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 but an array of important titles that signaled 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.