Monday, November 2, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: STEEL RAIN 2: SUMMIT Dives into Thrilling and Surprisingly Funny Geopolitical Waters



Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Released three years, ago, the geopolitical action-thriller Steel Rain (2017) was a solid success on the charts but one that was completely overshadowed by two films that hit theaters within a fortnight of its release, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and 1987: When the Day Comes. Given its closed narrative and what was a positive but muted reception, it hardly seemed a likely candidate for the sequel treatment, still a rarity in the Korean film industry. Yet, three years later that’s exactly what we got, but what’s even more surprising is that despite returning with the same director, stars and theme, Steel Rain 2: Summit completely reinvents itself and manages to surpass its predecessor in almost every way.

Busan 2020 Review: SELF-PORTRAIT 2020, Long yet Riveting Odyssey of a Drunk Savant

Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

I’ll admit I went into Self-Portrait 2020 with a fair amount of trepidation. Here is a nearly three-hour documentary that follows a man who has given up on life, turned to the bottle and now roams the streets of Central Seoul, drunkenly rambling about whatever strikes his fancy. Little did I know what a fascinating journey I was about to embark upon. This sophomore feature effort from young non-fiction filmmaker Lee Dong-woo is overlong to be sure, but it’s also a rich portrait of a confounding individual and the surprising and alarming path his life has taken.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: LIMECRIME Tunes Up Coming-of-Age Drama with Sick Beats


Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Sometimes all you need is a beat and a rhyme. Based on the past experiences of its first time directors, Limecrime is a winning coming-of-age drama that largely sticks to the basics as it confidently explores a youth underground hip hop scene. Measured performances and rhythmic rap scenes allow it to overcome its more prosaic elements, such as a tepidly explored class divide.

Busan 2020 Review: SNOWBALL Gently Strikes with Familiar but Well-Told Tale


Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

A wide variety of films find their way to the Busan Film Festival every year but one thing you can always count on is the polished, youth-driven social indie that has become the de facto Korean indie template, at least on this side of Hong Sang-soo. Joining the likes of Bleak Night (2010), Han Gong-ju (2013), House of Hummingbird (2018) and countless others is Snowball, the teen runaway drama debut of director Lee Won-jung, which is screening in the New Currents competition this year.

Busan 2020 Review: DELIVER US FROM EVIL, A Slick and Undemanding Action-Thriller Romp



Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

It’s hard being an assassin, especially when you take your work home with you. Even more so when that work turns out to be the psycho brother of your last target, who’s chased you to a foreign country where you’re trying to retrieve your ex-lover’s kidnapped daughter. This concept, which combines elements of Leon, Taken and Korea’s The Man from Nowhere (2010), itself a mashup of those earlier Hollywood films, is about all the plot you need to known about the slick Korean action-thriller Deliver Us from Evil. If that’s not much to go on, tough, cause that’s really all there is to it.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: SPEED OF HAPPINESS Delivers Soothing Snapshot of a Unique Profession



Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Documentary filmmaker Park Hyuck-jee, known for the charming documentary With or Without You, is back with his latest non-fiction work, his first to be invited to Busan. Set in the mountainous Oze region of Central Japan, the pleasurable and satisfying Speed of Happiness explores an unusual profession and the hardy folks who make their living from it.

Busan 2020 Review: FIGHTER, Compelling Character Study Pulls Its Punches



Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

After opening the festival in 2018 with Beautiful Days, director Jero Yun returned to Busan this year with his second narrative feature Fighter, which once again focuses on a North Korean defector’s difficult experience adjusting in Korea and how it tears apart her family. As a sports film and a social drama, Yun’s latest is a by the numbers affair, but it succeeds as a character study, largely thanks to Lim Seong-mi’s formidable lead performance. Yun actually had two films at the festival this year, along with the documentary Song Hae 1927.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: A LEAVE, Responsibilities Clash in Compelling Character Study



Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Given that it successfully ousted a president after months of mass protests, which peaked with well over two million participants, it should perhaps come as little surprise that Korea is a country where protesting is widespread. For many it's an entrenched weekly hobby, but for some it's a way of life, though one that some may feel was forced on them.

Protests are a prominent theme among the local films at the Busan International Film Festival this year, and one of the most interesting among those is the New Currents competition title A Leave, which would make a fascinating pairing with the documentary Sister J, screening in the Wide Angle section this year. This debut from director Lee Ran-hee provides a compelling and complex character study of a man who feels shackled to his responsibilities as a social activist and struggles to reconcile them with his personal responsibilities as a father.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: VESTIGE Ponders the Ineffable with Grace and Mystery



Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Two Korean masters of arthouse cinema join forces for one of Busan's most intriguing offerings this year. Commissioned by the Muju Film Festival, Vestige features two mid-length films from Kim Jong-kwan (Worst Woman, 2016) and Jang Kun-jae (A Midsummer's Fantasia, 2014), which both deal with death and the afterlife in lyrical and understated ways. Though this light brush with horror is new territory for them, both directors retain elements of their trademark styles, while also hinting at new stylistic directions in their work.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: YOUNG ADULT MATTERS, An Explosive and Frequently Engrossing Runaway Teen Drama


Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran


Three years after his abrasive debut Park Hwa-young (2017), director Lee Hwan returns to Busan with Young Adult Matters, an intense and frequently engrossing follow-up set in the same world of foul-mouthed, unpredictable and violent runaway teens. While it inherits many of the same problems that plagued his first effort (at least for this reviewer), Lee has grown in leaps and bounds as a stylist and crafted something fresh and vibrant, while lead Lee Yoo-ri - reprising her supporting role from Lee’s earlier film - is manic and magnetic as a character that could easily be at home in a Tetsuya Nakashima film.