Showing posts with label feff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feff. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Korean Cinema News (04/26-05/02, 2012)

I had a lot of news in my mailbox when I returned from Italy this week so there's plenty of big announcement in this Korean Cinema News update!  Also a huge amount of exciting trailers below, including As One, In Another Country, Taste of Money and The Thieves.  Remember if you have any news relating to Korean film feel free to email me and I'll be happy to include it in the nest update.



Ahn Sung-ki and Lee Byung-hun to Cast Handprints in Hollywood
The inaugural Look East: Korean Film Festival will be taking place this June, on the weekend of the 23-24, at the famed Grauman's Chinese film theatre in the heart of Hollywood.  Numerous Korean films, old and new, will be showcased but the focal point of the event will the casting of the hand and foot prints of two major Korean actors.  This marks the first time that any Asian performers have been honoured in such a fashion in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival - Final Thoughts, Top 10 and Awards

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Last week was my first time at the Udine Far East Film Festival and straight off the bat the only negative point I can think of was that I wasn't there earlier to participate in the entire event.  Regardless it was still a packed week during which I saw nearly 30 films, ate some great food and made a lot of new friends.  I look forward to coming back soon but I'm sure it won't be in 2013 as I'll be making my way to Seoul next month.  That said I do hope to meet up with many of the same people later this year at the Busan International Film Festival.

The highlight for me during the week was the opportunity to soak in the 'Darkest Decade' retrospective on 1970s Korean film.  Darcy Paquet did an incredible job to bring these films, in good condition and many with brand new subtitles, to Italy and furthermore his picks were phenomenal, yielding some of the best Korean films I've seen.  It was a pleasure to see rarer Im Kwon-taek, Kim Ki-young and Yu Hyun-mok films as well as to discover the works of Kim So-young, Ha Kil-young and Kim Ho-sun.  I was particularly drawn to the many island dramas which have added new dimensions to an essay I have been planing on rural spaces as a site of horror in Korean cinema.  Darcy's monograph (pictured) is another wonderful resource and a great complement to the retrospective.

Just like last month's Fribourg International Film Festival (which was also covered by MKC) one of the prevailing themes of the festival's program was filmmaking itself.  Romancing in Thin Air (2011), The Woodsman and the Rain (2011), Vulgaria (2012) and The Woman in the Septic Tank (2011) all featured films within a film and each had their own novel take on the industry.  Despite the global glut of awards bestowed on The Artist (2011), and to a lesser extent on Hugo (2011), I'm still finding that the past year's best films that cast an eye on the medium are those that sadly won't be seen by many.  Although considering the cinephile-ready content, perhaps it's just as well that they feature strongly on the festival circuit above all else.

The great thing about the FEFF was its atmosphere: it's accessible, centralized, friendly and a lot of fun.  There was lots of events and special deals in restaurants for anyone attending the festival.  The Teatro Nuovo Giovanni, the single theater of the festival, was a wonderful venue with four levels.  I stayed down in the pit for all of my screenings and I don't think I would have liked to be seated too high up (some seats were above the screen) but the projections were all top notch.  Udine is also a wonderful little town with numerous restaurants, historic architecture, beautiful squares and everyone's favorite, gelato!  I didn't have much opportunity to visit beyond the town's centre but what I saw was very charming.

Anyone interested in Asian cinema should definitely make their way to Udine at some point in the future and if you do, hopefully I'll see you there!

Below are my favorites of the festival and the FEFF 2012 award winners.

Festival Picks

Top 10

1. Iodo (South Korea, 1977) - Day IV
=2. Punch (South Korea, 2011) - Day V
=2. Sunny (South Korea, 2011) - Day I
=2. The Woodsman and the Rain (Japan, 2011) - Day VI
=2. Unbowed (South Korea, 2012) - Day IX
6. Pollen (South Korea, 1972) - Day IV
7. Splendid Outing (South Korea, 1978) - Day VIII
8. One Mile Above (China, 2011) - Day VI
9. The Woman in the Septic Tank (Philippines, 2011) - Day IX
10. Vulgaria (Hong Kong, 2012) - Day VII

14th FEFF Awards

Audience Award

1. Silenced 4.4
2. One Mile Above 4.2
3. The Front Line 4.16

Black Dragon Award

Silenced 4.24

My Movie (Online) Award

Thermae Romae

FEFF Preview
Day IV Report
Day V Report
Day VI Report
Day VII Report
Day VIII Report
Day IX Report
Blind (블라인드, Beulraindeu) 2011
Dangerously Excited (나는 공무원이다, Naneun Gongmoowonida) 2012
Disney, Nostalgia, and Politics in Sunny (써니, Sseo-ni) 2011
Moby Dick (모비딕, Mo-bi-dik) 2011
Penny Pinchers (티끌모아 로맨스, Ti-kkeul-mo-a Ro-maen-seu) 2011
The Front Line (고지전, Gojijeon) 2011
Unbowed (부러진 화살, Bureojin Hwasal) 2012

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day IX Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

And so Udine comes to a close it's been a great week and I just got back in a moment ago.  Here are my thoughts on the last day's films and tomorrow I will recap the whole week.

The Divine Bow
(South Korea, 1979)

Im Kwon-taek’s second film of the retrospective was also the third island drama in the programme.  After the motherhood themes of Kim Ki-young’s Iodo (1977) and the changing roles of women examined in Kim Soo-young’s Splendid Outing (1978), Im’s The Divine Bow also featured a female protagonist but this time the focal point was shamanism.

Shamanism is frequently represented in Korean cinema but for the most part it is an element rather than a major theme, aside from Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-ok’s incendiary Night Fishing (2011).  Generally speaking it features prominently in K-horrors, like Possessed (2009) and Ghastly (2011) and is almost always presented in a negative light.  Im, as he moved towards a more reflective style of filmmaking in the mid-70s, became interested in Korean culture and history and particularly in shamanism, which, unlike other religions of the peninsula, has much older roots in the country.

Im’s exploration of the rituals and traditions of the belief structure is almost reverential.  Rather than make a positive or negative commentary on it, he opts to explore it and leave us to draw our own conclusions.  The best scenes of the film, led and brought to life by the great Yun Jeong-hee (Poetry, 2010), are the hypnotic ritualistic dances.  The film is also impressive in its mise-en-scene, especially with its resplendent location shooting.  All told The Divine Bow is a great early Im feature which hints at some of his greatness of later years.

(South Korea, 1975)

Flame, from Yu Hyun-mok, is one of the more well-known films in the ‘Darkest Decade’ retrospective and I’ve had it on the long finger for some time.  Just like Rainy Days (1979), screened earlier this week, the film is set in a village in the past and appears to be an anti-communist film.  However one doesn’t have to search too far for Yu’s real intention, which has more to do with intolerance and hypocrisy in his own country rather than the one North of the border.

The film begins with an unknown and injured man with a rifle, running away from something.  The sequence is edited in slow motion and complemented with an effective score.  It is also quite disorienting and this is exacerbated when the narrative begins to unfold in flashback, via a number of unidentified snippets which we are left to decipher.  This does pose a practical problem as it is a little difficult to piece together the plot and to recognize the characters within it but it is also deliberate and serves its purpose.

Yu employs this experimental structure to highlight the confusion of the period.  Koreans underwent constant change during the colonial period and this only got worse during the Korean war.  Following that, the country, though recently autonomous, became authoritarian under its new military rulers and then switched in the 60s to an even worse dictator.  The period that the film chronicles goes no further than the Korean war but Yu seems to be commenting on a broader historiographical context which also includes recent and present times.

Questions of family, loyalty and duty are explored, just as they were in Rainy Days, and make this another fascinating work.  When I get to Korea I will be trying very hard to get my hands on the out-of-print Korean Film Archive’s Yu Hyun-mok’s DVD boxset to further my discovery of this great filmmaker.  Another wonderful retrospective film, I’m just sad that it was the last one...

Romancing in Thin Air
(Hong Kong, 2011)

There have been a lot of films about filmmaking on the festival circuit this year and the format has yielded many great works.  Sadly, Johnny To’s latest does not sit well alongside this crowd.  Romancing in Thin Air is a romance, which is nothing new for the prolific director, but for his occidental fans who are primarily know him through his action and gangster films like The Mission (1999), Election (2005), and Exiled (2006), this will not be required viewing. 

It isn’t a bad film and just like the rest of To’s oeuvre, it features strong mise-en-scene.  It even throws in some clever postmodern elements, like the film within a film, which enhance the romantic aspect and raises a few interesting questions regarding our relationship with the medium.  With all of its intertextual elements, I’m not sure that it’s really trying to say anything but the joy is the hint of something grander.  It doesn’t make grandiloquent statements like Amir Naderi’s grandiose Cut (2011), which I had the chance to see at last month’s Fribourg International Film Festival, nor does it mine the catharsis of creativity like The Woodsman and the Rain (2011), but it does titillate nonetheless.  I guess I’m just a sucker for movies that shine a light on their construction.

The film follows a Hong Kong actor who exiles himself to an out of the way resort in the Yunnan province where he meets a no-nonsense woman who seems indifferent to his status and charm, though is secretly one of his biggest fans.

Romancing in Thin Air is certainly not the greatest in To’s body of work but a charming and thoughtful effort nonetheless, though I imagine many people will not have time for it.

Dangerously Excited
(South Korea, 2012)

This is the only Korean film playing that has yet to be released in theaters (it opens in July), so it was nice to get the jump for once and not be influenced by any sort of critical consensus.  Dangerously Excited is a charming little film about a civil worker who excels at his job.  Through a series of events he winds up host to a young indie band which he then becomes the bassist for.

Yoon Jae-moon takes the lead in this film and though he is recognizable from a host of major recent Korean films (The Good, the Bad and the Weird, 2008; Mother, 2009), this is the first time I’ve seen him take the lead in a film.  He’s a natural fit as the straightlaced office worker who treasures the order in his life and his performance never veers into caricature.

I will write a full review of Dangerously Excited for MKC soon but it’s safe to say that it is a very enjoyable film if somewhat slight and not altogether memorable.

(South Korea, 2012)

Unbowed, after its release earlier this year during the lunar day holiday, met with much the same reaction as last year’s Silenced.  They were both incendiary courtroom dramas based on real events that became big commercial and critical hits while also serving to open up long overdue national dialogues about Korea’s justice system and its rampant cronyism.  In fact in the space of few months there were three high profile Korean courtroom dramas that connected with audiences, the other being The Client (2011), itself a strong feature which also alluded to problems in the country’s legal system but was mainly a generic (and fictional) piece.

Chung Ji-young hadn’t made a feature film in 14 years and he’s not quite in step with the industry standards of today but it’s just as well as his effective but unobtrusive style leaves the film in the hands of its strongest elements: its excellent cast and brilliant script.

Ahn Sung-ki is perfect for this role, there’s really no other word for it.  He is absolutely convincing as a fiercely intelligent and pragmatic man driven to the edge,  his standoffs with the cold judge (Moon Sung-kun, equally formidable) are intense and cathartic.

I will also be reviewing this film properly in the coming days but if you get a chance to see it, Unbowed is a must and already 2012’s best Korean film (admittedly I’ve only seen two!)

The Woman in the Septic Tank
(Philippines, 2011)

My final film of the festival was a bit of a wild card but I was excited for it as I had been told that it was yet another film about filmmaking.  The Woman in the Septic Tank is an outright comedy that takes aim squarely at that which has been dubbed ‘poverty porn’, a type of film that is typical produced in a developing nation and which appeals to film festival goers by depicting harrowing despair.  The Udine Far East Film Festival does their utmost to steer away from this kind of film and even says so in its trailer, so it’s only fitting that this film, which in a sense reaffirms the festival’s aims was the penultimate film of the week.

A couple of young filmmakers in Manila are looking to make a brilliant art film that will go straight to Cannes and the narrative begins with a few scenes of the film.  They are slow, depressing and boring but also hilarious as they exaggerates all the worst elements of these types of films.  However most people in the audience didn’t seem to understand that it was joke until we cut to the fresh-faced filmmakers in the car heading to a coffeeshop to order soy mocafrappucinos or gold knows what else.

The star of their film is going to be Eugene Domingo and she uproariously sends herself up in a great cameo and also various performances within the film’s film.  During one scene the director and producer argue about who should play the lead, a mother of seven in a Manila slum who sells a child to a Caucasian pedophile.  Aside from Eugene they also consider Cherry Pie, for me this was hilarious and also eye-opening as she was in Fable of the Fish (2011), which I saw last month at the Fribourg International Film Festival, essentially the same role in the exact kind of film that this one seeks to ridicule.  I need to find out which one was made first!

Though not on the level of some other movies about the industry that I’ve seen so far this year, The Woman in the Septic Tank is outrageous and extremely refreshing, especially if you’re familiar with the festival circuit.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VIII Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Splendid Outing
(South Korea, 1978)

The second Kim Soo-young film of the retrospective (after Night Journey, 1977), Splendid Outing was a fantastic island drama that was almost a horror in its design.  It’s also seem to be a huge influence of one of the best Korean films of the last few years, Jang Chul-soo’s Bedevilled (2010).

The film’s central protagonist is a successful businesswoman, which is an anomaly in 1970s Korea.  She owns a high rise, has a big office and seems respected by all of her peers.  She has two children but doesn’t seem to have much time for them.  Early on in the film the pressure starts to get to her and she takes a trip down to the South in her car, at which point she is swallowed up by a mob in coastal town, abducted and brought to an isolated island where she is given to a man who believes that she is his wife.

Once again, notions of female identity in contemporaneous Korea dominate.  Is she being punished for not conforming to the standard role of a woman?  The abundant power she holds is instantly stripped from her and after neglecting her duties as a mother in the home she is forced to care for a new offspring and has no means of escape.

Of course the traditional position of woman in society also comes under the microscope as she is literally stripped of all her freedom and forced to debase herself.  She is beaten and people ridicule her when she tries to explain who she is.  Like a number of other Korean films, old and new, the main character is transplanted from a comfortable urban environment to a rural one.  The islands in Iodo (1977), Splendid Outing and Bedevilled, as well as the villages in Bestseller (2010) and Moss (2010) are presented as spaces of horror, where dogmatic traditionalism or religion lead to horrific acts of abuse.

One of my favorite films of retrospective and the festival, Splendid Outing is a classic Korean film that could win over many spectators if given the chance.

A Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly
(South Korea, 1978)

This bizarre effort from Kim Ki-young was loved by some and derided by others but it is certainly one of the week’s films that elicited the strongest response.  A Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly (aka Killer Butterfly) seems like a cultish B-movie but it also has many philosophical overtones as it references Nietzsche and other works, including Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1934).

I won’t bother providing a synopsis because to be honest I wasn’t really sure what was going on most of the time.  The film seemed relatively clear at first as it went through two pseudo-chapters but its third section, which swallowed most of the narrative, lost me completely.  I was frustrated not to understand what as going on but I was never bored.  Killer Butterfly is furiously inventive and often hilarious though this is not always intentional and poor subtitles from an old copy didn’t help matters.

Compared to Kim’s other films I was surprised at the lack of a polished mise-en-scene, which leads me to imagine that this was made in a rush.  This would also explain the choppy plotting and uneven pacing.  That said, I will definitely give this another chance some day, if I’m presented with the opportunity, as I think there was much that I didn’t catch during this viewing.

Afro Tanaka
(Japan, 2012)

I’ve been lucky to see some wonderful Japanese comedies this week, including Sukiyaki (2011) and The Woodsman and the Rain (2011), but it’s true that sometimes, Japanese humour can be a little dry.  The films of Miki Satoshi (In the Pool, 2005; Adrift in Tokyo, 2007), which I had a chance to see earlier this year at the East Winds Festival, walk a dangerously fine line but just about get away with it.  Afro Tanaka has a lot of charm and is frequently inventive but it pushes this style of comedy to an extreme and at times it was too much for me handle.  However, the audience in the theater certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and true enough the film has many laugh out loud moments so perhaps this just wasn’t one for me.

Tanaka is a young man with an enormous afro who has yet to have a girlfriend.  He is invited to the wedding of a childhood friend and must now find a companion so as not to lose face.

I couldn’t quite make sense of the ridiculous afro, it was funny for a moment but over the course of the film, which stretched to nearly two hours, it starts to become a bit of an eyesore.  The script contents itself with situational comedy for the most part which is a shame as I think some more focus on the characters and a stronger plot may have yielded a much stronger film.

The Bounty
(Hong Kong, 2012)

This HK movie world premiere was attended by director Fung Chih-chiang as well as the producer, costume designer, production designer as well as a co-star.  An action-comedy about a bounty hunter tracking down a fugitive on a little island in Hong Kong, The Bounty had its moments but was not a satisfying effort.  Chapman To, the star, was hilarious but this pales in comparison to his performance in Vulgaria (2012).  There wasn’t much to the plot which in and of itself isn’t really a problem for this kind of a narrative but it dragged on for far too long.  There was a clear ending point which seemed to work quit well but then the film trundled along for another half an hour which really spoiled it.

Maybe the film would have played better if it had remained a straight comedy but as it stands its slide into melodrama was poorly conceived and killed any momentum that the film had built early on.  There were elements of the film I liked, the comedy mostly worked in the early stages and as already mentioned Chapman To was good, he’s a very reliable performer in this type of role, but overall this is not a film I could recommend to anybody besides diehard HK film fans.

(South Korea, 2011)

Previous MKC Review

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VII Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Wang Sib Ri, My Hometown
(South Korea, 1976)

I wish I had been able to see this film earlier so that I could have included it in last December’s ‘Jopok’ (or gangster) week on MKC.  Im Kwon-taek’s Wang Sib Ri, unlike his latter The General’s Son trilogy, is a gangster film with almost no violence but that uses the mob element to convey some sort of misguided escapism.  Joon-tae is a gangster who returns to Wang Sib Ri, his hometown, after 14 years spent in Japan.  Aside from a need to reconnect with his old girlfriend he seems a little hazy on his visit’s purpose.  He meets old friends, who fill him in on everybody’s news, and starts a casual affair with a naïve but sweet prostitute.  He says he will return to Japan but we can’t be sure that he means to, perhaps he is trying to escape from the place he escaped to, to the place where he escaped from. 

Im’s film is ostensibly about Joon-tae but really he is a surrogate for us to discover a provincial town in Korea and its downtrodden characters.  Like other films in the ‘Darkest Decade’ retrospective, it is quite bleak.  Wang Sib Ri is a drab town but rather than one that has fallen into disrepair.  Like many other films that feature a character returning to his place of origin, the town is shown to have taken side during the protagonist’s absence.  The flashbacks are certainly more colorful but I’m sure how that they are meant to represent a happier time.  Keep in mind that that when Joon-tae would have left, the country was already in the midst of Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian rule.

I don’t want to spoil the end except to say that it features the strongest sequence in the film and that its conclusions are far removed from Im’s body of work in his later career.

Yeongja’s Heyday
(South Korea, 1975)

Kim Ho-sun’s film, which was the fourth most successful local film of the decade, launched the ‘hostess film’ trend and is said to be the best example of the genre.  Like most of the retrospective’s films, women, and their restrictive positions in society, are given pride of place.  Here we follow Yeong-ja, a woman who intitally moves from the country to Seoul to work as a maid but soon begins to descend into prostitution.

What is interesting and at the same time most unfortunate about Yeong-ja is that she doesn’t seem to have a hand in her destiny.  The son of the wealthy family she serves rapes her and this gets her thrown out.  One day she rides the bus, but is pushed out by the other passengers, an episode which costs her an arm.  Maggie Lee, a reporter for Variety also in attendance, made a good point that this represents the loss of her virginity and innocence.  It is violent, cacophonous moment which is incontrovertible.

The one problem for me with the film was that its conclusions were inevitable, as is mostly the case with these fallen women films.  I imagine the director was familiar with a number of Japanese examples of the genre, which range from Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu (1952) and Streets of Shame (1956) and Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (1965), though my favorite is Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1959).  Kim’s film was much less subdued and while it was often effective, it came off as aggressive at times.  Nonetheless, Yeongja’s Heyday was a fascinating film and its success makes me even more curious about the role of women in society during that time.

(Hong Kong, 2012)

This Pang Ho-cheung film, my first, is actually playing at midnight tonight but I caught it in the library yesterday as I knew I wouldn’t manage to make to its official screening.  I had to make time for it after so many people I met implored me to watch it.

It is another film about filmmaking, which always whets my whistle, but this is goes down a different path and employs an approach that, as the title implies, is quite vulgar.  It’s very clever though as there is no violence or nudity, rather the film is replete with obscene language and some rather shocking suggestion.

A producer of Category III films is giving a talk to film students about the film trade and launches into a description of the making of his most recent film, an erotic sequel to a 70s hit, starring an ageing porn star and being bankrolled by a depraved mob boss.

Vulgaria is hilarious and probably the most fun I’ve had all week, I was in stitches in the press room.  Pang gets the film going very quickly and the pace never drops, everthing is played for laughs and nothing is off limits.  I daresay this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but if you’ve ever enjoyed a midnight screening, this comes highly recommended.

Love in a Puff
(Hong Kong, 2010)

My second Pang Ho-cheung film of the day was a complete 180 from VulgariaLove in a Puff is a very modern story of a burgeoning romance set in Hong Kong.  It’s cute without being cloying and cool without seeming conceited. 

The title refers to smoking, which has just been outlawed in pubic places in 2009.  It is during smoking breaks, where workers in a neighbourhood have begun to fraternize in back alleys that Jimmy Cheung and Cherie Yue meet and slowly begin a relationship.

Love in a Puff chronicles the initial stages of their rapprochement and is full of texting, miscommunication and anxiety:  it’s fresh and it never seems forced.  Since its release in 2010, Pang’s film has received plenty of positive critical attention and it’s easy to see why but it just may be that I wasn’t as taken with it as others.  I can’t really fault the film or its style, I understand and appreciate what it set out to do and rather than say it failed to meet those aims, I’ll say that it didn’t quite suit my tastes.  I still enjoyed the film and would have liked to see its follow up, Love in the Buff (2012), screening later in the day but I wasn’t excited enough to queue for a long time to get a decent seat for the gala presentation with Pang in attendance.

(South Korea, 2011)

Every so often, a film will set off a chain of events that has far greater ramifications than the production itself.  Silenced, which was 2011’s third highest grossing Korean film, is one of these.  It was a midlevel movie that became an unexpected hit and resulted in a national uproar and rapid legislative change.  The film, the story it was based on and the response it inspired were the focus of much domestic and international attention, garnering coverage in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and more.

The film’s power derives from its graphic depiction of extreme events where people in positions of authority take advantage of the weak.  But it is the details and the extent to which the film’s disabled protagonists are oppressed that make it the landmark picture it is.  While it highlights depraved and heinous crimes, Silenced is fuelled by systemic abuse that applies to most Korean citizens without wealth and powerful allies.

While a fine thriller that has the power to move and shock all but the most cynical viewers, Silenced will likely be remembered more for its enormous impact on Korean society rather than for its own merits as a narrative potboiler.  It may not be the most technically proficient production of 2011 it could very well be the one that most successfully accomplished its goals.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VI Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

One Mile Above
(China, 2011)

A road movie chronicling a young man’s cycling trek in Tibet in the memory of his recently deceased brother, One Mile Above succeeds both in being a heartfelt voyage of discovery and a tribute to perseverance.  Du Jiayi’s  film is a beautiful work that takes tremendous advantage of the Himalayan landscape it takes place in.

Shuhao, the young protagonist, is someone who doesn’t have any direction of his own so when his brother dies he takes it upon himself to complete the trip that he had been working towards.  It is in honour of his sibling but it could also be read as an usurpation of a fixed goal as he lacks any of his own.  Throughout his journey he meets different characters who progressively become further removed from the people he knows form Taiwan.  These encounters, as well as the often difficult circumstances he finds himself confronted with, being to shape him as a character.

His growing endurance and tenacity are borne out of his developing sense of purpose and this, combined with the exceptional photography, lead to a moment of blissful catharsis that honestly gave me chills.  For that feeling and the majestic vistas alone, One Mile Above is worth the price of admission.  Catch it on a big screen if you can!

The Woodsman and the Rain
(Japan, 2011)

I have seen many films about filmmaking this year and a number of them have been standouts, including Cut (Japan, 2011) and This Is Not a Film (Iran, 2011).  Now I have another film to add to that list: The Woodsman and the Rain, from director Okita Shuichi, which is a testament to the thrill of creation.  As some people noted following last night’s screening, it is very ‘Japanese’.  This is mainly in reference to its dry sense of humour, which is full of mordant wit but it is also charming and welcoming, leading to an irresistible mix.

A taciturn woodsman in rural Japan has been a widow for nearly two years and lives with his recalcitrant son.  His fixed routine is shaken with the arrival of a film crew to his town.  The production underway is a zombie film, directed by a hoodie-wearing and diffident 25-year-old who seems to be in over his head.  The film chronicles how these very different characters begin to bond and slowly reawaken dormant pleasures, passions and creativity within them.

The pacing of the film is deliberate and by some accounts a little slow but I felt it suited the temperament well and accented the comedy.  Whereas Cut was a dark love letter to the medium which is framed in the context of the cinema’s greatest works of art, The Woodsman and the Rain is less concerned with artistic mastery than the sheer pleasure of filmmaking and swell of passion that enables it.  Shuichi’s characters do not visit the graves of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu, instead, they are making a zombie B-movie and they seem all the better for it.

My Secret Partner
(South Korea, 2011)

I had a chance to see this before the festival and I must say that I was surprised to see it programmed.  One of the main qualifying factors for a film’s presentation at the FEFF is it popularity in its domestic market as the festival is a showcase for ‘Popular Asian Cinema’.  My Secret Partner (aka Perfect Partner) does not warrant that distinction.  In fact it was a flop, attracting less than 100,000 viewers at the time of its release.  So one would be forgiven for thinking that, since it was not a commercial hit, it must have been a critical one.  Once again this is not the case as the feature was mostly derided when it hit screens and then promptly forgotten.

I’m sure you can see what I’m hinting at: yes, it’s a bad film.  I had low expectations but was hoping for a surprise and though it gets off to a decent start, it begins to fade rather quickly.  The main problem is that it is a thin premise, furthermore it isn’t mined very well.  Compounding this is the film’s 125 minute running time, which, in the back stretch, feels like an eternity.

My Secret Partner aspires to be a relevant erotic romance but it’s lacks any real weight and its punchline, is never a mystery and it elicits little more than a shoulder shrug when it finally arrives.  And what does it say?  Not a blessed thing, which, in itself, is telling of the film.  Park Heon-soo’s film seems like it might have a purpose early on but any such hope evaporates by the halfway point.  By that time, it just becomes a chore.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day V Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Yesterday was very much a Korea-centric day.  It began with a 5:30am wakeup so that I could log onto Skype for an interview at 6:00am with someone in Korea, but this had nothing to do with Udine.  After writing my Day IV Report I went to the festival centre to take in the second double bill of the 1970s Korean film retrospective.  Following that I had the chance to see one of last year’s biggest Korean hits, one I’d been aching to see.

The evening’s panel was on the ‘Darkest Decade’ retrospective and featured curator Darcy Paquet and noted Korean film director and scholar (currently professor at K’Arts) Kim Hong-joon.  The talk began with a short video by Kim where he discusses March of Fools, a 1975 Kil Ha-chong (director of the previous day’s Pollen) film that was unfortunately not available for the FEFF.  The talk was fascinating and both panelists drew on their extensive knowledge of Korean cinema and shared some choice anecdotes. I only wish it could have gone on longer!

I didn’t catch the next Korean film screening as I had already seen (and reviewed) it so I took my leave to go back to the hotel early since the last three nights had yielded less than 15 hours of sleep.

No retrospective films today but I’m hoping to catch Dangerously Excited (South Korea, 2012), which screened before I arrived, in the press library.  I'm also looking forward to the The Woodsman and the Rain (Japan, 2011).

Rainy Days
(South Korea, 1979)

First up was Rainy Days (aka Rainy Season) which is one of the last films that Yoo Hyun-mok ever made.  Yoo is rightly famous for directing Obaltan (aka Aimless Bullet, 1961), which, along with The Housemaid (1960), is considered one of the defining works of Korean cinema.  Rainy Days may not have the visceral impact of his previous classic, but then again Obaltan was made during a brief transition period in the early 60s during which censorship was very lax.  This film is borne out of different circumstances and a careful examination of it reveals how a clever director like Yoo is able to bend the limitations of studio filmmaking, in a heavily censored era, to his advantage.

The film is set in a small rural community during the Korean war and while ostensibly an anti-communist film I couldn’t help but think that he was also making a statement about the society and political atmosphere in contemporaneous Korea.  Fear of recrimination is a large part of the film but perhaps even more so is hypocrisy, which has actually been an overarching theme in all the films that have so far been screened in the retrospective. 

The film if beautifully made and these works continue to surprise me with the high degree of sophistication with regards to their film technique.  Another great film from Yoo Hyun-mok and I hope to see it again soon, as I must admit that I was a little (very) tired during the screening after my late night finish and early morning start!

Night Journey
(South Korea, 1977)

The first thing that struck me about Kim Soo-young’s Night Journey was its star Yun Jeong-hie, who picked up numerous international accolades for her exceptional performance in Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010).  She made an enormous amount of films in the late 60s and 70s but of course precious few are available now.  I may even have been slightly uncomfortable seeing the woman who played the sweet grandmother in Poetry in such a lascivious role.

Kim’s film is a brief and focussed affair which examines the role of the independent, city-dwelling woman in Korean society circa the 1970s.  She plays a bank clerk having an affair with her supervisor but she is left sexually unsatisfied and even the hope of getting a husband out of the ongoing encounters is dashed as he finds the institution of marriage ‘lame’.

Hypocrisy rears its ugly head again as women are given the short shrift in Kim’s film as their changing role in society is ill-accepted by its patriarchs.  She may work in a bank but there is never a question that she could ever rise up to management.  She is referred to as an 'old maid' at work and thus is under pressure to get married because at this point in time, Korea offers no other recourse for a woman approaching middle age.

I loved how Kim’s film was short and to the point, it managed to say a lot in 76 minutes and I’m still going over it in my mind.

(South Korea, 2011)

Punch was Korea’s third most successful film last year which was a bit of a surprise but after seeing it, it quickly becomes clear why this film raked in so much cash: it’s a winner.  An exceptionally well-crafted studio fell-good hit, Punch has a lot going in its favor but its anchor is Kim Yun-seok, the formidable star of Tazza: The High Rollers (2006), The Chaser (2008), Running Turtle (2009), TheYellow Sea (2010) and this summer’s hotly anticipated The Thieves (2012).  Kim is a joy to watch on screen, he’s known for very intense roles but for me the common element that binds all his roles together is just how funny he is.  He’s extremely droll and his droopy eyes are able to convey such a range of emotion and I honestly don’t know how he does it.

Everyone had a great time with this and the whole theater was in stitches throughout most of the film.  Kim certainly plays his part but the supporting cast is also superb.  Anyone who had a chance to see Moby Dick (2011) earlier this week will have recognized Kim Sang-ho, the stout little actor with the bald head and frizzy hair who brightens up even the worst film, and he has been in some atrocious ones, such as last year’s woeful Champ.

Punch is a coming of age story about a resourceful but reserved young man who has grown up without a mother and in a poor and unconventional setting.  His teacher (played by Kim) lives next door and constantly harangues him, though it is obvious that he is affectionate towards him.  Themes of multi-culturalism, religion and acceptance abound in the narrative and while the going is often light and frothy, the subtext is clear and very well integrated.  This kind of a film, which inevitably takes detours into sentimentalism, is of the sort which often gets into trouble with suffocating melodrama and disingenuousness but director Lee Han has a firm command of the material and his film has a lot heart and it does pack a but of a punch.  Highly recommended for all-comers.

Penny Pinchers
(South Korea, 2011)

Previous MKC Review

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.