Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: 1987: WHEN THE DAY COMES Offers Timely and Powerful History Lesson

By Pierce Conran

Save the Green Planet director Jang Joon-hwan mobilizes dozens of familiar faces, including The Chaser and The Yellow Sea stars Kim Yun-seok and Ha Jung-woo, for a weighty and powerful dramatization of the birth of Korean democracy. Following a slew of other politically-minded films, the sprawling protest drama 1987: When the Day Comes caps off what has been a tumultuous year for Korea that began with millions on the streets and resulted in the scandalous downfall of a polarizing head of state.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS, Ambitious Fantasy Epic Indulges in Cheesy Backdrops and Melodrama

By Pierce Conran

Riding in on a wave of curiosity and anticipation, popular webcomic adaptation Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, the opener of Korea's first simultaneously filmed two-part series, represents one of the biggest gambles in Korean film history. No Korean film has ever relied on so much VFX work and at a cost of roughly $36 million, failure would spell certain doom for the people behind it.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: STEEL RAIN, Bombastic Action-Drama Ponders Nuclear Armageddon

By Pierce Conran

The first of a trio of major end-of-year releases in Korea this winter, Steel Rain is the third North Korea-themed action-thriller of 2017 (following Confidential Assignment and V.I.P.) and easily its most bombastic. From The Attorney helmer Yang Woo-suk, who adapts his own webtoon of the same name, the threat of nuclear armageddon on the Korean peninsula has never been so great in a film that is as ambitious as it is disjointed. Leads Jung Woo-sung and Kwak Do-kwon reunite just over a year after Asura: The City of Madness.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Top 15 Korean Films of 2017

By Pierce Conran

Following what turned out to be one of the all-time best years of Korean cinema, 2017 had its work cut out for it, and, sure enough, it fell well short of 2016’s benchmark. Yet what could have been a placeholder year was saved by an array of important titles that signalled a changing current in the industry, particularly the mainstream.

Busan 2017 Review: ECOLOGY IN CONCRETE Explores the Heart of Modern Seoul

By Pierce Conran

Following her Talking Architect films, director Jeong Jae-eun once again explores the complicated systems behind Seoul's urban planning, a field which encompasses both fascinating sociological insights and frustrating political obstacles. In Jeong's hands, this exploration of the growth of Seoul's residential planning is enthralling yet the journey is at times difficult through its detailed mid-section, especially for those not familiar with the city's unique architectural landscape.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: OLD LOVE Mourns Life's Missed Opportunities

By Pierce Conran

20 years after his debut Motel Cactus, Park Ki-yong returns with his 8th feature Old Joy, a contemplative work that proves to be director's strongest since his early days as one of the pioneers of the nascent Korea indie filmmaking scene.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: ROMANS 8:37, a Difficult Theological Tale

By Pierce Conran

Writer-director Shin Yeon-shick returns to Busan for the fifth time with Romans 8:37, a thoughtful if not exactly thought-provoking theological tale of faith, suffering and coverups. Focusing exclusively on the complicated inner workings and relationships of a Korean church, this lengthy film will prove challenging for some viewers, particularly those outside the faith.

Busan 2017 Review: BUTTERFLY SLEEP Flutters Gracefully Over a Well-Worn Path

By Pierce Conran

It's been a full 12 years since director Jeong Jae-eun helmed a narrative feature and the Japan-set Butterfly Sleep is a welcome return, if not a patch on her 2001 debut Take Care of My Cat, still her best work.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: PARK HWA-YOUNG Lashes Out with Foul and Excessive Misery

By Pierce Conran

Among the dozens of local indie films that wind up at the Busan International Film Festival every year, a number tend to be dark social dramas that explore the worst aspects of society. Often set in winter (likely due to the festival's spring submission dates), they can make for heavy viewing but can also be extremely rewarding.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: HEART BLACKENED, Well-Acted SILENT WITNESS Remake Emits Cool Pulse

By Pierce Conran

Chinese court thriller Silent Witness gets a sober and effective Korean update with Heart Blackened, a polished new offering from Eungyo director Jung Ji-woo that features an unflappable Choi Min-sik leading a strong cast. More serious and thus more drawn out than its rapid fire original, the film packs a solid emotional punch in its twisty climax.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: METHOD Gets Booed Off the Stage

By Pierce Conran

Bang Eun-jin scales things down significantly for her fourth work, the theater world forbidden love story Method. Lacking any chemistry between its leads, this facile mirrored narrative proves to be Bang's least impressive work as it trudges through thinly drawn and tired themes.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: MICROHABITAT, a Poignant and Lively Debut

By Pierce Conran

Perhaps the most impressive Korean debut at Busan this year, the thoughtful and entertaining Microhabitat is a convincing showcase for star Esom and and an even more impressive calling card for director Jeon Go-woon, who becomes the first woman in the Gwanghwamun Cinema group to helm a feature, and her debut may well be the collective's best yet.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: MERMAID UNLIMITED Offers Limited Chuckles

By Pierce Conran

Indie filmmaker O Muel has been churning out films for around a decade on his native Jeju Island, which each explore the history and society of the popular getaway in different ways but always from the perspective of the local community. For the majority of his career he's vacillated between low-key, parochial comedies and more soberly artistic fare and with Mermaid Unlimited, following 2015's somewhat impenetrable art piece Eyelids, he's firmly back in the former camp, albeit with a little more social examination than his other light offerings.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: THE FORTRESS, Sublime Political Allegory Closes Its Doors to the Uninitiated

By Pierce Conran

One of the most impressive casts of the year lines up in the austere and languid period siege drama The Fortress. Led by Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yun-seok and Park Hae-il, performances are strong all around in this magnificently shot and movingly scored but admittedly unhurried meditation on the nature of duty and hierarchy in Korean society. Heavy on political metaphors, this powerful film has found favor with local critics but may prove difficult for the uninitiated.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: LAST CHILD, a Powerful Tale of Guilt and Grief

By Pierce Conran

Grief and guilt get a thorough review in Shin Dong-seok's debut film Last Child, one of three Korean films competing in this year's New Currents competition in Busan. A trio of powerful performances ground this emotionally gritty tale and lure us into a complex web of suffering but while the director for the most part avoids the overly depressing aura of similar stories, a shoddy climax undermines the measured work that precedes it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: I CAN SPEAK Should Keep It Down

By Pierce Conran

A pleasant comedy-drama makes way for bald-faced histrionics in Kim Hyun-seok's overly calculated new offering I Can Speak. Veteran name Na Moon-hee and younger star Lee Je-hoon are an engaging pair at the film's center but when the story's true intentions are revealed nothing is safe from the manipulative wrangling taking place behind the scenes, which seeks to elicit a strong emotional reaction from local viewers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: MISSING, a Compelling Women-Led Kidnap Drama

By Pierce Conran

The kidnap thriller is a popular genre in Korea but E.Oni's Missing proves to be a refreshing addition to the crowded genre, buoyed by a pair of fine performances by Uhm Ji-won and Gong Hyo-jin in a story forged by compelling and twisting themes of female identity and motherhood in a patriarchal society. The film ends on a slightly disappointing note with a soft climax but the buildup and characters make the journey there more than worthwhile during its svelte 100 minute running time.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: AFTER MY DEATH Breathlessly Ponders High School Suicide

By Pierce Conran

The New Currents competition gets a jolt of energy with Kim Ui-seok's livewire debut After My Death. Much like fellow competition title Last Child, the grief and guilt surrounding a high schooler's death also forms the crux of this film, but what separates them is a focus on the group rather than individual characters and punchier pacing that drives towards an intriguing finish.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: A SPECIAL LADY, the Wrong Kind of Remarkable

By Pierce Conran

Two years after Coin Locker Girl, Kim Hye-soo returns as a woman gang boss with a bold wig in Lee An-gyu's debut A Special Lady. Unfortunately, the freshness of her earlier gang saga makes way for an abundance of hollow flash in this tired and frustrating genre pic.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: HIT THE NIGHT Flips Genders in Talky Game of Cat and Mouse

By Pierce Conran

Following quickly on the heels of her surprising debut Bitch on the Beach, which bowed at the Seoul Independent Film Festival last year, Jeong Ga-young gets her first Busan berth with Hit the Night, which once again features the director in the lead as a curious, loquacious and sexually aggressive young woman.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: THE OUTLAWS, Familiar but Punchy Thriller Shows Us New Side of Seoul

By Pierce Conran

Buff and lovable star Ma Dong-seok takes on his best leading role to date in the gritty crime tale The Outlaws, which adds laughs and punch to a modest story framed around Chinese-Korean hoods and local law in a low-rent Seoul neighborhood. First time director Kang Yoon-sung keeps things simple and on-track but knows when to juice up the tempo to avoid any slack in this surprisingly effective Chuseok holiday offering.

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.