Showing posts with label 2011. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2011. Show all posts

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Review: The Philosophical Mystery A FISH

By Pierce Conran

Independent cinema in Korea has been gaining a lot of steam over the last few years, and now, as filmmakers become bolder or seek to distinguish themselves from the pack, stories are becoming more ambitious and the technical tools used to tell them more sophisticated. Case in point is A Fish, an elliptical shaman mystery shot in 3D. Unlike what we’ve come to expect from the format, this is a far cry from big-budget spectacle. It’s a slow art film with a metaphorical and sometimes impenetrable narrative.

A bold and ambitious debut, Park Hong-min’s A Fish is a challenging work that is certain to infuriate just as many viewers as it may enchant. I won’t pretend to have understood it particularly well, but I can say that I was swept up in the strange world it conjured up on a remote Korean island, full of intrigue, spirituality and unanswered questions. Many times I found myself drawing comparisons to David Lynch, whose dream-like narratives have long fascinated and delighted me. But Park’s film is no mere copy: it is a singular work from an exciting new talent in the field.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Interview: Director Kong Quee-hyun (U.F.O.) Discusses Stress and Student Life in Korea

Kong Quee-hyun directed his debut U.F.O. last year. His film premiered at the Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and following a run in Korean theaters earlier this year, the young filmmaker is now getting ready for his next project.

He took the time to talk to MKC about student life in Korea and the realities of low-budget filmmaking in the local industry.

U.F.O. originally featured at last year’s PiFan (Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival) and was eventually released in Korea this May. How did Indiestory, your distributor, come aboard?

I won the CGV movie collage award at the Cinema Digital Seoul film festival, which was the film’s second event. This is a $10,000 cash prize to support the distribution of an independent film. Indiestory saw the film and expressed their interest then which is how they became involved.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - Pink (핑크, Pingkeu) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

The passage of time affects us all in certain ways, our experiences and our memories all take on different forms after we’ve lived them and they leave behind a trace.  This imprint can be faint and slip through our conscious memory just as it can leave an indelible mark, a scar that bears the weight of its genesis.  Most things change with the passage of time but some do not and Jeon Soo-il’s new feature Pink is a dirge to the intransigence of the roots of our defining characteristics.

Jeon, who hails from Korea’s vibrant port city Busan, is a fiercely artistic filmmaker who has quietly been making films for the past 15 years.  While respected within the filmmaking community, Jeon has never attracted anywhere near the same level of international reputation as his arthouse contemporaries, such as Hong Sang-soo (The Day He Arrives, 2011), Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring, 2003) and Lee Chang-dong (Poetry, 2010).  His films are slow, deliberate and difficult and though they are successful on the festival circuit (he has won awards at Fribourg, Busan and Venice), a larger audience may never gravitate towards his oeuvre.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - Ideological Barriers and Invisible Borders in Poongsan (풍산개, Poongsangae) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

Kim Ki-duk is one of the filmmakers who initially drew me to Korean cinema.  The first film of his I saw was The Isle (2000), which was, in a French DVD edition, packaged together with Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (1999).  While the films may have been very different they were also a fantastic double bill that complemented each other in many ways.  I wasn’t as shocked by the violence as I may have been because I had already seen Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and before dipping into Korean cinema, had more or less exhausted Takashi Miike’s catalogue up until that point (around 2003).

Park’s film, while harrowing, was a pure piece of cinema brimming with adrenaline and the pure pleasure of filmmaking.  Lee’s poignant drama was elegant, realistic, literary, and propelled by social issues and recent Korean history.  Kim’s effort was slow and laconic, it was violent while at the same time elegiac.  The Isle had an artist’s touch and was unlike anything I’d seen before, just as the previous two films were.  Indeed I was very lucky to have selected the three Korean films that I did as my introduction to the nation’s cinema, the hooks were in deep from the start.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - Blind (블라인드, Beulraindeu) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

First impressions are important and as film viewers we are particularly prone to making rash decisions based upon the opening moments of anything we watch.  This is perhaps even more important in this day and age as multimedia is so readily accessible.  Our already short attention spans are dwindling ever further as we can easily switch between TV channels, on demand, stored digital, and portable media.  Those first few minutes of a film can dispense a large volume of information but even so, they cannot always prepare you for what you are going to see.  Opening scenes are important but not every kind of film can benefit from a flashy beginning.

One of this year’s most successful Korean films, Blind does not get off to the greatest start and blunders on through the first act with heavy feet, trampling through the early stages of the plot.  Subtlety is not the film’s strong suit and the quicker this is accepted, the better.  Once I got used to the heavy-handedness of the proceedings I was able to enjoy myself but the film walks a dangerous line from the start.  It doesn’t really announce itself properly and seems like a relatively sober affair at first, it is only as it continues in unsubtle fashion and when things become even more ridiculous that you begin to understand the intent of the film, which is to be a trashy and entertaining potboiler.  It does succeed on that last count, but it takes a while to get there and is not without its fair share of problems.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

U.F.O. (2011)

One of the recurring motifs in Korean cinema is the representation of repressed trauma. Whether as a lazy deus ex machina in a rote romcom or the underlying social agenda of an auteurist prestige pic, it never seems to be far from the surface. It’s prevalence in the country’s film industry is in itself an indication of just how important it is. Having been subjected to numerous colonizations and following decades of inequity at the hands of local autocratic governments, Korea is no stranger to psychological wounds and dark memories. However, as the country finally moved into the light, slowly but surely, following the end of Chung Doo-hwan’s administration in 1988, this trauma has been relegated to the basement. But then, why shouldn’t this be the case?

We all have memories we would rather forget but rather than a few isolated instances, Koreans have had whole generations that still haunt them. The need to forget is potent and has almost become a collective requirement of Korean society. Of course none of it can truly be forgotten and the past is constantly alluded to, if rarely overtly. Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003), as a heavily cited example, was a breathtakingly complex work that encompassed the collective repression of a nation’s trauma, but it did so in the guise a serial killer genre piece. The fact that five million people saw it is also a testament to the need for these subtle acts of mnemonic cleansing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Interview: 'Blood Fight in Iron-Rock Valley' Director Ji Ha-jean

An in-depth interview with Ji Ha-jean, the up-and-coming director behind the award-winning low-budget western Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley (2011), last year's PiFan winner for Best Asian Genre Film.

Interpreted by Kim Nemo

Bloody Fight references many classic westerns. What drew you to this genre in the first place?

The two most important references were Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) and the second in Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy, A Few Dollars More (1965). Inside the film there are thousands of other references, such as Shane (1953), The Man From Laramie (1955) and Robert Aldrich’s Apache (1954).

What were your hopes as you embarked on making a Korean western?

I produced the film as well as directing it and even by independent film standards it had an extremely low budget ($40,000). Filmmakers with that kind of budget usually try to make experimental or dramatic films but I’m a real fan of the western genre and another aim of mine is to become a commercial film director. So I was wondering how I might be able to combine these two aims.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

PiFan 2012: The Heineken Kidnapping (De Heineken ontvoering, Holland) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Rutger Hauer’s heyday may have come before my time but as a film lover it still feels as though I grew up with him. My teenage years were spent awash in the dream of cinema and amidst the blur of it all, some films stood out. Among them was Blade Runner (1982) which, I must admit, was a film that I did not immediately warm to but the villain of the piece has stayed with me for the decade since I first I saw it. Horror may not have featured prominently in my cinema diet but I’ll never forget The Hitcher (1986), a film that could easily have been unremarkable were it not for the terrifying presence of its antagonist.

With his pellucid blue eyes, wavy blond hair and harsh features, Hauer has always been a formidable presence on screen. However, more than his physiognomy, it is of course his talent and intensity as a performer that has made him so memorable. He seems to lose himself in his best roles. I hesitate to say that he was a method actor, a term that is ill-suited to genre cinema, but he throws himself so fully into his marginalized characters that he often seems to be in a trance.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

JIMFF 2012: Punk's Not Dead (Pankot ne e mrtov, Macedonia) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Each of us loves different styles of music. Our tastes are informed by many factors: style, geography, language, instrumentation, tempo, etc. We fill our computers and smartphones with these (more ardent enthusiasts may still curate record collections). However, some people will go to extra lengths to associate themselves to a certain style. They may customize their appearance or ascribe to particular ideologies. Politics and social issues can come into it but other times the music might be a gateway to something else entirely: community. The need to belong is strong and for those of us that cannot or do not want to follow the status quo, there is always a danger of being marginalized. Luckily, in this day and age, we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick and choose from many different lifestyles. Non-conformity no longer comes with the same stigma as it once did.

As the title suggests, Punk’s Not Dead is a film about one of the most abrasive genres of music to emerge in the modern era. However, very luck little punk music is actually featured in the film and that’s because the focus thing here is on the sense of community that is created around the music. The protagonists are lost: wandering aimlessly in the decrepit landscape of modern Macedonia. Pushing 40, they are looking a little rough around the edges: leather jackets cover their wearied shoulders; piercings and tattoos adorn their wrinkled skin. They have lived life but time has passed them by and new circumstances have rendered them redundant and mute: their protests are now a whimper of what they once were. Rather than living the punk lifestyle and reveling in anarchy, they merely cling to the scene as a pretext for their existence. It is a social outlet in a world where few are available to them, the booze and drugs are a respite from the bleak landscape there are immersed in.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

JIMFF 2012: Abba (阿爸, Taiwan) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Though not always convinced by the films, the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival was definitely a period of musical discovery for me. It reawakened my love for Tropicalia and Serge Gainsbourg, made me wish I had more time to play my guitar (Jason Becker: I’m Not Dead Yet) and introduced me to flamenco singing (Morente). On the flipside I also discovered that I am not too keen on Thai country music (The Moon). The Taiwanese documentary Abba (which features a number of flashback scenes) led me to more uncharted territory as it immersed me in Taiwan's pop music scene.

This doc’s subject is Hong Yi-feng, the late King of Taiwanese Pop. Much of the proceedings involve the staging of a tribute concert being put on by his three sons (themselves successful artists) following his death. It’s a tribute film that commemorates his achievements as a pioneering musician in Taiwan but it is also a portrait of a deeply flawed man who was a strict father, an adulterer and ultimately an absentee family man. Most of the film is told from the viewpoint of his sons, all of whom are grown up with their own families.

KOFFIA 2012: Disney, Nostalgia, and Politics in Sunny (써니, Sseo-ni) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

Delve into any well-balanced childhood and you’re sure to find a candy store: our ephemeral youth’s source of confectionary delights and perpetual euphoria. During my childhood I had a particularly aggressive sweet tooth and the easiest way to motivate my obedience or to inspire my eternal adoration was to drag me into a store full of sweets. I grew older and these gave way to popcorn as I found myself gazing up at the silver screen, the candy store of my adulthood. Between these two worlds lies a transition and at the forefront of it, an enduring symbol that came both before and will likely remain long after. I speak of Disney, the dream factory that is also the world’s most powerful media conglomerate. It is a kaleidoscopic candy store that titillates our senses beyond our sweet-craving taste buds. It is also calculating, cloying and devious but I seek not to denigrate its brilliant success, merely to point out what makes it so infectious: formula.

Just like the chemicals that bind together to delight our youthful, undeveloped palates in the candy store, the Walt Disney Company applies a rigid, time-tested formula to all of its products. The formula has many permutations and its application is effectuated, for film and animation, through themes, morals and standards, but also by way of a carefully constructed mise-en-scene. When done right, as it often is by Disney and even more frequently by its subsidiary Pixar, the result is clear: a good film that is guaranteed a solid ROI.

Monday, August 27, 2012

JIMFF 2012: The Moon (พุ่มพวง, Pumpuang, Thailand) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of music biopics. As the Jecheon film festival has proven (or not in some instances), musicians tend to make better documentary subjects. With the latter format you can improvise and approach their life and work from a variety of angles. By staging a full blown narrative feature, you’re assuming that the musician has a life that is worth the film treatment. Very often this is not the case. While musicians lead very interesting lives, these rarely amount to a good feature-length narrative.

The Moon is about Pumpuang Duangjang, the queen of Thai country (luktung) music. Born in poverty, Pumpuang worked hard to get herself taken in as an apprentice by an established musician in Bangkok and quickly made a name for herself with her powerful voice among a male-dominated scene. The film chronicles her steady rise and later her battle with illness, all the while exploring her marriage as she grows more famous and distant.

KOFFIA 2012: The Front Line (고지전, Gojijeon) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

Before getting into a discussion about Jang Hoon’s much-ballyhooed new feature The Front Line, I feel that I should mention that over the years I have had a troubled relationship with war films.  I have seen all kinds, from different eras, different countries, detailing different fights, and espousing all sorts of different points of view.  On a cold Sunday afternoon, there isn’t a whole lot that can beat a repeat viewing of seminal classics like David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1956), John Sturges’ The Great Escape (1963), or Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953).  Those are actually all POW (Prisoner of War) films but there is a great wealth of others that I can always return to, including: Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition trilogy (1959-1961), Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires on the Plain (1959), Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) or HBO’s 10-part mini-series Band of Brothers (2001).

When the elements fall into place, a good war film is one of the most engaging types of entertainment across any medium but that correct balance is a difficult thing to achieve.  War films differ from other genres as they are naturally rooted in spectacle, feature little to no romance or indeed female protagonists, and must frequently sacrifice characters on the battlefield.  What’s more, rather than following a personal trajectory, the main thrust of the narrative is often consumed by a story far greater than the leads that we are to bond with on screen.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

KOFFIA 2012: The Client (의뢰인, Eui-roi-in) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

There are few things more satisfying than a well-performed and thoughtfully structured courtroom drama. I for one have pleasantly idled away many a Sunday afternoon whisked away into the heady wood-paneled halls of justice. The beauty of legal dramas or thrillers is that by way of their conceit they are already confined, for the most part, to one location and as viewers we accept this fact. More than most genres, with courtroom films we largely know what we’re getting ourselves into.

So what makes these films so popular when they are so constrained by their design? Their narratives typically do not require the presence of too many characters and often eschew subplots which may otherwise seem contrived. This makes them quite lean and generally pretty easy to follow and be drawn in by. For the most part the stories will be determined by the answer to one question: will the case be won or lost? But the most engaging thing about courtroom dramas is the bitter contest of right vs. wrong. We are compelled to deliberate over the evidence and arguments presented by both sides (though we are often led by the filmmaker’s guiding hand) which in effect means that our viewing experience sees us living vicariously through the jury represented on screen. Some of the genre’s best examples are fully aware of this fact and use it to their advantage, such as the slippery and claustrophobic moralizing of Twelve Angry Men (1956).

KOFFIA 2012: The Day He Arrives (북촌 방향, Book-chon Bang-hyang) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

As far as the critical discourse of Korean cinema goes, few filmmakers have a more commanding presence than Hong Sang-soo, whose flowing narratives often feel like chapters in the same grand story.  In a sense, his body of work reminds me of some of the 19th century’s most prolific French writers, such as Honoré de Balzac and Émile Zola whose main outputs consisted of The Human Comedy and the Rougon-Macquart cycles, which consisted of 91 and 20 volumes respectively.  In these exceedingly rich opuses, the French wordsmiths crafted dense worlds, which mirrored the societies they lived in and repeated the same themes and concerns through similar stories and with large casts of revolving characters.

Hong’s output is much less concerned with the high-flown dramatics of the far-reaching stories of these previously mentioned collections.  Indeed his films, especially for an uninitiated viewer, offer a vague semblance of banality and rarely fall into the trap of narrative twists or plot contrivances, choosing to focus on the everyday rather than the extremes of life.  What he shares with Balzac and Zola is a keen interest in realism.  For the French writers this style was labeled naturalism and often explored social injustice and the inescapable force of heredity in the shaping of human characters.  While Hong’s films do not share those specific traits, they do exhibit a similarly acute infatuation with repetition.  People make the same choices and mistakes over and over again.  It’s a funny thing about reviews of Hong’s work but more than most other filmmakers, his whole career tends to be put under the microscope, likely because his films so resemble one another. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

KOFFIA 2012: Bleak Night (파수꾼, Pa-soo-ggoon) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

It’s amazing to witness what can be done with little resources and in 2011, a year filled with high-falutin, hollow, and very disappointing blockbusters, there were many films that did just that. One in particular managed to do the most with the least. The Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) has been training some of the peninsula’s best talent since the 1980s, including Bong Joon-ho, Im Sang-soo, and Kim Tae-gyun, and these days, as it produces four feature-length projects per year, it looks set to develop an even larger pool of talent. Not long ago I discussed the importance of Korean film schools in a piece on the Korean National University of Arts (K’Arts) short Metamorpheses. The technical competence of Korean films is due in no small part to the high quality film academies in the country and this becomes only more evident now that the student-produced shorts and features from these institutions gain wider exposure.

Bleak Night is one of KAFA’s student features and going into the film it’s hard to say that knowing this didn’t completely change the way I looked at it. I’m generally not a fan of student films and not just because of low production values and a lack of experience.  Oftentimes they are pretentious, lazy, and/or cocky and rather than being diamonds in the rough, they are frequently vanity projects from people who either don’t have what it takes or have no intention of trying to make a career out of filmmaking. Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, this is the purpose that film societies at college universities serve and the world is all the better for it, however I would rather not subject myself to these less than enticing offerings. I also speak from experience, as I too was one of these cocky student filmmakers in my Dublin salad days.

KOFFIA 2012: Late Blossom (그대를 사랑합니다, Geu-dae-leul Sa-rang-hab-ni-da) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

It’s easy to forget sometimes how rigid the rules can be concerning the technical aspects behind the making of a film.  When done right, everything you see on screen (or hear) is exactly so for a reason.  The rich tapestry of mise-en-scene (basically everything but the dialogue) captures our attention by cleverly drawing us to certain pieces of information.  Through cinematography, sound, production design, costumes, and editing it seeks to tell us a story.  It is the difference between a novel, in which we must imagine all these details, and a film, which seeks to show us a world conceived by its filmmakers.

If you take the time to consider what shots are used in a film, you can see (most of the time) a reason behind their selection.  These little parcels of visual information tell part of the narrative.  There are many choices a director or cinematographer can make when framing a shot and each of these decisions will affect how the story is told.  An example of this is from what angle to frame a character: you can shoot from above, from below, or straight on.  In Late Blossom, which features some exceptional photography, this choice is an important one.  It says a lot about how the film views its characters, the majority of which are senior citizens. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

KOFFIA 2012: King of Pigs (돼지의 왕, Dwaejiui Wang) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

(by Peter Gutiérrez)

I’m not sure what the current cultural status of bullying in is South Korea these days – are public policy steps being taken to curtail it, as is the case here in the U.S.? – but certainly anyone who has followed Korean cinema knows that it has provided the thematic backbone to films which cut across several genres. I’m a bit partial to A Bloody Aria (Won Shin-yeon, 2006), and Yeun Sang-ho’s The King of Pigs shares something of its beyond-bleak tone and emotionally raw approach. Just don’t look for any of the former’s dark humor: Yuen has crafted that rare film that effectively plunges head-first into the abyss and never really allows the audience to come up for air, let alone laughs.

So don’t expect a slow and “tasteful” build to the film’s often unforgettable moments of psychological and physical violence. Right away we see our point-of-view character Kyung-Min experience a form of workplace bullying… and then immediately turn around and take out his feelings of shame and powerlessness on his wife in a dynamic that strongly recalls that of James Joyce’s classic Dubliners short story “Counterparts.” But can all of his present-tense troubles really account for the way that Kyung-Min seems to be so haunted? This question is soon answered as he meets up with middle school classmate Jong-Suk for the first time in years, and it becomes clear to us that something happened back in their early adolescence that shaped both men… something that neither seems eager to discuss directly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

KOFFIA 2012: War of the Arrows (최종병기 활, Choi-jong-byeong-gi Hwal) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

It’s about time I threw my hat into the ring and chimed in on War of the Arrows, the top-grossing Korean film of 2011, which has met with positive reactions from all over the globe.  Early in 2011, if you were familiar with the big films that were scheduled to come out throughout the year, you could be forgiven for expecting Sector 7 and The Front Line to dominate the charts during the summer months.  In the end the former was a cataclysmic failure, likely because it was a terrible film, and the latter fell below expectations, it was a decent film but perhaps a little thin to play well given its subject matter.  One film you may not have noticed, I know I didn’t, was War of the Arrows, a straightforward period action film with mid-level stars and no pretense about it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

PiFan 2012: Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley (철암계곡의 혈투, Cheolhamgyegokeui Hyeotoo) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival. Though this film was presented at last year's event (where it picked up two awards), I thought it would be a suitable way to kick off the coverage of this year's event.

Low-budget filmmakers love to dabble in genre fare and, despite inexperience and other shortcomings, they often wind up making more pertinent and exciting works than more established helmers, who may have lost their youthful filmmaking pizzazz. Horror is particularly popular for budding cineastes: it is cheap; relatively simple; and offers many opportunities for experimentation. Sci-fi, though trickier, has also been thoroughly mined by young filmmakers. Westerns on the other hand are among the hardest genre films to realize.

Film lovers are drawn to this genre and it is no surprise. Its sweeping vistas, epic stories and enduring iconoclasm remain popular among directors looking to make their mark. However, this is a difficult feat to accomplish. First of all westerns are visually demanding and feature the type of careful attention to mise-en-scene that requires time, effort and money. Other genres can cut back on this in certain ways, especially horror, but not the western. The next thing and perhaps the hardest, is striking the right balance and tone. Horror and sci-fi films, depending on their angle, may not need to be taken seriously, but a western will sink or swim on its ability to properly engage a viewer and for a neophyte in the director’s chair, this is often too much to ask for.