Showing posts with label im kwon-taek. Show all posts
Showing posts with label im kwon-taek. Show all posts

Monday, October 6, 2014

Busan 2014 Review: Mortality And Desire Mingle And Dance in REVIVRE

Part of MKC's coverage of the 19th Busan International Film Festival

By Pierce Conran

Returning for his 102nd feature, the indefatigable Im Kwon-taek continues his move away from period and cultural fare with the melancholic Revivre, pairing up once again with the equally venerable screen legend Ahn Sung-ki. Somberly shot and deliberately paced, Im's latest is a thoughtful and pellucid perlustration of mortality and desire.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

News: KOFA Uploads 15 More of Korea’s Best Films to YouTube for Free

By Pierce Conran

The Korean Film Archive (KOFA) has significantly expanded its YouTube channel, the Korean Classic Film Theater, after adding 15 new titles this summer. Among the new additions are rare titles from Korean cinema masters such as Im Kwon-taek, Yu Hyun-mok, Lee Man-hee, Lee Jang-ho, Kim Soo-yong and Ha Gil-dong.

Friday, November 9, 2012

WKR: LKFF, More BIFF and In Another Country's US Bow (11/03-11/09, 2012)

Reviews are still trickling in from Busan along with a wealth content from the currently underway London Korean Film Festival. Also of note is the release of In Another Country in the US


(Film Business Asia, November 7, 2012)

(Variety, November 5, 2012)

(Film Business Asia, November 8, 2012)

(Variety, November 3, 2012)

Friday, November 2, 2012

WKR: Im Kwon-taek London Retro and More From Busan (10/27-11/02, 2012)

Though it ended almost three weeks ago, the pace of reviews coming in from this year's Busan International Film Festival has yet to let up. Additionally, a comprehensive Im Kwon-taek retrospective is currently taking place in London with Eastern Kicks leading the charge on the review front.


(Variety, October 29, 2012)

(Film Business Asia, October 28, 2012)

(The Hollywood Reporter, October 31, 2012)

(Film Business Asia, October 29, 2012)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

KCN: Masquerade Triumphs at Daejong, Korean Films Wins Awards at Festivals (10/25-10/31, 2012)

Masquerade won a record-breaking 15 trophies at the Daejong Film Awards while a number of Korean films won prizes at major international film festivals.


49th Daejong Film Awards: Masquerade Wins... Everything
The largest movie awards show returned tonight as it held its 49th edition in Seoul. As the size and prestige of the industry has risen over the years, so has this awards show, which could be seen as Korean cinema's equivalent to the Oscars. It's not the only awards show in town as the Blue Dragon Awards, which take place in November, are also fairly prominent, but it's the longest running and the one with the highest profile. (Modern Korean Cinema, October 30, 2012)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Korean Cinema News (06/28-07/04, 2012)

Some good news for the state of Korean box office this week as well as some features on this year's PiFan. In addition, yours truly was interviewed by recently about Korean film and my recent move to Korea!


I'm covering this year's PiFan on MKC and over at Twitch with James Marsh where we're currently breaking down the program for everyone in a series of previews, check out the first two parts below:

PiFan 2012 Preview Part 1: Puchon Choice (Main Competition)
PiFan 2012 Preview Part 2: World Fantastic Cinema

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

KOFA's 'Classic Korean Film Theatre' Youtube Channel Goes Live!

The Korean Film Archive has launched its much anticipated "Korean Classic Film Theater" Youtube channel which features 70 different hard to find titles, all free and with English subtitles.  The films range from 1949's A Hometown in My Heart to Hong Sang-soo's 1996 debut The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well.  Numerous classic Im Kwon-taek, Kim Ki-young and Shin Sang-ok films are featured as well as many of the most important Korean classics of the past decades, including Yu Hyun-mok's Aimless Bullet (aka Obaltan, 1961), Park Kwang-su's Chilsu and Mansu (1988), or the original hostess film, Yeongja's Heyday (1976).

I'm dying to get stuck into the many I haven't seen but I highly recommend Im Kwon-taek's Sopyonje (1993), Kim Ki-young' Ieoh Island (aka Iodo, 1977) and the aforementioned Aimless Bullet.  Truly a phenomenal resource from KOFA and cause for celebration for all Korean film fans!


Full list of films after the jump:

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, December 8, 2011

Jopok Week: Im Kwon-taek's The General's Son 3 (Janggunui adeul 3) 1992

The final installment of Im Kwon-taek’s The General’s Son trilogy was not particularly well-received upon its release in 1992 in Korea.  Unlike the previous two installments, The General’s Son 3 was not the year’s highest grossing film, that honor went instead to Marriage Story, the ‘planned’ feature which is credited in part with the entry of the chaebol into the film industry, who modernized it, paving the way for the technically-superior Korean cinema of today.  Im stopped making actioners after this but he wasn’t absent from the top of the charts for long as his masterful Sopyonje was released the next year and became the first Korean film to cross the one million admissions mark in Seoul, even though the Korean market share of the box office fell to a record low of 15.9% in 1993.

At the start of The General’s Son 3, Kim Do-han is not released from jail, but he is in exile and his gang has been dispersed in Mapo-gu. The Japanese now control the district and Kim leads a peripatetic life, wandering from town to town, making connections and enemies along the way.  The first half of the film sees him on the road in a series of questionably strung-together sequences as he meets characters from previous entries in the franchise and makes some new ladyfriends while the back half of the narrative focuses on his return to Mapo-gu and leads up to the final and long-awaited (sort of) showdown with the local Yakuza gang. 

After an opening film that had quite a lot to say and did so in a balanced, if imperfect, manner, the conclusion to The General’s Son trilogy does little more than rehash themes and story tropes from the previous two films.  It adds nothing new, just presenting us with more fights, nightclub scenes, and women.  The first film affixed a fairly convincing historical and sociological pretext upon the generic template of the gangster film but The General’s Son 3 abandons what made the series a hit in the first place and revels in the threadbare mechanics of genre filmmaking.  Just as in The General’s Son 2, it’s all about the fights this go-round and women, but in a much more sexualized manner than in previous installments.  Gone is the simplicity of its predecssor, which was happy to give us a straightforward story which led from one fight to the next , instead we have to suffer Kim’s perambulations through foreign towns which bog down the narrative and add up to a big waste of time when he finally returns to his hometown.

The depiction of women in The General’s Son 3 was quite problematic and surprising given Im’s involvement.  The main love interest, who is gorgeous, is handled like a commodity when Kim meets her.  He stands up for her and they begin to fall for each other but then he treats her like a piece of meat too, only know she is more than willing to submit. One of the running gags in the film is her screams of pleasure which resound throughout the night. Perhaps Kim Doo-han’s virility is legendary, not that I have heard as such, but this repeated joke smacked of sexism for me. I can say that compared to the other female protagonists in the trilogy, who exit the narratives without having changed from when they first appear on screen, this new character is a little more three dimensional and features an arc which is passably integrated into the main narrative.

There is some attempt at character development, while Kim was a hero figure in the first and fell prey to vanity in the second, his current exile essentially leads him on a path to redemption and he returns to Mapo-gu the conquering hero.  However the characterizations here are not well fleshed out and in any case it is difficult to make anything out in the muddled narrative.  The good news is that it doesn't really matter as they fight scenes, while exceptionally contrived, are still very enjoyable, even if they get repetitive after a while.  We meet new gangs in the new towns and there's even some opium dealing and sex scenes thrown in for good measure.  

My biggest disappointment is that ultimately the film series didn't go explore what I was hoping it would, namely Kim Doo-han's transition from a gangster to a political figure.  It certainly hints at it but the wheels are never set in motion which I thought was a shame.  I suppose Park Sang-min would have been too young to portray an older Kim but now that 19 years have elapsed I imp Mr. Im to consider The General's Son 4 as his 102nd film!  The General's Son 3 is the weakest entry in the franchise but all in all I had a great time with this series despite its flaws and I look forward to revisit it again in its entirety soon.

See also:

The General's Son (1990)
The General's Son 2 (1991)

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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jopok Week: Im Kwon-taek's The General's Son 2 (Janggunui adeul 2) 1991

The second The General’s Son starts off much as the first did.  Our hero, Kim Do-han, is released from prison in the Mapo-gu district of Seoul by the short, mustachioed Korean detective who seems to have it out for him.  The only difference between this and the last installment’s opening is that instead of being a poor kid living under a bridge, released with nothing and facing an uncertain future, now he is a gang boss and he is welcomed by his minions and the citizens of the neighborhood.  He is adored by all, a foreshadowing of his successful later life in politics.

Whereas the original film indulged in delightful world-building, guiding us through a gorgeous period set of the Mapo-gu district and its myriad of colorful characters, the sequel jumps right into the plot.  Previously the focus was on Kim Do-han’s rise but now he is already on top.  The same gang conflicts arise here but while the action and plot moves thick and fast, it seems deliberately contrived though never complicated.  Actually it could be seen as somewhat prosaic, the story details lots of gang to-ing and fro-ing for the sake of inserting ever escalating brawls.  Make no mistake about it, The General’s Son 2 is primarily about fisticuffs, which is both an asset and a hindrance.

Due to this fixation on sprawling fight scenes, a lot of the film doesn’t make sense.  The love interests arise out of nowhere and are quickly forgotten about, and they are briefly tacked back onto the narrative here and there to patch the plot together.  The unification of the various Korean groups against the greater ill of the Japanese is all but gone, and the main arc pitting Kim’s gang against the powerful Yakuzas adds no agency to the narrative as it is just an expansion of the same sotryline from the first film. 

Some scenes add absolutely nothing to the narrative, for example in one near the end of the film a young man pays for his meal and leaves a bakery, he is then accosted by two of Kim’s goons who tell him to hand over his cash.  He refuses and one of them punches him, he then skillfully beats them up, runs away, and never appears again.  It adds nothing to the narrative and actually gives the impression that a new character has been introduced.  In the end the only interesting thing about it is that the role is played by a very young Jung Doo-hong who will be recognizable to Korean film aficionados as the famed stunt director who has choreographed and starred in many of Ryoo Seung-wan’s films as well as staging the martial arts for a number prominent Korean films in the last 15 years.

Just as in the first, the loud sound effects in the fight scenes are very distracting though with time you do get used to them.  What bothered me more was the use of soft focus on the woefully underwritten female characters, some of the strangest and most inexplicable love interests I have come across in cinema.  It seems that Kim Doo-han, as well as being “Korea’s best fighter”, a patriot, and a local hero, was also quite the ladies man, or so this series of films seems to suggest.  The use of soft focus on the female characters is so pronounced that it is nearly blinding.

This time around Im does not go to great lengths to add any historical gravity to the film, instead he unabashedly crafts a straight martial arts and gangster picture.  Kim Doo-han has already been established as the hero so after his exit from prison Im purposefully refrains from using him in fight scenes since, as is often the case with martial arts films, you have to work up to the big boss, even though in this film he is the protagonist and not the antagonist.  The fights start out with Kim’s small entourage, who I don’t believe were in the first film, duking it out mano a mano with low level aggressors before quickly all being involved in a brawl at the same time.  Then we expand from the unit and the scale of the fights increases more or less exponentially.  It’s perfectly preposterous and some of the stunt work, such as a perfect somersault down a flight of stairs two beats after a light knock to the shins, is hilarious, but the sheer enormity and fake grandeur of these sequences are a lot of fun.

Many Korean filmmakers like to go all out.  After seeing so many mass fights scenes in Korean films, such as Attack the Gas Station (1999), Kick the Moon (2001), and The City of Violence (2006), it’s good to know that the root for these can in fact be traced back to older Korean films and not just Hong Kong action pictures, though admittedly this film would have been inspired by them also. 

Aesthetics resolutely win out in The General’s Son 2 and narrative plays only a small part just like in Lee Myung-se’s stunning Duelist (2005), though this is a far less ambitious project.   In the end, see this one for the fights, we got all the story we needed out of the first one.

See also:

The General's Son (1990)
The General's Son 3 (1992)

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.

Korean Cinema News (12/01-12/07, 2011)

Not a huge amount of news this week but a lot of fantastic interviews to make up for it, including from veteran actor Anh Sung-ki and director Im Kwon-taek's, whose The General's Son trilogy is being reviewed as part of Jopok Week.  Also numerous interesting trailers this week and a long clip from the upcoming My Way.

I'm experimenting with the format of the feature by adding some pictures here and there, let me know what you think!


Get Behind the Scenes of Kang Je-gyu's My Way
The biggest Korean film of the year is unmistakably Kang Je-gyu's upcoming WWII film My Way and it really shows in the latest making-of video.  Every aspect about the production, from the large sets to the all-star cast of Jang Dong-gun (The Warrior's Way), Joe Odagiri (Air Doll) and Fan Bingbing (Shaolin, Bodyguards and Assassins), loudly screams blockbuster.   (Twitch, November 30, 2011)

Movie About N. Korean Defector Wins Award at Tokyo Film Fest
Director and lead actor Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan won the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo Filmex Festival that ended on Sunday.  The movie deals with the harsh reality of adjusting to life in South Korea from the point of view of a North Korean defector, and serves as a bitter portrayal of the prejudices he faces in his newly adopted home.  (The Chosun Ilbo, December 1, 2011)

North Korean DVDs
The eternal problem for any North Korean movie enthusiast is how to track the films down.  From sites like Wikipedia and IMDb, and North Korean Films, it’s possible to find out information about a huge number of North Korean titles.  But with mistranslations, inaccuracies about dates it’s not always possible to get an definitive idea about what’s out there.  (North Korean Films, December 1, 2011)

Busan Critics Name Tang Wei Best Actress
The Busan Film Critics Association (BCFA) has named Tang Wei best actress for her role in the local melodrama “Late Autumn.” This marks the Chinese star’s third honorable mention in Korea.  (The Korea Times, December 1, 2011)

You're My Pet Set for Wide Release in Japan, China
The South Korean romantic comedy You're My Pet has sold to nine Asian regions including Japan and China, its local co-distributors KJ-net and Lotte Entertainment said Thursday.  The film, based on a Japanese comic series and directed by Kim Byeong-gon, is slated to show on more than 100 screens in Japan beginning on Jan. 21, 2012 via Toho Co., before getting a wide release in China between February and March.  (The Hollywood Reporter, December 1, 2011)

Actress Kim So-eun Seeking New Challenges
Kim So-eun has expanded her fan base to include older Koreans with the weekend drama A Thousand Kisses. She said she feels she has marked a new stage in her career by broadening her appeal to viewers aged 30 to 70, whereas before she was followed mainly by teenagers and people in their 20s.  (The Chosun Ilbo, December 3, 2011)


It’s hard to believe the talk about actor Ahn Sung-ki, 59, the man who is often cited as a living legend of Korean cinema.  After having been in the public eye for more than 50 years, Ahn has built a reputation for kindness and charity through his work with organizations such as the Korean Committee for Unicef, where he has served as a goodwill ambassador for the past 19 years.  (Joong Ang Daily, December 2, 2011)

Probably the first English-language podcast dedicated to Asian cinema, Podcast On Fire has grown from an untitled one-man recording into a fully blown network of shows covering a wide range of Asian films:  from big-budget Hong Kong and Korean blockbusters and the beauty of Studio Ghibli down to the darker, lesser known and seedier corners of Category III film.  (New Korean Cinema, December 5, 2011)

Choi Equan, the film director who was recently appointed as the head of the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), is caught between the idea of turning the school into an academic house or a breeding ground of filmmakers who could adapt to the field quickly.  KOBIZ caught up with Choi before his admissions interviews with students for the next semester.  (KOBIZ, December 2, 2011)

Demand for the services of overseas Korean centers is increasing, particularly in light of the sweeping success of “hallyu” or the Korean wave.  A key ingredient in the successful overseas promotion of Korea is the creative mindset and active involvement of people who run such centers, according to a veteran culture official and film expert.  Kim Dong-ho, the founding director the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), is one of the most familiar faces in the Korean film industry.  (The Korea Times, December 1, 2011)

The Master of Korean National Cinema: An Interview with Im Kwon-taek
Renowned Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek made his third visit to USC this month for a panel discussion about Korean cinema and his films.  Korean cinema cannot be discussed without mentioning renowned film director Im Kwon-taek.  His films deal with a time period that spans about 500 years – from the Chosun Dynasty, through the colonial period and the Korean War, to the present – and he has persistently probed what it feels like to be a Korean, or more precisely, the pain of being a Korean, surviving each era.  (Asia Pacific Arts, November 28, 2011)


My Way (8 minute clip)



(Modern Korean Cinema, December 5, 2011)

Korean Cinema News is a weekly feature which provides wide-ranging news coverage on Korean cinema, including but not limited to: features; festival news; interviews; industry news; trailers; posters; and box office. It appears every Wednesday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jopok Week: Im Kwon-taek's The General's Son (Janggunui adeul) 1990

According to an article from The Korea Times, the first Korean gangster film was Gallant Man, released in 1969.  Following this a flurry of gangland films were released, highly influenced by the contemporaneous Japanese Yakuza pictures made by such prolific luminaries as Kinji Fukasaku and Seijun Suzuki.  Among these was the film series by director Kim Hyo-cheon on Kim Doo-han, a real life prominent Korean gangster in the 1930s who became a politician in the 1950s.  During the heavy censorship of Chung Doo-hwan’s administration (1980-88) gangster films were no longer part of Korea’s movie landscape but they made a comeback in a big way in the early 1990s.

Korea’s revered cineaste Im Kwon-taek has directed 101 films to date, many of those were made in his busier days in the 1960s and 70s, during which time he made a number of action films before attempting more serious works in the 1980s such as Mandala (1981) and The Surrogate Woman (1987), which toured international film festivals and made him, at that stage, the most prominent Korean filmmaker.  In 1990, shortly after the fall of Chung Doo-hwan, Im began his own series on the life of Kim Doo-han with his The General’s Son trilogy (1990-92).  The first film was a huge hit and became the country’s highest grossing film, a record that had been held since 1976 by Winter Woman.  For Im the trilogy was a brief return to action cinema before moving on to the more contemplative Sopyeonje (1993), which once again broke the all time Korean box office record and is considered by some to be the greatest of all Korean films.

The first The General's Son chronicles Kim Doo-han’s unlikely rise to power in the Japanese-occupied Mapo-gu district of Seoul in the 1930s.  The narrative opens with his release from prison, having spent a year behind bars for a petty crime.  With his newfound freedom he returns to a shack under a bridge where a friend of his still resides.  He is a beggar at the very bottom of the social ladder but he is also Korean which makes him equally oppressed by the Japanese occupiers.  He finds work at the local theatre, which is considered the heart of Mapo-gu and his featured prominently in all three films.  He recites lines through a loudspeaker detailing the plots and stars of the theater’s latest offerings as he trudges through the district’s muddy streets with a marching band.  Kim's pay is 10 won a day and two free tickets to the movies.  Proud of himself after receiving his first honest wage he goes to a local bakery only to have two thugs demand to see his film tickets.  Naively, he hands them over and they promptly leave, ignoring his protestations.  Following them outside he continues to demands his tickets back but as they begin to aggress him, he easily fights them away and they scamper off.  Not thinking about what’s just happened he goes back to his table, oblivious to everyone’s stares.  Shortly thereafter a captain in the local gang walks in, slaps him for beating his boys, and offers him a job.  So begins Do-han’s quick ascent in the local gang hierarchy.

It must be said that in some ways the film can seem very tacky.  It looks dated, the sounds in the over-choreographed fights are outrageously loud, and the improbable story is told with little subtlety.  However the film actually has a huge amount to offer and in many respects is very well-made.  Not to mention the fact that its brashness and brevity is positively infectious.  The best elements of the film come together in an extraordinary sequence that mostly takes place in the cinema.

Doo-han now works at the theater, which is gang-controlled, as all sorts of different characters stream in for a screening and we are brought up to speed with many of the relationships in the film as well as how the neighborhood interacts.  The local courtesans, idling their free time during the day, flirt their way in for free while at the other end a group of young boys, in a rather disgusting sequence, try to sneak in through the women’s lavatories only to be caught and beaten, save for one who hides in the isles.  The smell gives him away and Kim grabs him but instead of throwing him out he suggests that he should have brought a spare change of clothes, like he used to do.  A man comes on stage to introduce the film and the lights go down.  He narrates the silent pro-Korean picture as watchful Japanese eyes look on from their censor’s box.  Someone then taps on Kim's shoulder and he rushes outside as a big fight between the top Korean school fighter and a rival is about to start.

Im deftly handles the many elements of this sequence, which reminded me both of Cinema Paradiso, which had just been released the year before, and Martin Scorsese's rich and evocative film style.  There is a great flow, energy, and richness in detail throughout.  It’s pretty electrifying stuff and for me, the highlight of the trilogy.

If you pay attention, there is a lot of attention to detail in the film.  The set of historical Mapo-gu is magnificent though it may not be realistic.  Costumes are very important and also serve to tell the story.  Kim’s attire in particular evolves along with his character.  We first meet him in tattered clothing and as he becomes a member of the gang he begins to wear clean clothes.  One night, after impressing everyone with his fighting skills his boss gives him his leather jacket which Kim then wears with pride.  Soon he his wearing suits and hats, another sign of power, which become flashier and perch higher on his head the more he ascends.

The great strength of The General’s Son is that it is a simple but effective story with plenty of worthwhile subtext that is told with exuberant alacrity.  In effect Im has crafted a film with prescient social commentary within the pleasant trappings of a genre, something that would become very common and be experimented with even more successfully in later years.

See also:

The General's Son 2 (1991)
The General's Son 3 (1992)

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, October 26, 2011

Korean Cinema News (10/20-10/26, 2011)

Not quite last week's haul but nonetheless a lot of great features and interview (and a comprehensive academic thesis!) this week on a variety of topics.



Director's Cut of War of the Arrows Hits Theaters
An extended version of Korean action film War of the Arrows was released in Korea last thursday.  The new cut features an additional six minutes of footage, primarily in the action sequences.  (10 asia, October 20, 2011)

Filmmaker Im Kwon-taek: Master of Mirrors
At 75, the filmmaker continues to explore new ground.  “I don’t lie in my movies... I simply try to capture what we feel in our everyday lives.”  (The Korea Times, October 20, 2011)

Punch Pushes Actor Into Next Phase of His Career
The new film Punch does not have an exciting story line, a swirling climax nor a vengeful villain at its center.  But it does have the talents of an engaging young actor named Yoo Ah-in, who appears to have lost a bit of his boyish arrogance and is entering a new, more serious phase of his career.  (Joong Ang Daily, October 21, 2011)

A New Era for Asia’s Biggest Film Festival
When a small film festival opened at an outdoor market in Nampo-dong, Busan, during the mid-90s, few expected it to make a mark in the industry amid more prominent competition in Asia.  Back then, the Asian festival circuit was based mostly on two strongholds – the Tokyo International Film Festival, located in the second-biggest film market on the globe, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, located in the world’s fastest-growing film market.  (Joong Ang Daily, October 21, 2011)

The Original Murder 2 Director in Town!
South Korean filmmaker Na Hong-Jin isn’t a big talker.  Maybe because he doesn’t speak English, and it was his translator who was doing all the chatting.  But uttering the key words ‘Murder 2’, ‘inspired from’ and ‘your debut film The Chaser (2008)’ immediately got us a response in the form of a visible nod.  (Hindustan Times, October 20, 2011)

New Council to Address Monopoly in Domestic Film Industry
A new council has been launched to resolve the issue of monopoly by large companies in the domestic film industry.  (KBS, October 21, 2011)

Korean Talent Agency Cuts IPO Size After Key Star’s Drug Scandal
Korean talent agency YG Entertainment, which manages the popular boy band Big Bang, has cut the size of its planned initial public offering, citing a drug scandal involving a key star as a risk factor.  (Joong Ang Daily, October 21, 2011)

Real-life Poongsan Dogs Deliver Items to Separated Families
The protagonist of Poongsan, a South Korean film released last summer and named after a breed of hunting dog from North Korea, is a person who goes between the two Koreas via China to transport things or people.  (The Dong-a Ilbo, October 21, 2011)

The Yellow Sea Playing at Philadelphia Film Festival
The Yellow Sea: South Korean director Hong-jin Na follows up his explosive debut, The Chaser (2008), with a crime drama about a cabbie who is forced to become a hit man to pay off his wife's debts.  An action film to match any of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, The Yellow Sea "is a true epic," says Lerman. "It has huge set pieces, huge car chases, and amazing plot twists."  (philly.con, Ocotber 21, 2011)

Song Hye-kyo Returns with New Movie
After vanishing from the public's view for the last three years, actress Song Hye-kyo has returned to the silver screen with A Reason to Live, a story about a woman who forgives a boy for killing her fiancé.  (The Chosun Ilbo, October 22, 2011)

Rooney Mara Says No to Oldboy
Variety's Justin Kroll tweeted yesterday that Mara has passed on the part, so producers will have to keep making their way down the wishlist to land someone opposite Josh Brolin.  (Twitch, October 20, 2011)

Planet of Snail to Compete at Amsterdam Doc Fest
Korea-Japan-Finland documentary Planet of Snail, directed by Yi Seung-Jun, will be in the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) Competition for Feature-Length Documentary.  (KOBIZ, October 23, 2011)

Lee Man-hee classic A Day Off + Mark Morris talk at KCC
Lee Man-hee’s classic film A Day Off (1969) will be screening as part of the London Korean Film Festival this year, with a talk by Dr Mark Morris.  A Day Off is part of the Lee Man-hee DVD box set which might be in your to-watch pile.  This is your opportunity to see it.  The screening and talk is on 11 November at the KCC at 7:30pm. Book your place via [email protected].  (London Korea Links, October 22, 2011)

Lee Seung-gi And Ha Ji-won Receive National Merit Awards
The multi-faceted entertainer Lee Seung-gi along with top actress Ha Ji-won both received national merit recognition at the 48th Savings Day event.  (KBS, October 25, 2011)

Political Ideology and Culture in Film
Movies are one of the most effective media for disseminating and propagating political ideologies to people.  In communist countries where propaganda is imperative, the government controls the movie industry in order to produce and promote movies filled with propaganda.  (The Korea Herald, October 25, 2011)

Museum of Fine Arts Houston to Host Series of Korean Films
The Museum of Fine Art Houston will screen a series of Korean films from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6 at the museum, located at 1001 Bissonnet.  The screenings are part of the museum's Spotlight on World Cinema program, which looks at films from different parts of the world.  The focus of the upcoming program is South Korea and will include The Housemaid, The Day He Arrives, Finding Mr. Destiny, and Secret Sunshine (2007). (, October 24, 2011)

Well Go Takes Korean Oscar Contender, The Front Line
North American rights to South Korea’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, The Front Line have been picked up by Well Go USA Entertainment.  Directed by Jang Hun (Secret Reunion), Well Go plans a January release in major markets.  (indieWIRE, October 25, 2011)

Who's Afraid of Lady Vengeance?
This Halloween, take a break from your chainsaw massacres and nightmares on Elm Street and try some horror with an Asian flavour.  Horror movies from East Asia have a lot going for them.  Aside from offering a glimpse into unique cultural mythologies and traditions, you'll find a greater emphasis on supernatural forces in the real world, compared to western horror, and more fatalism where individual agency is concerned.  (The Vancouver Sun, October 25, 2011)


In this study, See He Han analyzes how recent Korean cinema has responded to the forces of globalization by appropriating these influences both on and off screen. (University of Texas, 2011)


BIFF - Q&A With Director Kang Hyung-Chul & Cast of Sunny
Q&A for Sunny took place after a screening of the movie at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival on October 7, 2011.  Appearing as speakers are (listed in order of picture above) director Kang Hyung-Chul and actresses Kang So-Ra, Jin Hee-Kyung, Yoo Ho-Jeong, Park Jin-Joo, Min Hyo-Rin, Kim Min-Young.  AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun was there and transcribed/translated the session.  (Asian Media Wiki, October 7, 2011)

Actress Jeon Do-youn - Part 1
Jeon plays Cha Ha-yeon, a femme fatale con artist who sneers at the world with her beauty and brains until she gets taught her lesson, in movie Countdown.  However, Jeon herself does not live her life so moderately.  Below is a record of her life, in no way moderate, where she pours the energy she will use to feel regret about her past or worry about her future, into what is most current.  (, October 21, 2011)

Q&A for Punch took place after a screening of the movie at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival on October 10, 2011.  Appearing as speaker is the movie's director Lee Han.  AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun was there and transcribed/translated the session.  (Asian Media Wiki, October 10, 2011)

Heo Jong-ho, director of Countdown
He has a mere 10 days. Ruthless debt collector Tae Geon-ho (Jung Jae-young) can only survive if he can get a liver transplant from compulsive scam artist Cha Ha-yeon (Jeon Do-youn).  This is the set-up of newcomer Heo Jong-ho’s crime thriller Countdown, a film that made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.  (KOBIZ, October 24, 2011)


Spellbound - ENGLISH


Too Many Villains

(Modern Korean Cinema, October 24, 2011)

Korean Cinema News is a weekly feature which provides wide-ranging news coverage on Korean cinema, including but not limited to: features; festival news; interviews; industry news; trailers; posters; and box office. It appears every Wednesday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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, October 14, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (10/08-10/14, 2011)

A number of reviews covering a wide array of films coming in from the just wrapped-up Busan International Film Festival, although not quite as many as I would have thought. I imagine that given how Asia-centric the festival was this year, not too many English-language publications sent a critic. Also a few reviews from this year's Sitges Film Festival this week.


(Blog About Everything, October 6, 2011)


(The Hollywood Reporter, October 8, 2011)

(The Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2011)

(Variety, October 13, 2011 - Subscription Required)

(Pop Matters, October 6, 2011)


(The Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2011)

End of Animal

(The Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, October 12, 2011)

(Hangul Celluloid, October 10, 2011)

(, October 8, 2011)


(Twitch, October 12, 2011)

(The Hollywood Reporter, October 10, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, October 9, 2011)

(East Asia, October 3, 2011 - French)

(Twitch, October 7, 2011)

The Yellow Sea

(Japan Cinema, October 5, 2011)


Black Hair, 1964
(New Korean Cinema, October 8, 2011)

(Kim Bong Park, October 13, 2011 0 French)

(dramabeans, October 11, 2011)

The Weekly Review Round-up is a weekly feature which brings together all available reviews of Korean films in the English language (and sometimes French) that have recently appeared on the internet. It is by no means a comprehensive feature and additions are welcome (email pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com). It appears every Friday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News, and the Korean Box Office UpdateReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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.