Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Korean Cinema News (05/16-05/22, 2011)

Korean films have been selling well at Cannes this week, Criterion has caught up with the times, and 3D Korean films are beginning to make an impact.  Some interviews and trailers this week and the box office report.


Lee Chang-dong's film prior to Poetry is being released on DVD & Blu-ray in the US and not only that but Secret Sunshine (2007) is making it's way to home theaters courtesy of the Criterion Collection, long the go-to collection for serious film buffs.  This is an especially auspicious event as it is the first Korean film to be added to the series.  (Criterion, May 16, 2011)

In his latest film, Kim Ki-duk attacks the Korean film industry, including his former protege Jang Hoon for not being able to resist capitalism.  Kim has been withdrawn recently and with his comeback he seems more eccentric than ever.  (The Korea Herald, May 16, 2011)

Korea's Green Film Festival got underway last Wednesday and is features 140 eco-related films throughout its 8-day run.  The event is hosted by the Green Korea Foundation and has various sections including: Climate Change and the Future, Green Panorama, Korean Eco-Panorama, Children of the Earth, Animals, Desertification or Forestation, and Eco-fantastic.  (The Chosun Ilbo, May 18, 2011)

On May 16, the Korean Film Council, in tandem with the Busan International Film Festival, Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, hosted a Korean Film Night at the Cannes Film Festival.  The event attracted 540 guests, including many luminaries of the Korean film industry and other important figures such as the programer of the Cannes Film Festival and the Cannes film market's executive director.  (KOBIZ, May 18, 2011)

Korean sales company Finecut had a good run this year at Cannes and managed to presell a number of films, including many from last year such as BedevilledMidnight FM, and Cyrano Agency.  Among this year's slate, Finecut is in charge of both Hong Sang-soo and Kim Ki-duk's latest offerings.  (KOBIZ, May 19, 2011)

LA 3D Film Fest Awards Top Prize to Korean Filmmakers
27 Years Later, a 3D film from Shinterra and Joy Park was awarded First Place at the 8th Los Angeles 3D Movie Festival which was presided over by Hollywood experts including Chuck Comisky, the 3D VFX supervisor of Avatar (2009).  (The Korea Times, May 19, 2011)

A film made by the students of the Korean Academy of Film Arts will screen at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.  The House will feature in the main competition section and has already been released by CJ domestically.  (KOBIZ, May 20, 2011)


Park Jung-bum at SIFF
Before picking up his prize for Best New Director at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Journals of Musan director Park Jung-bum sat down for an interview in which he discusses his experiences that led to the making of his award-winning film.  (, May 16, 2011)

Hong Sang-soo's Proust Questionnaire
Hong Sang-soo replie candidly to a Proust questionnaire put to him by Korean Cinema Today.  (Korean Cinema Today, May 17, 2011)


A few trailers and clips this week. Sadly most do not feature English subtitles.

Sector 7 (no subs)

The Frontline (no subs)

The Cat (English subs)


Pirates Reels in the Crowds
The fourth installment in the ever-popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was met with a lot of success in the international marketplace and Korea is no exception.  With 1.2 million admission over the weekend, it is easily the biggest opening of the year, what remains to be seen is how it is received and how it will perform in coming weeks.  Sunny - 2010 is still holding strong with 535,000, barely down form last week, it has now brought in over 2.6 million spectators.  The Apprehenders suffered another big hit and is now all but guaranteed to fall short of a million admissions.  The only new Korean film ws The Cane which opened with just under 30,000 sales.  (, May 22, 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.

Korean Cinema News (05/09-05/15, 2011)

With Cannes underway we await with bated breath to see if any Korean films will walk away with some trophies.  For now some industry news to hold us over and this week's box office report.


While Audiences Shrink, Box Office Grows
The box office report for the first quarter of 2010-2011 from the Korean Film Council shows that while audiences have slightly diminished, revenue is up due to varied platforms including 3D showings. 2011 is off to a good start with Korean films clinching 56% of the market while the earning rate is the best it has been in a few years. (KOBIZ, May 9, 2011)

CJ Entertainment has secured a number of sales at the Cannes film marjet.  Chief among them is Tarbosaurus, the dinosaur action film and Sector 7, the 3D underwater monster film.  Also pre-sold was K-pop horror film White: The Melody of the Curse. (Screen Daily, May 11, 2011)

To spur local business by enticing foreign filmmakers, the Korea Film Council has undertaken to launch an incentive program which will offer a 25% rebate on production costs on foreign films with a budget under 3 billion won shot in Korea.  (Korean Cinema Today, May 13, 2011)

The Hollywood Reporter investigates the success of smaller Korean films that are finding niche audiences.  The film also alludes to the depression of Korean film industry.  While very informative be warned, this article is frequently wrong, for example: 'After hitting an all-time low in the mid-2000s', as I recall it this was the peak of Korean cinema.  I was also flabbergasted to find out that Battlefield Heroes cost nearly $80 million to make!  (The Hollywood Reporter, May 13, 2011)

10 Korean Films You Probably Haven't Seen offers up ten films from the 2000s that may not appear on more conventional lists.  Those listed include: A Good Lawyer's Wife (2003), Family Ties (2006), When Romance Meets Destiny (2005), Breathless (2008), and more.  (, May 14, 2011)

In an effort to push into international markets, Fox International Pictures (FIP) has begun making films in local markets.  One example is Na Hong-jin's acclaimed The Yellow Sea which was a success in Korea and is now vying for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.  It is expected to do well at the Cannes film market.  (The Hollywood Reporter, May 15, 2011)


This week Sunny - 2010 took the Box Office crown, commanding the marketplace with over 600,000 admissions.  The Apprehenders took a big hit and came away with 135,000.  Clash of the Families likely spent its last weekend in the Top 10, it has accumulated 2.5 million ticket sales to date.  (, May 15, 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, May 10, 2011

Korean Cinema News (05/02-05/08, 2011)

Lots of festival news this week as well as a few reports on the state of the Korean Film Industry. This week also features some interviews and trailers. As always scroll down to the end for the box office report.


Six Films Will Be Featured at SIFF 2011
The Lengthy Seattle International Film Festival will feature no less than six South Korean films this year. The line-up is strong but does not feature many premieres, the line-up includes: 71 - Into the Fire, A Barefoot Dream, The consolation in the water mother (short), Dance Town, Late Autumn, and The Yellow Sea. (, May 2, 2011)

LA Film Fest Lineup Revealed
The Los Angeles Film Festival, which will play out in downtown form mid to late June, has announced its lineup. A number of anticipated Korean films have been invited, including: The Yellow Sea, Cheonggyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron, Come Rain, Come Shine, and Haunters. (, May 3, 2011)

Anyang Wins at Jeonju
Now that the Jeonju Digital Festival has wrapped up, the winners have been announced. Park Chan-kyong's Anyang, Paradise City picked up the Korea feature film prize while Jean Gentil from Israel Cardenas won the international competition prize. (Film Business Asia, May 6, 2011)

KOFIC Opens New Independent Film Theater
Indieplus, a venue which will exhibit independent films has been established by the Korean Film Council was opened in Gangnam in March. (KOBIZ, May 6, 2011)

Resurgence of Korean Animation
Few Korea animated films have been released in the last decade and as a a result anumation enthusiasts in Korea have had to sate their appetite elsewhere with offerings from America (Pixar, Dreamworks, etc.) and Japan (Studio Ghibli). Korean animation is poised to make a comeback in 2011 with two new releases hitting theaters this summer: Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild, and Green Days. (Joong Ang Daily, May 6, 2011)

KOFIC's Keys to Industry Development
KOFIC recently released its six key tasks for the development of the Korean film industry. They are: creating sustainable growing engines by increasing the global competitiveness; improving the industry and creating a fair competition environment; building an industrial safety system through improving the working condition of staffs; accomplishing cultural welfare by expanding the public service; improving the operating process of KOFIC and expanding the communication channel with the film industry; building the fundament for the industry toward the future. (KOBIZ, May 6, 2011)

Emerging Popularity of Korean Cinema
The Diamondback takes a look at Korean cinema and its rising popularity in the wake of the declining efforts of Hollywood. They caught up with DC Korean Film Fest organizer Tom Vick and controversial Korean filmmaker Im Sang-soo. (The Diamondback, May 8, 2011)


Q&A with Characters' Director and Actress
After a screening of Characters at the Jeonju Digital Film Festival, debut director Son Kwang-ju and lead actress Kim Su-hyeon took part in a Q&A session which was transcribed by AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun. (AsianMediaWiki, May 2011)

Interview with KOFIC Chairman Kim Eui-suk
Former film director Kim Eui-suk, the new chairman of the Korean Film Council, sat down to discuss the current state of the Korean film industry and the need to move into the international market now that the domestic one has reached saturation point. (KOBIZ, May 6, 2011)


Here are a few english-subbed trailers for recent and upcoming Korean films, including more Cannes Trailers:


Sunny - 2010 Advances to No.1
After two weeks of Hollywood blockbuster dominance, the foreign titans have fallen to domestic productions as Sunny - 2010, has grown in it's second week to take the box office crown, it has accumulated 620,000 sales to date. The Apprehenders saw a similar rise and now stands at a tad over 380,000 admissions. Both Thor and Fast Five saw their grosses dwindle by over 55%. Meanwhile, Suicide Forecast and Clash of the Families are wrapping up their runs with takes of 1 and 2.5 million to date. In Love and the War suffered a quick exit with a 90% drop. (, May 8, 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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Korean Cinema News (04/25-05/01, 2011)

I moved this past week and was without internet and phone for a few days until a few moments ago, so I apologize for the delay in this cycle of industry news.  Some festival news, a couple of good features, box office analysis, and a couple of trailers make up this week's content.  Again sorry for this taking so long, next week I'll be back on track and this will be more thorough!


The Korean Wave (also known as Hallyu) has spent the last decade sweeping across Asia but could it now have seeped into North Korea.  A new report from two academics claims that it has, recent defectors have confirmed that people are purchasing films on the black market and tuning their sets illegally to view programming from below the border. Could this be a portend of things to come?  (Reuters, April 29, 2011)

The popular Jeonju International Film Festival got underway last Thursday.  Over at, Marc Raymond counts down his 10 most anticipated, including an early screening of Bela Tarr's new and perhaps final film, The Turin Horse, a Lee Myung-se retrospective, and much more.  (, April 26, 2011)

At the age of 72, veteran actor Kim In-moon has passed on after a long battle with cancer.  He started his career in 1967 with Barefoot Glory and worked more-or-less nonstop for the rest of his life.  Due to his acquired handicap, he set up the Korean Disabled Actors Association, which he was greatly praised for.  (, April 25, 2011)

Arirang reports that the Korean film industry is losing ground to emerging powers such as China and India.  The industry has reacted by opening centers in Los Angeles and Beijing.  In addition a meeting will be held at the end of this month to discuss the current state of affairs, 200 are expected to attend.  (, April 26, 2011)

Master director Lee Chang-dong writes an editorial for the Cannes Film Festival about the evolution and themes and the Korean film industry.  (Cannes Film Festival, April 2011)

Journals of Musan continues to rake in awards, this time at Tribeca where it has won its director Park Jeun-beom, the first narrative feature award.  (April 29, 2011)


New trailers have been released for Korean films premiering at Cannes:


Thor has a strong opening in Korea with over half a million admissions, while Fast Five in its second week is inches away from the one million mark.  Meanwhile Suicide Forecast and Clash of the Families are still going strong after a few weeks of in release.  Korean war film In Love and the War got off to a decent start with over 100,000 tickets sold, while Sunny and The Apprehenders chalked up some mid-level numbers.  (, May 1, 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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Memories of Murder: Part VI - Psychoanalysis and Scarred National Identity

"The difficulty of separating the ego instinct (which he [Freud] equated with death) from the sexual instinct (which he equated with life) is attributed to their critical link commonly bound to the libido that is surely sexual, while also "operate[ing] in the ego"."

Freudian analysis of the emasculated males in South Korean cinema is necessary to understand the motivations of their actions within their respective narratives.  From Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud states "[The sexual instincts] are the true life instincts.  They operate against the purpose of other instincts, which leads, by reason of their function, to death".  As Freud states that the life and death instincts are inextricably linked, we can see that this is central to South Korean cinema.  Kyun writes "The death drive and the reconstitution of the elusive phallus posit an inevitable goal of many narrative movements", characters in films such as Peppermint Candy (1999) for example, demonstrate this clearly by positioning self destructive characters on a journey to regain their male subjectivity, often this is exemplified through phallic symbols and more overtly through fleeting sexual union.  In Memories, the life and death instincts abide in a very tight circle and unite paradoxically though incongruous character relationships.  Take Detective Park, the good guy, as stated before he is in search of his male subjectivity, even though he may not be fully conscious of this journey until much later in the film, but his duty throughout the narrative is to tail and catch a serial killer.  Therefore he is following death and his very motivation for actions and subsequently recuperation is an overt path of destruction that we, the audience, know from the start is doomed to failure.  Life will not be gained on his journey; it will only end in various instances, brutally and without explanation.

The image of corpse smash cuts to...
On the other hand, there is the serial killer, whom, while not present physically in the narrative (or at least never proven to be so), is a spectral presence in the film.  While he goes on his rampage of murder, he is in a way following the life instincts. He is also trying to reconstitute his elusive phallus and he does so by raping women, it is a perversion of the sexual instinct but nonetheless it shows a recognizable effort to recuperate.  However, the subsequent murder of his rape victims seems to contradict this, it is as though his path, like all other males in this area of cinema, is doomed to failure.  He engages in an act of violent and un-consensual sexual intercourse but fails to recuperate his male subjectivity.  Therefore his predetermined role as an emasculated male must become true and the narrative forces him to commit murder and draw ever further away from his goal.

...raw meat
However, back to the life and death instincts, it can be stipulated that any serial killer narrative (at least any that involves serial rape) offers a complex reversal of life and death roles.  Memories uses this genre for its own purpose and forces certain conclusions about the remasculinization of Korean males.  South Korean horror films in general have managed, very successfully, to subvert generic codes most commonly associated with Hollywood.  For instance there are a number of female serial killer protagonists that disrupt narratives by littering the screen with objectified male corpses, instead of attractive females.  Kyu Hun Kim, in his examination of Tell Me Something (1999) states that it "draws its horrific power partly from subverting and disrupting male-oriented scopophilia and the objectification of the female subject".  Memories does not reverse the gender roles but it does engage with scopophilia by challenging it.  The victims are for the most part very attractive women but we never see them while they are alive, save for a middle-aged women who is dressed down and a child, we only see their grotesque corpses which are pallid, bruised, contorted, and bug-ridden.  To make matters even worse for us sly editing techniques are used to throw us off balance.  In one case, after having examined the third victims’ gruesome body on the operating table we end on a very graphic and visceral close-up of the corpse only to immediately cut to a similarly framed close-up of blood red meat being thrown onto a red hot grill.  The sight of the corpse of a young child further into the narrative also serves to destabilize us; it even upsets the central protagonists who are meant to be hardened detectives.

Riots break out during a presidential visit
In terms of turning the lens on Korea there are a couple of elements that identify the killer as a symbol of a generation (a very violent one but perhaps not altogether singular).  The man that the narrative identities to us as the probable suspect is only a recent resident of the area.  He came from Kwangju, site of the infamous massacre of thousands of innocent civilians by the military, who reputedly "bayoneted students, flayed women`s breast, and used flamethrowers on demonstrators".  It is no accident that he comes from that particular area.  In addition the film is set in 1986, which was only a few years alter the incident that is viewed as one of the most traumatic for the country and is the lynchpin of the military dictatorship's regime in the 1980s.  Thus we can assume that this suspect is heavily traumatized and,  since he is very young, the massacre was probably the most influential moment of his life.  On the day of the massacre, the students and activists who were targeted, many of whom were women, were dressed in red.  The killer exclusively strikes victims dressed in red and only in the rain (it rained heavily during the Kwangju massacre). The sight of red sets him into a frenzy as he cannot erase the memory from his mind, he can only re-enact it again and again.  Other scenes in the film hint at this possibility, like the civil defense drills at night and in the schools where the children do not take them seriously, but most importantly during the brief presidential visit where riots break out.  The rioters are brutally beaten and Inspector Jo is among the oppressors as he violently attacks women on the street.

Inspector Jo attacking a woman
Joʼs position within the story becomes very interesting when he is later reprimanded by the superintendent for his excessive use of force and goes and goes to get drunk in Baek's family restaurant. It is here that his anger exhibits itself in its most violent manifestation as he brutally attacks the patrons of the bar and even seems to target the women.  He is clearly a part of a system which has compromised him and left him with very little direction but violence; he has become completely indoctrinated.  When he is once again reprimanded for his actions the superintendent kicks him down the stairs.  It isn't the violence that bothers the chief but how his reputation will be affected if the media finds out.  What seems to set Jo off in the bar is a female patrons' response to a news item on television about the investigation of a Detective for police torture and sexual assault when she says that "all detective's dicks should be cut off".  Jo is unable to control himself in light of this implicit attack on his phallns and loses control.  While not a sympathetic character like Detective Park, Inspector Jo does shed some light on what could have caused soldiers to become so violent in suppressing demonstrations in Kwangju. He is a character that has been manipulated so badly by the government that he can no longer control his own emotions and actions.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Korean Cinema News (04/18-04/24, 2011)

A varied selection of articles this week which highlight Korean films at worldwide festivals and upcoming releases which will open throughout the spring.  Also featured is a great article from The Atlantic about the digital underground in North Korea.


The Rise of North Korea's Digital Underground
Robert S. Boynton explores the rise of digital media as a way to proliferate information in North Korea in a new article for The Atlantic.  North Korea ranks dead last in the Freedom House's Freedom of the Press index but a small group of media organizations have popped up and are utilizing ever method at their disposal to get news into and out of the country. (The Atlantic, April 2011)

Lee Myung-se Recruits Seol Keong-gu for New Film
After a four year absence, Lee Myung-se (Nowhere to Hide) is prepping his next directorial effort.  Mister K is the story of a secret agent who must solve a big case to save his country.  Seol Kyung-gu has been cast in the title role. (Hancinema, April 17, 2011)

The Journals of Musan Wins Top Ward at Polish Film Festival
The Off Plus Camera Festival in Krakow, Poland has handed its top prize to The Journals of Musan which keeps adding to its bevy of awards.  It was the only Asian film in competition.  (The Chosun Ilbo, April 18, 2011)

Korean Date Movie Recommendations
Korean cinema is famed for its melodrama and well-made romance films.  Screen Junkies takes the time to pick a few of the best date movies from the country. (Screen Junkies, April 18, 2011)

Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival Awards I Saw the Devil Top Prize
Kim Jee-woon's hard-hitting fan favorite I Saw the Devil was awarded the top prize at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival.  Kim's film is the third Korean work to receive the Golden Raven after Save the Green Planet in 2004 and The Isle in 2003. (The Korea Times, April 20, 2011).

Study Names Hyeon Bin and Kim Tae-hee as Korea's Most Popular Stars
Following a survey last week which declared Won Bin and Ha Ji-won to be the most popular male and female actresses in Korea, a new, contrarian study has been carried out which states that Hyeon Bin and Kim Tae-hee are the nation's most beloved screen icons.   (Hancinema, April 20, 2011)

Korean Short Film Selected for Cannes Film Festival
Ghost, a short film from director Lee Jung-jin, will be competing in the short film section of the Cannes Film Festival.  The competition features 9 shorts and the jury will be presided over by Michel Gondry.  (The Korea Herald, April 21, 2011)

New Film Focuses on Small Village During the Korean War
Korea's JoonAng Daily has profiled upcoming wartime movie In Love and the War, which is slated to open in theaters April 28.   The film tells the story of a small village which welcomes North Korean soldiers in order to survive.   (JoogAng Daily, April 22, 2011)

More Asian Movies to Shoot in Seoul
Following the success of a Thai film which is set and filmed in the Korean capital, two new projects, this time from Malaysia, are currently filming in Seoul.   This growing trend could attract more tourism to the country.   (Yonhap News Agency, April, 22, 2011)

Spring Features Chronicle the Lives of Korea's Past Religious Leaders
Both Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan and the Venerable Beopjeon will be commemorated in films hitting screens in Korea this spring.   The documentary Babo is already on release and Monk Byeopjeon's Chair will be released in May.   (, April 22, 2011)


Fast Five Outshines Korean Releases at Domestic Box Office
Fast Five is Hollywood's first major summer release and has taken over at the Korean Box Office with a strong 396,071 admissions in its first weekend.  Last week's champ, Suicide Forecast exhibited a good hold with a slight 17% drop, while recent hit Clash of the Families is still going strong, having accumulated well over 2 millions admissions to date.  Min Gyoo-dong's The Most Beautiful Goodbye also opened this week with a solid 100,094 tickets sold.  (Hancinema, April 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.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Romantic Heaven (Ro-maen-tik He-beun) 2011

Jang Jin’s 10th feature, Romantic Heaven, is an interwoven omnibus film which features three linked stories that deal with themes such as death, love, fate, and the afterlife. Despite the heavy, morbid themes, the proceedings, given Jang’s involvement, take on a predictably unpredictable light air. It is a quirky film that reminds me both of Park Chan Wook’s I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006) and P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), the first for its vibrant and calm representation of heaven, and the second for its structure and one lone supernatural occurrence which will be obvious to those who have seen both.

The title points to two themes, love and death, and approaches them from numerous angles. In the first part, titled 'Mother', a girl fears for her mother who will die if she does not receive a bone marrow transplant. The doctors indentify a donor but as luck would have it he is wanted for the murder of his girlfriend. He is on the run and the girl befriends the detectives that are after him. The second segment, named 'Wife', features a lawyer who has lost his wife and a man who has just been released form prison who wants revenge. The third segment, 'A Girl', is the story of a young taxi driver whose grandfather suffers from dementia. While the man is clearly keen on the girl from the first part, she is not the girl of the title. She is in fact the grandfathers long lost love. The fourth part, 'Romantic Heaven', begins when the taxi driver gets in a car crash and ends up in heaven, in this concluding part of the film, it is also by far the lengthiest, all of the strands come together and we are transported back and forth through heaven and earth.

Death is difficult to handle and each grieves in their own fashion. Through my experience of Korean cinema, Koreans seem to take the mourning process very seriously and often wail, weep, and cry at funerals. The released con’s first stop is his fathers grassy grave. He weeps bitterly on his knees and his friend nonchalantly stands nearby, exhibiting what may seem like callousness at his friend’s misery to a western viewer but what is most likely a force of habit as it is the norm. Each character in this film deals with death differently, from the numbness of the widower, the grandmother who can’t let go of her grandson, to the daughter who, while sad, finds beauty and something to smile about at the moment of expiration.

Creative production design
There is much in Romantic Heaven that I wasn’t quite able to grasp, like the meaning of the headphones and the CDs, although the tightly woven narratives clearly point to meaningful conclusions. As is often the case with omnibus films many elements become contrived as they are forced to fit together, a necessary evil when it works. Jang’s direction, as always, is masterful. The film looks great and is the product of potent creativity. Not one of his best works and probably a little less accessible than his past efforts but as always he displays why he is one of the most consistently worthwhile auteurs in South Korean cinema.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bestseller (베스트셀러, Beseuteuselleo ) 2010

Production values add to the atmosphere

Along with Moss and Bedevilled, Bestseller is one last year’s rural-set films where local villagers hide an ugly secret or secrets. Each is very different but they all set the countryside as a site of horror and a place for repressed memories. Kang Woo-suk’s Moss is an atmospheric thriller about a son who goes to a village when his father dies and finds that everything isn’t quite right. Soon he begins to suspect foul play in his father’s passing and tries to dig up the secrets of the community, which is lorded over by the village foreman playing by the brilliant Jeong Jae-yeong. Bedevilled shows us an island and a woman who is brutally raped, attacked, and persecuted by the other islanders through the eyes of a visitor from Seoul. Following a cataclysmic event she snaps and exacts revenge in this scopophilic masterpiece. Finally there is Bestseller, which starts out as a creepy haunted house horror when a famous writer gets away from the big city to write her comeback two years after having been accused of plagiarism. A big revelation switches the focus of the film, which becomes a thriller where she tries to uncover the death of a girl who she believes was killed by the villagers.

Director Lee Jeong-ho treads carefully in his debut as he maneuvers through the conventions of horror and name checks half a dozen classic horror films in the process. A writer going off to a big haunted house in the countryside for some quiet to write is basically the plot to The Shining (1980), not only this but just like in the famous opening scene from that film we follow the protagonist from various eerie helicopter shots as she drives to the remote location. Besides this the film also makes heavy allusions to Psycho (1960) and Don’t Look Now (1973). The first half of the film is an exercise in suspense and is very effective. The mise-en-scene is wonderfully executed as the sets, sound design, editing, and cinematography are all top notch. The problem is that it feels like a bit of an exercise and can come off as a little lifeless. Eom Jeong-hwa, an accomplished actress who has some horror experience with Princess Aurora (2005), looks good in the role but sometimes misses the mark with her constant staring and paranoia. This could also be a product of Lee’s direction as he takes such pains to evoke an atmospheric horror. 

Like so many other Korean films, Bestseller deals with past trauma and repressed memories. As I mentioned earlier it does this in much the same fashion as Moss and Bedevilled by situating the trauma, by proxy or otherwise, in a rural environment. The villagers, at first welcoming, quickly turn sour on the writer’s presence as she begins to dig up the truth on the 20-year-old disappearance of a young girl. The secrets they hide are predictably dark and while they do not stem directly from political atrocities, like the revealed trauma of films like Save the Green Planet (2003) and A Man Who Was Superman (2008), they do echo a number of related themes. For one the brutal countryside could be seen as a representation of the North, it could also be seen as a metaphor for the past and how modern Koreans choose to deal with it. Various events in the film point to a manipulation of memory and show us how most characters are deeply affected by it a key concern in Korean cinema. 

Unfortunately the film has some very significant drawbacks, I’ve already mentioned Eom’s performance but far more problematic are the atrocious lapses of judgment in the execution of the finale. There is a supernatural bent to the film that is necessary to complement the style of the first half but this angle is played down during the rest of the narrative until the very end when it comes back with a vengeance. The problem is that the logic of the film goes right out the window. Laws of physics are blithely disregarded, generic codes are awkwardly juxtaposed, and the obvious resolution is forced into place. Ultimately the film is a great display of technique and a competently made horror/thriller with lots of fun twists but it lacks cohesion and focus.


The villagers turn on the writer

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 20, 2011

The Servant (Bang-ja-jeon) 2010

Kim Dae-woo is running the risk of stereotyping himself, but when the result is a film like The Servant (2010), is this a bad thing? After starting off as a versatile scriptwriter with the films An Affair (1998), Rainbow Trout (1999), and The Foul King (2000), Kim made his first foray into the period film, more specifically the Chosun-era erotic melodrama period film, with his adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, Untold Scandal (2003). His directorial debut came in 2006 with the comedy Forbidden Quest, before his sophomore feature The Servant. Like Untold Scandal, The Servant is based on a famous text, this time the oft-filmed pansori tale Chunhyang. To western audiences the most famous take on this tale is Im Kwon-taek’s Chunhyang (2000), an epic and beautiful version that blends in scenes of pansori being performed in a modern theater with the narrative shot as a representation of the performance. Kim’s version is far less Brechtian but nonetheless engages with the text/song in a thoroughly satisfying manner.

Bang-ja and his master
Chunhyang is a simple tale of woman, named Chun-hyang, and Mong-ryeong, a studious magistrate’s son who fall in love and get married illegally before he must leave for Seoul. During his absence a corrupt magistrate arrives and forces Chun-hyang to become his concubine. She refuses and his faced with death but is saved at the last moment by Mong-ryeong who has now become a Royal Inspector.

The Servant follows much the same pattern but twists the narrative in favor of examining social structures and adding some eroticism. In this version Mong-ryeong is a conceited brat and it is actually his servant Bang-ja who fills the role of the love interest. He is strong, smart, competent, and kind, if a little shady and naïve. He undermines Mong-ryeong, in his quest to have Chun-hyang, at every turn, but not always intentionally. Mong-ryeong leaves for Seoul to follow his studies and Chun-hyang and the servant (who is now a merchant) pursue a relationship, which surprisingly is more or less in plain view of her family who disapprove (because it will not elevate her status) but tolerate it. The ending is also quite different but I won’t go into that here.

Mong-ryeong and the corrupt inspector
2010 seems to be a banner year for eroticism in Korean cinema. In my previous review on A Frozen Flower (2008), I mentioned how nudity and sex, which had previously been very taboo in Korean cinema, are getting more and more prevalent and graphic. Last year brought us the pseudo-erotica 3D film Natalie, the sexually-charged remake of The Housemaid, and The Servant, one of the most sexually-explicit Korean films I have seen. Not only does it feature numerous sex scenes but it also introduces elements of sexual deviance (the inspector who comes to town and tries to take Chunhyang as his concubine) to a tale that is really supposed to be a love overcomes all romance.

The Servant is a well-written and assiduously directed affair, but even more so it features jaw-droppingly gorgeous cinematography and sumptuous production design. Korean cinema constantly amazes me when it produces films for a fraction of the cost of Hollywood yet put all of those pictures to shame. It is also packed with great performances from Ryoo Seung-beom as Mong-ryeong Kim Joo-hyeok as Bang-ja, and even better characters, like Oh Dal-su who is a riot as a lubricious old man who gives Bang-ja tips to woo Chun-hyang. While this is a thoroughly entertaining film I do hope that Kim will try something new with his next feature, I have been forgiving but many reviewers have commented on this film’s similarity to Untold Scandal.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Korean Cinema News (04/11-04/17, 2011)

A lot of festival news this week as the lineups to Canne and the Udine Far East Film Festival were announced.  I have decided to cover Korean box office as well as other industry news and have included under its own heading at the bottom of the post.  Both this and last weekend's box office are covered this time around.


Park Jung-bum, director of much-lauded The Journals of Musan, talks about the difficulties of a low-budget production and his personal reasons for making a risky film about the lives of North Korean defectors in the South.  (JoonAng Daily, April 12, 2011)

The Busan International Film Festival is set to expand funding opportunities for documentary filmmakers.  A new fund is available for documentaries depicting conflict areas and the Busan FIlm Commission Fund has been set up to contribute to post-production costs on high-quality works with meager means.  (Film Business Asia, April 13, 2011)

Entering its 13th year, the Udine Far East Film Festival has announced the films which will be screening at this edition.  The program includes 12 new Korean films, including favorites BedevilledThe Man From Nowhere, and The Unjust, but also many world festival premieres such as Cyrano Agency.  In addition a pair of Korean comedies form 1961 will be screened as part of the festival's Asia Laughs section.  (Udine Far East Film Festival, April 13, 2011)

As part of its 2011 plan to support local filmmaking, the Korean Film Council will: make funds available to foreign co-productions filming in Korea; subsidize labour costs on low-budget films; act as guarantor for films with overseas potential; and invest in contents fund.  The KFC will also work to retrain films crews, develop 3D technology, fight piracy, and more.  (Screen Daily, April 14, 2011)

While none were selected for the main competition vying for the Palme d'Or, three much-anticipated Korean films will screen in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.  These include: The Day He Arrives, the new Hong Sang-soo; Na Hong-jin's follow-up the The ChaserThe Yellow Sea, which has been recut for the festival; and Arirang, Kim Ki-duk's first film in three years.  (The Chosun Ilbo, April 15, 2011)

Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan is the newest in a long line of Korean films dealing with the North in an increasingly more direct manner.  This Washington Post article briefly analyzes the change of North Korea's depiction in South Korean cinema since censorship was relaxed enough to allow it in the late 1990s.  (The Washington Post, April 17, 2011)


Going against powerhouse Clash of the Families, hot off two first place finishes at the Korean box office, Suicide Forecast managed to clinch the weekend crown in a close finish with 279,636 admissions.  Clash of the Families took a big hit but nonetheless gained 265,795 admissions, its has sold 1,827,051 ticket to date.  Also opening this week were I Am a Dad, which had a so-so showing with 70,860 entries, and critical hit The Journals of Musan, which mustered barely over a thousand spectators in limited release.  (Hancinema, April 17, 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. 

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Frozen Flower (쌍화점, Ssang-hwa-jeom) 2008

Steamy sex scenes

Eclectic director Yu Ha’s fifth feature explores yet a new generic territory, after drama in Marriage Is a Crazy Thing (2002), high school angst in Once Upon a Time in High School (2004), and the gangster saga of A Dirty Carnival (2006), A Frozen Flower is period gay romantic thriller, set during the Koryo dynasty. Only a Korean films could embody all of these elements and still be called a success, which it is, but it does create a narrative which can be difficult to know what to make of. Yu Ha was initially reluctant to embrace the period genre, which he felt uncomfortable with, but he decided to embrace it as he sought a change from his previous work. Given how versatile he has been, it comes as no surprise, but I hardly would have thought he felt he was doing the same thing with his previous films, which are each very different works. Yu strikes me as a potential modern Korean equivalent of Howard Hawks as he deftly navigates his way through multiple genres. Like Hawks he leaves his own mark but his films do not feature a uniform style or mise-en-scene, a feature commonly associated with auteurs which Hawks was and Yu is fast becoming.

Hong Lim (Jo In-seong) is the head of a troop of 40 strapping well-trained bodyguards to the king (Ju Jin-mo) who loves him. They have an ongoing relationship that is not particularly well hidden from the other members of the king’s court, including the queen (Song Jie-hyo). Due to pressure from the Yuan kingdom and the possibility of being forced out of his throne because he has no heir, the king hatches a plane, which is to have Hong Lim impregnate his wife as he can’t do it himself. Naturally the queen and Hong fall in love and the king finds out, bringing tensions to a head in the court.

It is an engaging story filled with taboos and erotica supported by a big budget ($10 million) and high-quality production values, although Darcy Paquet in his review notes that local audiences felt some of the production design seemed a little cheap and I would tend to agree. It isn’t the first period Korean film with overt homosexual themes, that would be the wildly successful The King and the Clown (2005), but it is the first one to be so explicit about it. Nudity has not featured prominently in Korean cinema, save for a few short scenes from more risqué directors such Park Chan-wook, but this seems to be changing as sex scenes are now more frequent and far more explicit than they were even five years ago. Most films still refrain from explicit eroticism and for the moment this phenomenon seems nearly confined to period films, like A Frozen Flower and The Servant (2010), a twist on the famed pansori tale Chunhyang, then there’s Natalie (2010), supposedly the world's first 3D porn film, which tanked at the box office.

The film suffers sometimes because of its uneven tone, its self-seriousness can often come off as amusing which undermines the passion of the intimate scenes between the protagonists in the love triangle. The swordplay scenes are very effective, although the numerous fights between Hong Lim and the king are again a little difficult to take seriously as they parade around with massive swords. These phallic symbols bring a new meaning to the terms crossing swords. The climactic battle, which features dynamic sound effects and props and walls being sliced and smashed, is wonderful, it’s just too bad the end seems so silly. All in all, an intriguing story with lots of momentum will pull you in and despite a few missteps, this is one journey worth taking.


Impressive swordplay

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 13, 2011

A Better Tomorrow (무적자, Mujeogja) 2010

Great production values

Song Hae-sung’s A Better Tomorrow is a flashy remake of John Woo’s seminal 1986 classic which tries hard to refigure the tale of brotherly love in a gangster-riddled modern Busan. John Woo served as an executive producer for this film, which is a co-production between South Korea, China, and Japan, something that would not have happened 15 years ago. Budgeted at $8.7 million, this is a pricy affair with excellent production values and some stunning set pieces, the problem is that the plot is so familiar and drawn out that it is difficult to care.

Ju Jin-mo, last seen in Ha Yu’s gay period epic A Frozen Flower (2008), plays the role of a gangster who tries to go straight and win the affection of his cop brother. Like the original the plot is thin and the outcome can be spotted a mile away. However Woo’s version was a seismic blockbuster that revolutionized the Asian film industry by creating a new type of stylized action film that would be emulated for years to come. This Korean update does feature some great gunfight sequences, but they are short and infrequent throughout the 124 minute running time.

The plot is a major problem in this new version as it cuts out some significant elements, such as the younger brother’s love interest, yet is still half an hour longer than the original. The characters do not have much depth and are often lacking in charisma, especially Song Seung-heun who cannot possibly match Chow Yun-Fat’s iconic cool from the original. It is a difficult task to recreate a beloved character and it is often wise to change the protagonist so as not to invite comparison, but Song's incarnation lacks three-dimensional characteristics.

The divide between the brothers

There are a few minor changes from the original: the gangsters deal in arms as opposed to counterfeit money; and the overseas set piece is set in Thailand instead of Taiwan. The most promising change is that the brothers are North Korean defectors, this also sets up the seeds of the younger brother’s resentment as the elder brother abandoned him when he initially defected to the south. While this could be an interesting premise, appropriate attention is not given to North-South tensions and this becomes little more than an afterthought.

One of my favorite things about Korean cinema is its propensity to hop across genres. This style of filmmaking can irk a lot of viewers but is also the reason many western audiences are so transfixed by these films. The Host (2006), Save the Green Planet (2003), My Sassy Girl (2001), and many others exhibit a deft handling of generic conventions as their narratives fly across horror, comedy, sci-fi, melodrama, action, and social commentary. This is also true of films that have not crossed over to western audiences, in fact it is pretty much the style of filmmaking that many have come to associate with South Korea. A Better Tomorrow does not cross genres and the reason I mention this is because it’s a damn shame that it doesn’t. It severely limits itself by working within the confines of an already limited original. It takes away without adding, it tones down instead of taking it to the next level. This wouldn’t bother me so much but there is so much skill and potential from a technical standpoint that I wish they had given themselves more leeway to experiment and add a real Korean touch.

The film looks great and has a couple of great, albeit brief, action sequences but is let down by an obvious and simplified plot, two-dimensional characters, and a horribly misjudged finale. Although the film was a hit in its domestic market (with over 1.5 million admissions), I think that director Song Hae-seong is capable of a lot better. Having previously helmed Calla (1999), Failan (2001), Rikidozan (2004), and Maundy Thursday (2006), by comparison his latest effort seems decidedly by-the-numbers.


Solid set pieces

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.