Showing posts with label lee byung-hun. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lee byung-hun. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: MEMORIES OF THE SWORD, Remembering Better Sword Fighting Flicks

By Pierce Conran

The wild card in the quartet of major Korean releases released in 2014's high summer season (alongside Assassination, Veteran and The Beauty Inside), the star-driven period spectacle Memories of The Sword proved to be a perplexing experience with jarring tonal shifts and unclear aims. Not even Lee Byung-hun and Jeon Do-yeon, two of Korea's most dependable stars, rise above the material, while newcomer Kim Go-eun is an awkward anchor to the film's emotional heft.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: THE FORTRESS, Sublime Political Allegory Closes Its Doors to the Uninitiated

By Pierce Conran

One of the most impressive casts of the year lines up in the austere and languid period siege drama The Fortress. Led by Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yun-seok and Park Hae-il, performances are strong all around in this magnificently shot and movingly scored but admittedly unhurried meditation on the nature of duty and hierarchy in Korean society. Heavy on political metaphors, this powerful film has found favor with local critics but may prove difficult for the uninitiated.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: THE AGE OF SHADOWS, Kim Jee-woon's Dazzling Period Spy Thriller

By Pierce Conran

Korean theatres have become inundated with films set during the Japanese Colonial period over the last few years but all are put to shame by The Age of Shadows, Kim Jee-woon's mesmerising return to home soil after directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand. The film also marks a strong start for Warner Brothers in the market, financing a Korean production for the first time.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

News: Fox Resuscitates A BITTERSWEET LIFE Remake with Michael B. Jordan

By Pierce Conran

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before but a remake of A Bittersweet Life is reportedly coming together at 20th Century Fox with Michael B. Jordan taking on Lee Byung-hun's classic gangster role and former animation director Jennifer Yuh Nelson filling Kim Jee-woon's shoes in what is tipped to be a franchise-starter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: A SINGLE RIDER Subtly Ponders the Small Regrets of Life

By Pierce Conran

A few months after the explosive period spy thriller The Age of Shadows from genre maestro Kim Jee-woon, Warner Bros is back with its second Korean production A Single Rider. Though both films share star Lee Byung-hun, who appears as an extended cameo in Kim’s work, A Single Rider, from debut filmmaker Lee Zoo-yong, is a far smaller work with only a handful of characters and which is largely concerned the theme of regret.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

News: Lotte Picks up TERMINATOR, Still No Release for MEMORIES OF THE SWORD

By Pierce Conran

In an unusual move, Paramount announced earlier this month that their summer tentpole Terminator: Genisys would not be distributed by their usual partner CJ Entertainment in Korea. That position has now been filled by Lotte Entertainment, which will release the film in July.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Korean Box Office: Red 2 Fends of The Wolverine in Week 2

Following a burst of activity in June and early July, the Korean box office has been down a little down (though still strong) these past few weeks as we brace ourselves for what should be an enormous August. 2.56 million tickets were sold over the frame, down one sixth from last year. Meanwhile the local market was 26%, only marginally higher than this weekend last year, which stood at 20%.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Revenge Week: Seeing Devils - Violence and Revenge in Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil (Part II)

Part of MKC's Revenge Week (July 8-14, 2013).

By David Bell

Released the same year, Jang’s Bedevilled offers a more delicate approach. Hae-won, an unsympathetic Seoul bank-worker, is forced to take time off after aggressive behaviour towards a colleague and visits her childhood friend Bok-nam on the fictional island of Moo-do. Appalled by the mannerisms and cleanliness of the farming islanders, she passively bears witness to their horrific treatment of Bok-nam and murder, and denial thereof to (again) useless police, of Bok-nam’s daughter. Frustratingly, Jang persistently plays with our expectation to see Hae-won emerge from her clean middle-class apathy and intervene in Bok-nam’s suffering under the abject, conventionally Othered, islanders. But just as she previously failed to act after witnessing Bok-nam’s gang rape as a teenager by those same men as youths, Hae-won, indifferent, arranges her return to Seoul. In turn, Bok-nam’s manic massacre of the islanders takes on a decidedly, and cleverly achieved, tone of despair. Had Hae-won intervened, as her need for redemption combined with the wretched islanders’ need of punishment appeared to signpost she would, the ensuing carnage might have taken a more traditionally cathartic mode – one more in keeping with the violence performed in I Saw the Devil.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Revenge Week: Seeing Devils - Violence and Revenge in Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil (Part I)

Part of MKC's Revenge Week (July 8-14, 2013). 

By David Bell

Spectacles of violence are an important aspect of modern cinema. At times they shock and appal us, at others they attract and excite. Often they are the most memorable moments of a film. To mention Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003) is to remind those, who have seen it, instantly of a man slicing off his own tongue. Our uneasy relationship to screen violence can be traced from the very genesis of cinema. Thomas Edison’s 1903 film Electrocuting an Elephant showed simply that – a scene of violence, the public electrocution of an elephant. That same year Edwin S. Porter took steps with The Great Train Robbery to bring the two cinematic aspects of narrative and violence effortlessly together. Today, spectacles of violence are regularly where cinema is found at its most visceral; where the reality of our corporeal bodies is brought into line with those of the characters on screen. In some instances, it can be deeply uncomfortable; in others, massively pleasurable.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Korean Box Office: G.I. Joe 2 Wipes Out the Competition (03/29-03/31, 2013)

G.I. Joe 2 Wipes out the Competition

Spring is in the air following a long winter and as a result Korea's multiplexes saw a dip in admissions. Hollywood took back the top spot during the weakest frame in quite some time as only 1.64 million tickets were sold. Moreover, due to the new foreign number 1, only 42% of admissions were occupied by local releases. Following a huge winter for the Korean film industry the outlook for local productions is a bit weaker for the coming months as people will enjoy the great weather before the sweltering summer will force them back into the theaters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

KCN: Weinstein Co. Picks up Snowpiercer, Interviews Galore and Much More (11/08-11/14, 2012)

Lots of news this week, some of its relating to the London Korean Film Festival and its spectacular closing. Save the Green Planet director Jang Joon-hwan finally returns with a new project, Berlin makes a big Korea selection, Pieta wins awards and many interviews to boot, most notably from Paul Quinn whose been a very busy bee over at Hangul Celluloid!



Kim Yun-seok to Star in New Jang Joon-hwan Film
Korea's most bankable star Kim Yun-seok is set to star in the sophomore feature by Jang Joon-hwan whose sensational debut Save the Green Planet (2003) rocked the international film stage upon its release. It'll be a decade separating his two films by the time this is released and while people have been wondering why he has stepped away for so long, though he he did directed a short in 2010's Camilia omnibus and is well-known as actress Moon So-ri's husband, there is not doubt that many are thrilled to see his return to the big screen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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.

Last year a couple of films, all with big box office tallies took home most of the awards but this year's event fortunately featured a few smaller films in the mix, not least Kim Ki-duk's Pieta, which picked up the Venice Film Festival's top prize, the Golden Lion, only a few weeks ago. The nominees list is still largely dominated by commercial hits, as this awards show as not traditionally been kind to independent fare, but it's nice to see a few make the cut. Though in the end it seems the variety was all for nought.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자, Gwang-hae, Wang-i Doin Nam-ja) 2012

by Simon McEnteggart

Mark Twain's seminal novel 'The Prince and the Pauper' has long endured as a classic for the manner in which it exposed the gulf between the upper and lower classes. The trials and tribulations that Prince Edward and Tom Canty undertake allowed Twain to explore the vast lifestyle differences amongst the 'haves' and 'have nots', with each protagonist utilising their prior experiences to emphasise the hardships and the unfairness evident in both. As a result the story has resonated with audiences of all socio-economic backgrounds, and in today's financial climate, it is perhaps more relevant than ever before.

With Masquerade, screenwriter Hwang Jo-yoon has adapted Twain's novel to Joseon dynasty Korea, with the case of mistaken identity transferred to King Gwang-hae and a lowly comic actor. With its well-structured and highly entertaining script, confident direction from Choo Chang-min and an enthralling set of performances headed by Lee Byeong-heon, Masquerade is without a doubt one of the best films of the year and a testament to the quality of Korea's period dramas.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

KBO: Masquerade Is King, Pieta Enjoys Golden Lion Bump (09/14-09/16, 2012)

Masquerade Is King, Pieta Enjoys Golden Lion Bump 

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Masquerade 9/13/12 53.30% 1,097,619 1,278,064 809
2 Resident Evil 5 (us) 9/13/12 14.30% 245,915 304,150 368
3 Pieta 9/6/12 7.20% 148,163 353,379 325
4 The Bourne Legacy (us) 9/6/12 6.50% 135,767 913,877 345
5 Traffickers 8/29/12 4.60% 92,289 1,534,579 305
6 Wolf Children (jp) 9/13/12 3.40% 77,796 85,933 225
7 The Expendables 2 (us) 9/6/12 2.50% 53,444 416,236 253
8 Neighbors 8/22/12 2.00% 40,285 2,416,188 222
9 The Thieves 7/25/12 1.50% 32,033 12,923,537 194
10 Insidious (us) 9/13/12 1.30% 27,488 35,030 178

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Korean Cinema News (06/21-06/27, 2012)

Lots of great news pieces this week, chief among them the fantastic lineup for next month's PiFan!


PiFan Unveils Lineup!

Far too much to go through here but upcoming Korean omnibus Horror Stories will be opening the proceedings and the week will close with Takashi Miike's latest, For Love's Sake. Lots of interesting films in competition and plenty of Korean films will be screened over the 11 days. James and Marsh and I will be breaking down the program over the coming days over at Twitch and we will both be onsite, providing the most comprehensive coverage you're likely to find! (Modern Korean Cinema, June 27, 2012)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Korean Cinema News (05/10-05/16, 2012)

Not a huge news week, the main item being that Snow Piercer is finally underway but some interesting features and tidbits nonetheless, including and a couple of trailers with English subtitles.

In other news I have become the Twitchfilm's Korea correspondent, a position I'm thrilled to take on but no need to worry as nothing will change regarding the day-to-day running of MKC.


Production Begins on Bong Joon-ho's Snow Piercer
Likely the most anticipated project on the horizon from a Korean cineaste, Bong Joon-ho's Snow Piercer has finally begun production, having first been floated as a project back in 2007.  New additions to the cast have been made, which now features Song Kang-ho, Ko Ah-sung, Ewen Bremner, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Kenny Doughty and Emma Levie.

Some location photography on a glacier in Austria has already wrapped and no they are underway with the main segment of filming which is happening at the Barrandov studios in Prague, Czech Republic.  It's wonderful to see this exciting project finally coming to life and hopefully the production will be smooth sailing from here on in.  (Modern Korean Cinema, May 16, 2012)

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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jopok Week: Masculinity and Beauty in A Bittersweet Life and The Man From Nowhere – Part II

Questions of Masculinity and Beauty in the Jopok Films A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Man From Nowhere (2010)


A Bittersweet Life

The question of who dies or survives is not a superficial question.  For Sun-woo, ultimately he is the author of the circle in which he becomes ensnared.  This truth is reflective of A Bittersweet Life’s very insular world.  The gangsters in this film hardly interact with the daytime, if they can help it; whatever dealings with the international world that the criminal organisation may have the film does not show or mention.  The irony is that Sun-woo could not help it:  Sun-woo is assigned to look after his boss’ much younger girlfriend Hee-soo for several days while he is away because he is suspicious of her having a boyfriend.  Like a rope that has reached its breaking point, Sun-woo's meeting with Hee-soo unravels the strands of loyalty and honour that had sustained his good standing with his boss.  After tasting a different rhythm and colour of life by accompanying Hee-soo in her day-to-day activities as a student, Sun-woo makes the decision to not kill Hee-soo and her boyfriend.  But what is a gesture of goodwill in the sweet light of day is a death wish in the underground shadows of noir.

The themes of loyalty, betrayal, and revenge; the narrative development of a woman triggering the protagonist's “downfall”; and the jungle of marginalised characters encountered to get to the boss are all there.  But Kim revels in playing with these conventions to bend the jopok under his spell.  One of the film’s distinct characteristics is the segment that bridges Sun-woo’s escape from his boss’ henchmen and his last killing spree.  In this unexpected, comical sequence, which could be a short film unto itself, Sun-woo meets a Laurel and Hardy-like pair of gunrunners and has a great seated showdown with their boss.  It is a bold move because this sequence basically brings to a standstill the dramatic action of revenge, but it showcases Kim’s distinct perspective of things and references the great peculiarity of his previous films like The Quiet Family (1998) and The Foul King (2000).  In this way, Kim demonstrates an incredible confidence in his interpretation of noir as a narrative template as well as visual pleasure.  From a bloody standoff on an ice rink, a muddy buried-alive punishment that turns into a veritable resurrection, the visual motif of lamps and turning on/off lights as a more literal illustration of noir lighting and mise en scène, to the final meeting with his boss at the Melville-esque lounge with the words la dolce vita between them in the background in all its irony, A Bittersweet Life is full of cool, masculine attitude and mood.

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere is much more diversified in terms of the scope of criminal activities with which one must contend.  It brings together the Chinese mafia, a Thai assassin, child trafficking, drug trafficking, and organ harvesting to create the formidable criminal web in which pawnshop owner Tae-shik unwittingly finds himself through his acquaintance with a little girl, So-mi, who lives in the same apartment complex as him.  Unlike Sun-woo in A Bittersweet Life, Tae-shik has a backstory – and a tragic family one at that – which informs his conscious reaction to the things that happen to him and the things he witnesses with regards to So-mi.  Even if his actions yield unexpected results, his objective to rescue So-mi never falters.  That he ends up having to confront a big-time criminal organisation and put a stop to their illegal activities in the process is ultimately secondary but convenient and dramatic in a narrative sense.

How Tae-shik gets embroiled in the criminal organisation run by brothers Man-seok and Jong-seok is complicated.  While some regard this complexity as a flaw, it actually reveals the film’s smartness in terms of keeping up with these complex, globalised criminal times.  The parallel strands of Tae-shik finding more about Man-seok and Jong-seok’s extensive criminal operations and the police finding more about Tae-shik’s international special agent background reflect the reality of a more connected, complicated, diverse world.  Lee’s desire to reflect this multilayered reality may also help to explain his decision to have Tae-shik’s most electrifying fights be against Ramrowan, the Thai assassin who works for Man-seok and Jong-seok, instead of the brothers themselves.  Aside from the splendid choreography, the most striking detail about their confrontations is the surprising absence of extra-diegetic music.  The sequence that consists of the silence of their first fight in a bathroom and the pulsating sounds of the dance floor as they stand and face each other as if to initiate a duel, despite the crowd of people dancing obliviously around them, is an effective example of visual and aural contrast and also foreshadows Tae-shik and Ramrowan’s even more vigorous knife fight towards the end.  At the same time, Tae-shik and Ramrowan’s confrontations rise above the story to occupy a whole other dimension unto itself, which accounts for the film’s stylisation.  In this sense, unlike his colleagues, Ramrowan serves less to drive the plot than to affirm and spectacularise Tae-shik’s character.  Ultimately, nothing topples Tae-shik’s coolness and moral sense of self, which affirm each other throughout the film: so guarded of his past, but it tempers his actions in the present.

Angels with Dirty, Pretty Faces

David Thomson writes of Alain Delon in Le samouraï, “[T]he enigmatic angel of French film, only thirty-two in 1967, and nearly feminine.  Yet so earnest and immaculate as to be thought lethal or potent.”  This description of Delon’s taciturn, schizophrenic assassin in Le samouraï is perhaps not the first image of a killer that comes immediately to mind. It certainly does not apply to the majority of assassins or gangsters in cinema, past or present.  In fact, it applies only very rarely.  Not even Ryan Gosling in Drive (2011, Nicholas Winding Refn) fits this bill, regardless of the frequent comparisons made between this film and Melville’s work; marvelous attempt, but not quite.  
Only Louis Koo in Election 2 (2006, Johnnie To) – stunning, menacing, and intensely still all at the same time – is a worthy match.  In contemporary Korean cinema, Lee Byung-hun and Won Bin.

Fans and critics alike frequently discuss these actors’ attractiveness, in terms similar to the ones that Thomson uses above to describe Delon:  “feminine,” “earnest,” “immaculate.”  Any filmmaker who casts these actors must somehow take into account their attractiveness and proceed accordingly, so that part of the interest in these actors in a jopok film – with all of its grimy, sordid violence – consists in seeing how the film uses their attractiveness:  is it downplayed, made more conspicuous?  For the actor, such as Delon, these gangster/noir films are a way to overcome or make rough one’s attractiveness and to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.

For A Bittersweet Life, Lee Byung-hun’s looks were crucial for Kim Ji-woon.  In a 2009 master class, Kim elaborated on his choice of Lee to play Sun-woo:  “One of the reasons I cast him was that in French noir, the most [well-known] protagonist was Alain Delon.  I thought that Lee Byung-hun is the Korean actor who most resembles him.  Alain Delon doesn't have a lot of dialogue, either.  I worked it in because I thought he was the one who could bring the eyes and aura of Alain Delon.”  Accordingly, Kim shot Lee in close-ups and extreme close-ups throughout the film to express the gamut of overwhelming emotion that Sun-woo must go through without resorting to dialogue.  In turn, Lee brings the eyes, aura, and walk that recall the steely coolness of Delon.  Lee's walk alone conveys a myriad of things, such as in the opening scene where he descends from the sky lounge to the underground bar – the camera closely following from behind – for the first fight scene.  Or in the scene where Sun-woo walks towards Hee-soo to take her home – the camera also closely behind – and then does a quick about-face when he sees her male friend get there before him. The performance is wordless, but Lee gets the giddiness of a schoolboy in love as well as the shyness, vulnerability, and embarrassment that go with it.

For The Man From Nowhere, Lee Jeong-beom also made symbolic use of Won Bin’s pretty boy looks.  Lee speaks of casting Won Bin in a 2011 interview, “In the beginning I had an older character in mind.  But Won's face drew me to him even more.  He has a beautiful face, but when he is not speaking his face is cold.  For example, in the scenes with the child his youthful side would show, while in the action scenes his face grew colder.”  Lee, like Melville with Delon, drew amply from and enhanced the mysterious allure of Won Bin walking quietly but determinedly, looking, and listening intently, or simply standing still in order to create the emotion and mood of scenes.  The film introduces Tae-shik in such a way, which makes the fight scenes and aggressive dialogue all the more impactful.  Ultimately, why The Man From Nowhere works despite its borrowings of kidnapping, busting a drug/trafficking ring, and an ex-special agent rekindling his deadly training plots is due largely to the charismatic tension between the jopok genre and Won Bin’s pretty boy-ness.  The first part of the film relies heavily on this tension, with Won Bin’s face half covered by his hair, while the rest of the film and his subsequent haircut are the consequences of the full-on collision between Won Bin and the ultra-violent, ultra masculine world of jopok.

But what distinguishes Lee Byung-hun and Won Bin from Delon are the “manly tears,” so prevalent in South Korean films, jopok films included.  In both A Bittersweet Life and The Man From Nowhere, Lee and Won each have their moment of manly tears, something that would never happen to Delon’s characters.  What are the roots of this motif (see Pierce Conran’s previous post on MKC)?  Perhaps it goes back to the issue of reviving not just the screen image of Korean masculinity but a particular one that taps into Korean cinema’s history of melodrama and aestheticises masculinity and emotion simultaneously.

Part I of Masculinity and Beauty in A Bittersweet Life and The Man From Nowhere

Rowena Santos Aquino recently obtained her doctorate degree in Cinema and Media Studies.  She is a contributing writer to Asia Pacific Arts.  She has also contributed to other online outlets, such as Midnight Eye and Red Feather, and to print journals, including Transnational Cinemas and Asian Cinema.  She also loves football.  She can be found musing about film and football on her twitter page.

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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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jopok Week: Masculinity and Beauty in A Bittersweet Life and The Man From Nowhere – Part I

Questions of Masculinity and Beauty in the Jopok Films A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Man From Nowhere (2010)

By Rowena Santos Aquino

The Jopok Film

In June 1990, Im Kwon-taek released the first film of what would become The General’s Son series (1990-1992).  The General’s Son singlehandedly revived the jopok, or organised crime, film in South Korean cinema, following a drought that stretched back to the 1970s and early 1980s.  Significantly, in October 1990 the South Korean government declared war on organised crime and proceeded to conduct raids on various criminal organisations and arrest leaders of the principally family-led businesses throughout the country.  Though government raids and arrests occurred following the release of The General’s Son, it is interesting to imagine that headlines about real-life jopok members fed into the ongoing interest in the film and the rest of the series, and contributed to making it a box-office hit.  One need only recall the classic Hollywood gangster triptych of Little Caesar (1930, Mervyn LeRoy), The Public Enemy (1931, William A. Wellman), and Scarface (1932, Howard Hawks) to think of a scenario of crime headlines, film production, and the box-office informing each other in such a way.

Chow Yun-fat in The Killer (1989)

According to Jinsoo An, more immediately in the mind of director Im Kwon-taek in making The General’s Son series was the idea of reviving the screen image of Korean masculinity.  This idea was partly triggered by the highly popular and influential 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong action and Triad films – courtesy of filmmakers John Woo, Johnnie To, and Ringo Lam, among others – which began to be distributed in South Korea at the time.  Looming large above all other idealised images of cool, handsome, and individualistic masculinity was Chow Yun-fat.  With Chow’s height and tragic-manic persona in Woo’s films, he literally and metaphorically loomed over his male costars such as Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung.

Of course, the interesting detail is that John Woo modeled Chow Yun-fat’s walk, dress, and overall performance after the French actor Alain Delon and the crime noir films he did with Jean-Pierre Melville, especially Le samouraï (1967).  In turn, Melville was inspired by Alan Ladd’s portrayal of an assassin in the Hollywood film This Gun For Hire (1942, Frank Tuttle) for Le samouraï.  In these two films, Ladd and Delon personify assassins whose otherworldly physical beauty creates a compelling tension with their criminal profession and stoicism in the face of killing and death.

Alain Delon in Le samouraï (1967)

But what began partly as a way to distinguish Korean crime action films and images of masculinity from those found in Hong Kong films (flavoured with Melville-Delon) has become a full-fledged successful, dynamic, and self-sustaining genre in its own right in contemporary South Korean cinema.  Between 1990 and 2005, South Korean cinema saw a plethora of jopok films (e.g. Beat [1997, Kim Sung-su], Nowhere To Hide [1999, Lee Myung-se]), gangster comedies (e.g. No. 3 [1997, Song Neung-han], My Wife is a Gangster series [2001-06], Marrying the Mafia series [2002-06]), and other films that appropriated gangster tropes for their own purposes (e.g. Hoodlum Lessons [1996, Kim Sang-jin]).

Jopok Evolution

If by 2005 South Korean cinema had reached a jopok saturation point, it is also the point of departure for another phase in jopok evolution.  Films such as A Dirty Carnival (2006, Yoo Ha), The Show Must Go On (2007, Han Jae-rim), Rough Cut (2008, Jang Hun), and Breathless (2009, Yang Ik-jun) run through the usual gamut of jopok themes of duty vs. personal desire and the endless cycle of violence, but they also toy with the jopok genre in a marvelous way and present a different level of grittiness, self-reflection, and auteur expression over and above commercial impulses.  A Dirty Carnival and Rough Cut are particularly interesting for having the component of a film-within-the-film.  Rough Cut is especially superb for its commentary on the desire for the realism of violence and the gangster as a film fetish to be admired and feared at the same time by having an actual gangster play opposite an actor in a gangster film.  The very good looks of lead actors Jo In-seong and So Ji-seob in A Dirty Carnival and Rough Cut may not be absolutely crucial to the trope of admiration and fear of the gangster, but they certainly factor into it and reference that tension between beauty and violence with Ladd, Delon, and Chow.

So Ji-sub in Rough Cut  (2008)

In the context of this Ladd-Delon-Chow loner lineage and idea of cool, handsome, and individualistic masculinity, arguably the most existential interpretation thus far is Kim Ji-woon’s 2005 film A Bittersweet Life, while the most literal interpretation has to be Lee Jeong-beom’s 2010 film The Man From Nowhere.

A Bittersweet Life explicitly takes the jopok film to the level of noir, that is, a level of stylisation of lighting, place, film references, (masculine) interiority, and narrative trajectory.  The distinction between the gangster film and noir comes from director Kim himself.  Kim said in a master class on A Bittersweet Life back in 2009, “How I thought of noir was that it's a genre that expresses a gangster movie in a more aesthetic way.  I think that gangster movies and film noir have to be distinguished [and] separate.”  A Bittersweet Life is a stylistic exploration of one’s place in the world at a given time, one’s actions, one’s emotions that fuel or thwart such actions, and the consequences of in/action through the proverbial loner and revenge scheme within the criminal underworld.

Lee Byung-hun in A Bittersweet Life (2005)

Such a description also applies, though to a lesser degree, to The Man From Nowhere (2010).  It is stylistic in its own way and actually opens up the revenge scheme to reflect the globalised, diversified world in which criminals and their organisations must now work.  The differences in the ways in which these two films stylistically explore one’s place in the jopok world are much more marked than the similarities.  For one thing, the level of noir elements in A Bittersweet Life is much more pronounced than in The Man From Nowhere, which factor into the nature of each film’s narrative and conclusion.  In A Bittersweet Life, the existential malaise of the lone anti-hero is explicit and falls outside of any moral context.  Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) makes the conscious decision of not killing his boss’ girlfriend and clandestine boyfriend and pays for it.  To a tee he follows the protocol of revenge to its inevitable end after his boss and cohorts beat him to a pulp.  In The Man From Nowhere, the existential malaise is also palpable but fitted out more along moral/ethical lines as Tae-shik (Won Bin) is forced to come out of his shell and into contact with a crime organisation to find a kidnapped young girl.  While A Bittersweet Life follows a man bent on revenge against his own boss and cohorts and carried away by internal (il)logic that he himself does not question, The Man From Nowhere is about a man who gets haphazardly involved in a rescue and must contend with a host of external malicious forces.  While the narrative trigger for Sun-woo’s revenge in A Bittersweet Life is romantic, the impetus for Tae-shik in The Man From Nowhere is more familial through the young girl.  Perhaps the most significant existentialist difference between these two films is the death and survival of the protagonist.  Take a wild guess as to who dies or survives.

Won Bin in The Man From Nowhere (2010)

Despite, or because of, these differences, these two films make for an interesting study of comparison, especially with regards to their respective lead actors and how the films narrativise and deconstruct their masculine beauty.  Before focusing on Lee Byung-hun and Won Bin, some more general comments on the two films are in order.

Part II of Masculinity and Beauty in A Bittersweet Life and The Man From Nowhere

Rowena Santos Aquino recently obtained her doctorate degree in Cinema and Media Studies.  She is a contributing writer to Asia Pacific Arts.  She has also contributed to other online outlets, such as Midnight Eye and Red Feather, and to print journals, including Transnational Cinemas and Asian Cinema.  She also loves football.  She can be found musing about film and football on her twitter page.

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, June 1, 2011

Korean Cinema News (05/23-05/29, 2011)

Lots of news this week, including, festival news, castings, features, and much more.


Director Jang Hun Preps Upcoming War Film The Frontline
Following on from his brilliant debut Rough Cut (2008) and his extremely successful sophomore effort Secret Reunion (2010), Kim Di-duk's former protege Jang Hun is readying The Frontline for release this summer. The big budget blockbuster stars Sin Ha-kyun and tells the story of the final jockeying over final borders in the closing moments of the Korean war, after a truce had been agreed upon. The film is set to hit multiplexes in July. (Twitch Film, May 23, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk picks up award at Cannes
After competing in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival, Arirang, Kim Ki-duk's first directorial effort in three years has earned him the best film prize which he will share with German helmer Andreas Dresen whose film Stopped on Track was also in competition. (Joong Ang Daily, May 23, 2011)

Details and Poster Released for New K-Horror Ghastly
Plot details have emerged regarding Yang Yun-ho's follow-up to Grand Prix (2010), the horror film Ghastly. has a look at the poster. (, May 23, 2011)

The Journals of Musan Triumphs at Tribeca
Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan has won yet another award, this time at the illustrious Tribeca Film Festival in New York. It was named the winner in the best new narrative competition and was awarded a $25,000 cash prize as well as a further $50,000 towards post-production costs. (KOBIZ, May 24, 2011)

Final Details from the Cannes Film Market
As the Cannes Film Festival packed up last week, details emerged regarding the final sales from the film market, which included more international sales of Na Hong-jin's The Yellow Sea this time to Scandinavia and the Baltic region. (Film Business Asia, May 25, 2011)

Joint Venture Between Korean and Japanese High School Students
A new project, funded by the Processing Together Charity, will bring eight Japanese students to Seoul where they will collaborate with eight Korean students to make a film dealing with their cultures and histories. (The Korea Herald, May 25, 2011)

Korean Entertainment Dictates Fashion Trends in China
Korean entertainment is massively popular across Asia. In China, as well as other countries, hallyu has become so pervasive that it has begun to influence local fashion trends. Many young Chinese consumers who are hooked on Korean TV drama and movies are keen to adapt their lifestyle and consumption choices in order to emulate their Korean idols. (The Korea Times, May 25, 2011)
A new film dealing with the North is set to open domestically in June. Poongsan is produced by Kim Ki-duk and directed by Juhn Jai-hong. It tells the story of a mysterious man whose job is to transport goods across the border in three hours. (The Korea Times, May 26, 2011)

SIFF Launches Mobile Film Competition
50 films shot on smartphones will compete in the first ever Mobile Film Competition as part of the Shanghai International Film Festival. Park Chan-yu's Lofty Waves will be in competition. (CNN, May 26, 2011)

Sector 7 Presold to 46 Countries
CJ's much anticipated 3D monster film Sector 7 has presold its distribution rights to 46 countries. The film is Kim Ji-hoon's follow-up to May 18 (2007). (, May 26, 2011)

Korean Film Emerging in US Market
A great article about how Korean cinema and filmmakers are becoming more prominent in the United States. The new CGV cinemas were packed for screenings during the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival of Late Autumn and others. Korea auteurs Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon are prepping their Hollywood debuts while others, such as Jennifer Yuh, have already gained a foothold. (The Korea Herald, May 27, 2011)

Winners Announced for Baeksang Awards
Last Thursday, Lee Byun-hun won the prestigious Daesang grand prize at the 47th Baeksang awards. The Man From Nowhere came way with best film while Ha Jung-woo of The Yellow Sea and Tang Wei of Late Autumn walked away with the best actor and actress prizes respectively. Lee Chang-dong was also awarded best Director for Poetry. (Manila Bulletin, May 27, 2011)

Kim Ki-young's First Film Discovered
After being thought lost for more than half a century, Kim Ki-young's debut feature The Boxes of Death (1955) has been found. It was discovered in a US archive and screened in Seoul last Thursday. (The Korea Times, May 27, 2011)

Korean-American at the Helm of Kung Fu Panda 2
Hollywood latest blockbuster animation, the much-anticipated Kung Fu Panda 2, was shepherded to the screen by Korean-American filmmaker Jennifer Yuh. She started out as an assistant at Dreamworks in 2003 and she is the first Asian woman to direct at the studio. (Joong Ang Daily, May 27, 2011)

Kwon Sang-woo Set for Chinese Debut
Korean heartthrob Kwon Sang-woo is currently filmin Repeat, I Love You with Cecilia Cheung in China and will next be seen in Jackie Chan's Chinese Zodiac. (The Washington Post, May 27, 2011)

Seven Films to Get You Well Versed in Korean Cinema presents seven films that should get you well acquainted with Korean cinema. The list spans from 1999-2006 and includes, multiplex (The Host, 2006), arthouse (Peppermint Candy, 1999), and cult fare (Oldboy, 2003). (, May 28, 2011)

Next Hollywood Role for Lee Byung-hun
Lee Byung-hun is set to reprise his role in the sequel to G.I. Joe (2009) which will begin filming later this year. (, May 29 2011)

New 3DTV Breakthrough from LG
Korea's electronics manufacturer LG is set to heighten the 3-dimensional home entertainment experience with a new innovation which does not require the purchase of bulky and expensive 3D glasses. (Inquirer Technology, May 29, 2011)


A couple of new trailers this week, sadly with no subtitles. Quick doesn't really need them however.

Hoichori (no subs)

Quick (no subs)


Kung Fu Panda Knocks Out the Competition
The weekend was won by Kung Fu Panda 2 which amassed an enormous 1.5 million admissions, no doubt spurred by the fact that it was directed by Korean-American Jennifer Yuh. Pirates 4 saw half its loot disappear in its sophomore stint at the Korean box office but still managed nearly 600,000 admissions, it has 2.4 million to date. Meanwhile, Sunny didn't let up with nearly half a million tickets sold, bringing its total close to 3.5 million. Head opened small with 33,000 admissions and all other local fare was relegated to the bottom of the chart. (, May 29, 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.