of Park Jung-woo's nuclear-themed extravaganza Pandora. From the same studio that brought us Train to Busan and featuring both the director and star of the 2012 disaster hit Deranged, the film has plenty of pandemonium pedigree behind it and already has the distinction of being the first Korean film to ever pre-sell to global online streaming giant Netflix.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review: CONFIDENTIAL ASSIGNMENT, A Routine Action-Comedy for the Whole Family


By Pierce Conran

After taking a back seat to Joseon Era dramas and then Japanese Colonial Era films over the last few years, tales of North Korean spies are ramping up to make a big comeback on screens in 2017. The first of four big-budget Korean spy action-thrillers on the way, Confidential Assignment landed just in time for the busy Lunar New Year holiday and has proven to be another smash success for hit making production house JK Films. But like their previous efforts, the commercial calculation of this multi-genre gambit dilutes the effectiveness of its familiar moving pieces.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: THE KING, A Korean Scorsese Crime Saga


By Pierce Conran

Coming in the midst of an unprecedented political scandal and benefitting from a prime Lunar New Year holiday release date, prosecutor drama The King aims to be the first Korean hit of the year. A glossily entertaining saga with big stars, timely corruption themes and a boatload of Scorsese references, this fourth film from director Han Jae-rim aims for greatness until a finale that ultimately buckles under the weight of its own political ambitions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

31 Most Anticipated Korean Films of 2017


By Pierce Conran

After a stellar 2016, many are keen to see if Korean cinema can muster the same quality lineup in 2017. However, though I've highlighted a few more titles than last year, I'll say right now that this year is unlikely to rival the last, when we were treated to terrific new outings from Kim Jee-woon, Park Chan-woo and Na Hong-jin, among many other outstanding new discoveries.

That said, many interesting films are on the way and a few incoming trends are noticeable. This list is very subjective and omits many films that I'm personally not excited about or may not have heard of. As always, many of the year's best films will surely be independent productions that will remain off my radar until they secure festival premieres.

Some of you may have heard that Lee Chang-dong is making a new film, but I'm sorry to inform you that due to a large production snag, that project that may never come to life, so has been omitted here.

Enjoy and please let me know if I've missed anything and what you're most looking forward to this year!