Friday, August 12, 2011

Weekly Review Round-Up (08/06-08/12, 2011)

A variety of films reviewed this week including another pair of broadsheet commentaries for Poetry as it continues to screen across the world.


(, August 6, 2011)

(Seongyeong's Private Place, August 6, 2011)


(Variety, August 9, 2011)

(Beyond Hollywood, August 9, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, August 6, 2011)

(, August 8, 2011)

(indieWIRE, August 9, 2011)

(Hangul Celluloid, August 7, 2011)

(The Reel Bits, August 6, 2006)


(Beyond Hollywood, August 10, 2011)

(, August 8, 2011)

(PopMatters, August 11, 2011)

(, August 10, 2011) also cross-posted on VCinema


(Modern Korean Cinema, August 7, 2011)

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

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Korean Cinema News (08/01-08/07, 2011)

A large amount of trailers this week and lots of news to boot, including a number of box office milestones.


The Unjust Picks Up Award at Fantasia
Scribe Park Joon-hung won the best screenplay award for The Unjust at the close of the 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival which also featured a master class with award-winning director Ryoo Seung-wan. (, August 7, 2011)

South Korean Cinema Overview
Korean cinema is once again making waves on the international scene and Richard Gray briefly brings us through its evolution and where it currently stands. (Tresspass Magazine, August 7, 2011)

Fashion Trends in Ten Korean Films
An examination of ten korean films that display forward-thinking or versatile fashion sense. (, August 7, 2011)

Video Review of Terracotta Far East Film Festival
A video recap of this year's Terracotta Far East Film Festival which featured a number of Korean films and a special guest appearance by Breathless (2009) star Kim Khobbi. (, August 6, 2011)

The Rise of Korean B-Movie
With the recent polarization of big-budget and independent cinema in Korea, B-Movies are now also gaining favor. Invasion of Alien Bikini, which was shot for less than $5,000 is leading the fray. (Joong Ang Daily, August 5, 2011)

Rain and Richard Gere to Collaborate on Project
Rain met with Richard Gere last week and announced on Twitter that they would be collaborating on an upcoming project. The results will likely not be seen for over three years as Rain must complete his compulsory military service. (, August 5, 2011)

Leafie Breaks Animation Box Office Record
After attracting 500,000 spectators in 8 days, Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild is now officially the quickest selling animation in Korean history. (The Chosun Ilbo, August 4, 2011)

Sector 7 Bursts Out of the Gate
Summer blockbuster Sector 7 got off to a strong start with 230,000 viewers on its first day. It has benefited from the buzz of being the first Korean 3D action film. (, August 4, 2011)

Nicole Kidman Boards Park Chan-wook's Stoker
Park Chan-wook's hollywood debut Stoker is quickly assembling its high profile cast and the latest addition is screen siren Nicole Kidman. (, August 4, 2011)

Arirang Confirmed for TIFF
Kim Ki-duk's new film Arirang, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year, has been confirmed in the masters section of this year's Toronto International Film Festival. (indieWIRE, August 3, 2011)

Korean Indie Animation Fest to Present in Australia
In the lead to KOFFIA 2011, the Indie-Anifest will present a special showcase of independent animation from Korea on August 16th. (, August 3, 2011)

Normalization for Online Film Distribution Demanded by Chungmoro
On July 27, 108 companies and organizations, led by the Korean Film Council announced the Declaration for the Normalization for Online Film Distribution. The declaration calls for putting a stop to the illegal circulation of films online. (, August 2, 2011)

Hollywood DMZ Movie in Pre-Production
CJ has partnered with Di Bonaventura Pictures to produce a multi-million dollar blockbuster about Korea's De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). (, August 2, 2011)

New Casting Announcements for Stoker
More casting news for Park Chan-wook's Stoker as Alden Ehrenreich joins the feature. (Variety, August 1, 2011)

The Thieves Completes Location Shoot in Macau
Choi Dong-hoon's fourth feature has wrapped up its location filming in Macau. The Thieves, which stars Kim Yoon-seok, Gianna Jun, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jeong-jae and Oh Dal-suis set to be released in the summer of 2012. (Film Business Asia, August 1, 2011)

Hollywood Studios Funding and Producing Asian Films
Recently, various Asian films have been partially funded or produced by Hollywood studios. They include Na Hong-jin's The Yellow Sea. (Wildgrounds, August 1, 2011)

Indian Marial Artist to Train in Korea
Salman Khan will be training in martial arts in Korea for his upcoming film Kick, which wil be shot on the peninsula. (, August 1, 2011)


PiFan Q&A for Invasion of Alien Bikini

Transcription of a Q&A session following a screening of Invasion of Alien Bikini at this year's PiFan. (Asian Media Wiki, August 1, 2011)


Lots of trailers this week for upcoming Korean films and various touring independent films.

Ghastly (clip, no dialogue) 

Winter Smells


Sector 7 Posts Cracks 1 Million in Opening Weekend
As expected Sector 7 dominated the box office with an opening of 1.154 million admissions. Quick and The Front Line dipped slightly from last week and are in great shape with 368,000 and 329,000 respectively. With 250,000 Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild is edging closer to its 1.5 million break-even point, currently stands at 880,000. Horror film Ghastly opened poorly with just over 50,000 while Sunny begins to wind up its run with 25,000 in its first week out of the top 10. (, August 7, 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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dueling Masculinities in Running Turtle (Geobugi dallinda, 2009)

Just a look at the synopsis for Running Turtle will invite a lot of comparisons to Na Hong-jin’s seminal 2008 work The Chaser. It is a thriller about a middle-aged detective who gets booted out of the force and goes after a young wanted fugitive. The detective is played by none other than Kim Yun-seok, also the lead in Na’s thriller. This is a different beast though, but no less compelling and effective in its depiction of a middle-aged tough guy forced to the end of his wits and the edge of his already shady moral compass.

Domestic scene
Kim, who has truly become a force to be reckoned with of late, is magnificent as Pil-seong, the rough-around-the-edges anti-hero. He is a lone wolf, experienced enough to understand how things work, and not above abusing the system to his own ends. Despite his malefactions, his family is nearly penniless and he gambles most of his earnings away to escape the endless tirade of abuse he receives from his ever-suffering wife. The domestic scenes in the first part of the film are a marvel, which may seem like a strange word to use because they are brutal and unpleasant. However, they are so well staged, passionately acted, and efficiently paced that they become energetic, as well as vituperative, and strangely endearing. We feel for Pil-seong when contrasted with his wailing banshee of a wife but no sooner does he leave the confines of his home when he’s up to his old tricks which likely are the cause of his life partner’s bitterness.

The film also follows another character, Gi-tae, who is a famed martial artist on the run after having escaped from jail. Pil-seong, after having been suspended from the force for brutality and subsequently reached rock bottom, gets lucky when he gambles his wife’s savings on a long shot and wins. He is not so lucky when Gi-tae attacks his bookies for being offensive to his girl and takes his winnings. From this point on he tries to apprehend Gi-tae, even though each time he corners him he gets beaten to within an inch of his life. For some it may be frustrating to watch Pil-seong go after Gi-tae when it is so clear that he will be overwhelmed, but it is a demonstration of remarkable tenacity and stubbornness on the former’s part. The reason for this is that Gi-tae has become embroiled with Pil-seong at a very fragile time. Being booted off the force, unable to provide for his family, facing the ire of his wife, and losing the respect of all his former colleagues, he his emasculated to a degree where he will do anything to prove his masculinity. Running straight into Gi-tae’s fists, knowing full-well that he will be overcome, is the little he can do to stake his claim at being a man. The more he loses, the more frustrated and careless he becomes. As such he joins the ranks of the many post-traumatic males of Korean cinema that have appeared in the last 25 years.

Pil-seong (Kim Yun-seok) after winning his bet
The film is ostensibly about a man chasing down a criminal but really the narrative pits Pil-seong in a scrappy fight and breathless search for his elusive masculinity. After being pummeled again and again, he must pullback and make use of his mental faculty. It is thought and intellect that will allow him to reclaim his desired position in society, as in this instance physicality has clearly failed. The climax and the audience’s interpretation will decide whether he succeeds in reclaiming his identity. In the meantime the other male in the narrative serves as an obstacle.

Gi-tae seems like a one-note character that we learn little about, he is just young, boyishly handsome, and endowed with nearly superhuman fighting skills. Korean cinema seems to be rife with characters who seem positively unbeatable, although they always fall in the end, recent examples include Haunters (2010) and The Yellow Sea (2010). The latter in particular featured Kim Yun-seok yet again in another role in which he displays a gritty bravado and masculinity. Unlike The Chaser and Running Turtle however, his character in The Yellow Sea is in complete control of his persona and with ruthless brutality and unnerving calmness, easily cuts down his adversaries dozens at a time. Haunters features Choi Deok-moon as a nearly emotionless psychic with the ability to control everyone that comes near him like a puppet, save for the hero. Much like Pil-seong, the hero in Haunters puts himself continually in the psychic’s path with no tangible plan of action, although he does not suffer from the same kind of masculine lack.

Pil-seong cannot overcome Gi-tae physically
These all-powerful antagonists typically show very little emotion and even less regard for human life. They have spades of masculinity but are disconnected from normal society and healthy human interactions. As far as the recuperation of the male id in Korean cinema, which generally takes the form of men who blunder through narratives in search of their lost masculinity, these characters seem to emanate from the darker side of this act of reconstitution. They have their masculinities but at the expense of all else: history has been erased or deliberately forgotten.

Gi-tae is on some kind of a journey too but his destination or goal isn’t clear. He fights, or rather defends himself, during the film but still hangs around. Perhaps he has nowhere to go, certainly he has no need to reconstitute his masculinity as he is not emasculated like Pil-seong. Yet his identity is lost and perhaps he knows that he cannot recuperate it, any journey he goes on must therefore be doomed.

For these reasons Running Turtle acts as a very effective thriller and fascinating, if somewhat simplistic, character study. It helps that it builds momentum on the way towards its climax. The more I think about it, this film is actually very similar to The Chaser, thematically as well as aesthetically. Strongly recommended for fans of thoughtful, well-made Korean thrillers.

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

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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Children ... (A-i-deul...) 2011

Children… opens with a young boy running in slow motion in a red cape in rural Korea in the early 1990s, accompanied by stirring music, a Korean Mendelssohn-esque string symphony. Right from the bat this is an emotional affair, the kind of scene that Korean filmmakers are so adept at. They can wring out feelings from their spectators without even presenting a story or real characters. All they need are a few symbolic images and some top-flight mise-en-scene and we are powerless to resist. The next few minutes quickly set the scene for something ominous to happen, once again without giving us any real information. The cinematography and exceptional score do all the work and give us everything we need to know.

Opening shot
I went into this film not knowing a thing about it but it was easy to tell where it was going from those opening moments before the title shot. I was reminded of Friend (2001) and Memories of Murder (2003) in equal measure. Naturally I grew very excited and eagerly followed the plot as a group of children go missing and are not found. A few years later a shamed TV producer (Park Yong-woo) comes to the town and starts his own investigation in order to rebuild his reputation. He enlists the help a professor (Ryoo Seung-yong) with a few crazy ideas but encounters the resistance of the local law enforcement. The narrative doesn’t quite follow where you think it will after that but I will let you discover that for yourself.

The music in this film was truly extraordinary, not just in its quality but also in its power when combined with the visual medium. This brings me to an interesting question: how is it that from time to time we can experience a potent degree of catharsis without having followed a narrative or any character’s trajectory? Children… successfully raised a lump in my throat and made me feel something before I even knew any of the character’s names. Sadly the film did not ultimately follow through on this as I felt it was rife with problems, and yet at numerous points during the film I found myself affected by the evocative music and impressive technical skill on display.

Park Yong-woo as the TV producer
Music is used in cinema (and television) to heighten the emotions of a certain scene. The best examples of this are the short staccato and loud spikes in horror, the sweeping strings in melodrama, and the bombastic orchestral pieces used in epics, war, and action films. There are numerous other examples but those three display their effectiveness and their potential. Music can lift a dull scene, get the heart racing, or unscrew the valve to your tear ducts, but it isn’t often that it will completely hijack your state of mind irrespective of what is on screen. It does happen of course, there are certain pieces of music that are so well-known and beautiful that they will always prompt a strong reaction. Good examples are the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony and Debussy’s Claire de lune, both overused at this point but it’s easy to see why. On a purely subjective level each and every one of us may react differently to individual pieces, it’s extraordinary how one piece of music may change your perception of a film.

Ryoo Seung-yong as the professor
Korean films often have excellent scores, I’m sure that there are a handful of composers that are at the heart of this but I couldn’t tell you who they are. Children… started to lose me, especially in the second half but every times they broke out the strings I was helpless, captivated, but by what and why? Let’s go back to the opening scene and examine it, music, slow-mo, boy running in red cape, 20 years ago. The little information at hand is actually crucial and as much as this scene may elicit an emotional response from a foreign viewer, I imagine it must be even more so for a Korean. The red cape brings to mind the bloody Gwangju massacre of 1980, in which thousands of students dressed in red were slaughtered by the military government for protesting. The dinky village roads and muted colors (save for the red) evoke the still recent past of a country which has suffered an enormous amount of trauma. What’s impressive is that I think the scene is still powerful even if you are not privy to that information.

As for the rest of the film, there are a number of interesting themes that are presented. There is the process of grief in Korea, which is shown in a manipulative and rather ham-fisted way and includes themes of the role of the parent and sacrifice. Then there is a veiled commentary on the passage of time in modern Korean society as the disappearance of the youths is all but forgotten as the nation moves on. Not all move on though and it is not only the parents who refuse to let go but the professor as well. He reminds me of the intellectuals in the Korean New Wave films of the 1980s and early 1990s. It seems like a criticism of the systematic glossing over of a national history that has become too difficult to bear, it is easier to forget.

Emotional but somewhat manipulative
That last point seems very familiar, indeed I’ve already mentioned it, but I think that Children… takes more than a few pointers from Memories of Murder and as it warrants the comparison it must be said that it pales significantly in its wake. Other than that the film suffers from an odd structure, an excessive running time, somewhat undeveloped characters, and too much reliance on forced melodrama. The parts that work, and I’ve described them at length, work wonderfully and are more-or-less worth giving the film a chance but they are not supported by a substantive narrative. Maybe I’m getting a little tired of kids going missing films, the last 12 months alone have given us Children…, Man of Vendetta (2010), and No Doubt (2010), all of which fell short in some regard.

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

Weekly Review Round-Up (07/30-08/05, 2011)

This is a brand new feature I am dabbling with which aims to round up all of the reviews published within the week on Korean films. I categorize them as: NEW KOREAN RELEASES, movies that have just or are about to be released in Korea; CURRENT WORLDWIDE RELEASES, new films that are making the rounds at film festivals or being released in foreign territories; and PAST FILMS, reviews for films that are no longer current.

The reviews will come from print sources, major websites, and blogs. If you know of reviews that are current but are not listed below please let me know via twitter or email. The formatting is for the moment very simple and I will likely change it in subsequent editions. I may or may not create a directory of reviews which I will maintain on a weekly basis with his update. Any suggestions or comments are most welcome!


(The Korea Times, August 4, 2011)

(Film Business Asia, August 4, 2011)

(Film Business Asia, July 30, 2011)

(The Korea Times, July 28, 2011)


(Montreal Gazette, August 1, 2011)

(The Bourne Cinema Conspiracy, August 1, 2011)

(Rockstar Weekly, August 4, 2011)

(Sounds Like Cinema, August 5, 2011)

(Sounds Like Cinema, August 5, 2011)


(New Korean Cinema, August 3, 2011)

Ghost Theatre, 2006 
(Hangul Celluloid, August 1, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, August, 2, 2011)

The Restless, 2006 
(Modern Korean Cinema, August 3, 2011)

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

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Year by Year Feature Project

There are many Korean films in my to watch pile and I wonder how long it will take me to go through them. I've noticed that of late I've watched a huge amount of 2010 films and this has given me the not so novel idea of watching as much as I can stomach and write up a comprehensive feature on that year and start over again for 2009, then 2008, and see how far I get and what I discover along the way. I imagine that there will be lengthy intervals between each year but 2010 shouldn't be too far away, a month or two I hope.

In any case, below are the films I've seen from last year and after that is a list of films that I am planning to watch, most are at hand and some of them I know are bad. The dates I use are up for debate and if there is any thing you think I've missed please let me know!

Films Seen

71: Into the Fire
A Barefoot Dream
A Better Tomorrow
A Long Visit
Attack the Gas Station 2
Bad Couple
Banga? Banga!
Cyrano Agency
Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp
Foxy Festival
Grand Prix
Hello Ghost
I Saw the Devil
July 32nd
Lady Daddy
Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle
Man of Vendetta
Midnight FM
My Dear Desperado
No Doubt
No Mercy
Oki's Movie
Parallel Life
Secret Love
Secret Reunion
The Fair Love
The Haunted House Project
The Housemaid
The Influence
The Man From Nowhere
The Neighbor Zombie
The Yellow Sea
Twilight Gangsters
Villain and Widow
Wedding Dress

Films to Watch

Enemy at the Dead End
Passerby #3
The Recipe

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Restless (Joong-chun) 2006

I remember when The Restless came out in 2006, as corny as it sounded I was intrigued by the visuals and it did well enough at the box office to make me want to watch it, but I would need to wait until it became available. Then 2007 came and as my interests moved on to other things I hardly watched any Korean films. The Restless was but a memory, a curio haphazardly stored in my thoughts. I only kept up with the films made by the marquee names or those that made an extra big splash on the international film marketplace. I saw Secret Sunshine (2007), The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008), The Chaser (2008), Thirst (2009), Mother (2009), and little else if anything at all. I was keeping myself busy with other projects: I wrote, I made films, I taught languages, I watched TV, I read a lot of old books and likewise saw many classic foreign films, and my interest in cooking grew to the point where I started a catering company. This was all very good but I was a little disappointed in myself that I was unable to pursue my previously very keen obsession with Korean cinema, although I still talked everybody’s ear off about it.

Star vehicle
2010 started and suddenly I found myself immersed once again in Korean cinema and this time it was worse than before. I watched everything I could get my hands on, reread all the Korean cinema books I had bought before my lull and even got some new ones. I needed something more and in the summer of last year I started this blog which began modestly enough and is now a somewhat reputable resource on Korean cinema. Through it I have been able to meet people with the same interest and now there is never a shortage of people to discuss this passion with. I have long lists of Korean films that I want to see and The Restless wasn’t on any of them. The name popped up here and there, and although I recognized it, it didn’t really register with me until I saw it the other day and promptly got a hold of it.

Googly-eyed Jeong Woo-seong
The few films I did see on my Korean filmwatching hiatus were of the highest caliber, films by auteurs which have elevated the industry to what it is today, in my opinion, the best in the business. Yet so many other films are made in Korea that few outside the peninsula ever witness. Many are extraordinary, a good number are bad, and the rest fall in the middle. It is the category of films that really put me over the edge and turned me into the fan that I am today. Films that are somewhat conventional and display a number of flaws and should by all accounts be forgettable. Yet that is often far from the case, these mediocre Korean films are frequently fascinating pieces of entertainment.

The Restless is most certainly one of these. It is simple and corny, and it is riddled with misjudged set pieces, poor effects, and the most googly-eyed acting you could possibly imagine. By all accounts it should be a bad film, there’s plenty of evidence to support this. Yet it isn’t, it’s not even in the so-bad-it’s-good category, although it would fit well there too. It is simply a decent film and what makes me most curious is why I think that. I know I shouldn’t like it but I can kind of tolerate it, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a guilty pleasure.

Googly-eyed Kim Tae-hee
Perhaps I’m so entrenched in Korean cinema that I have become positively biased. There must be some grain of truth in that statement but I don’t think that’s really the problem either, how would I have gotten to where I am without a genuine passion for these films? In any case I have shown a number of these mediocre films to people I know who have no predisposition towards Korean films and they have pretty much always been greatly appreciated, films like Bestseller (2010) and Le Grand Chef (2007), to name a few.

So then why is this the case? I suppose it comes down to a number of things. First off they are so well-made that they are easy to sit through; they are often creative and innovative, whether they blend genres or try new tricks; and they are so adept at melodrama that, save for the absolute worst cases, it is easy for us to lose ourselves in the catharsis afforded by the filmmaker's collective mastery of the technique.

Lord of the Rings reference
As for The Restless, it is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road affair which follows a fantastical concept, in which a demon-hunter accidentally ends up in Midheaven, a world halfway between life and the afterlife where he finds his long lost love who has forgotten about him and his former mentor who is orchestrating a demonic rebellion. The simplicity of the story even stretches beyond the plot. As far as costumes go, the good are robbed in white and the bad in black. The backgrounds, which are digitally rendered, look pretty but are wholly lacking in detail and lazily rendered, one view of the water comes to mind which is full of identical boats all facing the same direction even as they are ‘randomly’ floating around. The camerawork and production design however, are top notch. The action sequences, of which there are a good number, seem to start out okay but get more ridiculous and as a result poorly realized as the narrative wears on, although the climactic battle scene is pretty fun. Particularly onerous is the exaggerated wuxia-like wirework and the digital tentacle weapons of a few of the antagonists. For some strange reason the film strongly references The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2003) in a scene where the leads hide from black creatures with hidden faces in a crevice by a path in the woods.

The film is a vehicle for the immensely popular Jeong Woo-seong and Kim Tae-hee, they are both gorgeous but also terribly vacuous. As both have had better work, this may be the fault of director Jo Dong-ho and the interminable, empty, and grandiose dialogue. They are often on screen together and seem to just repeat the same things over and over, this get repetitive, especially in the midsection as they go on about ‘The Reflecting Pool’ and ‘The Consoling Tree’ and whatnot.

Great production design
Ultimately, The Restless is a slight film which offers some visual delights but lacks a substantial story and strong supporting characters. It features a decent amount of action which varies in quality, and yet, despite its many, many drawbacks, it is a thoroughly watchable film. Pleasant throughout, and with a satisfactory ending, The Restless is truly a testament to the craft of Korean filmmakers, even though they seemingly make all of the wrong decisions, their foundation as cineastes is sturdy enough to lift us through this tawdry mess.

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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Murder, Take One (Baksu-chiltae deonara) 2005

With the release of his tenth film earlier this year (Romantic Heaven, 2011), it is a good time to look back over Jang Jin’s impressive output and immense contribution to Korean cinema. Formerly a playwright, Jang has regaled audiences over the last decade with his clever, genre-bending, and socially relevant films. Aside from the ten films he has directed, which include Guns & Talk (2001), Someone Special (2004), and Good Morning President (2009), he has also found great success in the films he has written (some based on his plays) and produced. These include the enormously successful Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005) and the brilliant Going By the Book (2007). What his evident throughout his oeuvre is foremost his sparkling dialogue and his astute bending of generic conventions. His films can all be labeled as comedies but to leave it at that would do him a great injustice. His mordant wit cuts through a society that is still reeling from a past fraught with violence and encumbered by authoritarian governments and an incompetent civil service. His films have taken aim at the police (Going By the Book), politics (Good Morning President), and the media, among other things.

Impressive opening sequence
Murder, Take One uses a clever concept which explores in equal measure the preying eye of the media and the oppressive authority exercised by local law enforcement. The film opens with a fresh murder in a hotel and then showcases its investigation by the police which is, and here’s the hook, being televised nationally. The police exhibit violence, incompetence, and in-fighting, which is typical of Jang’s films and of Korean cinema in general; the media is intrusive, sensationalist, and exploitative; and the suspects all have their motives which fit into one melodramatic trope or another. 

Jung Jae-yeong and his gang
Jang bombards us with a vast amount of themes, ideas, styles, motifs, and genres all throughout the film’s opening salvo which is a virtuoso display of technique and craft as we are brought up to speed on the crime scene and all the characters that populate and surround it. As impressive as the visuals are, what most struck me in this scene was the sound: first of all the great music, but then the build up of voices and sounds blending into eachother. Couple this with the shot which begins by swirling above the victim’s body but then pulling out to reveal the contents of all the adjoining hotel rooms and what you have is a mosaic of intersecting lives. The body and thus the murder are only a small part of the tableau, Jang demonstrates early on that while ostensibly a procedural, Murder, Take One will not limit itself to the search for the answer to one question, who killed the girl? Instead, as it lumbers more or less along that trajectory, it will invite us to learn about peripheral characters and witness a veritable range of interactions. Characters frequently veer into pedantic, irrelevant, and hilarious details. The early interrogation scene is a brilliant display of acting and poor communication which, despite being watched by millions on TV, devolves into a silly argument over linguistics, the irony is sublime.

Cha Seung-won and Shin Ha-gyun argue about language
Without accepting this intention, it will be difficult to appreciate the film. As a procedural it is certainly interesting but it does not follow a satisfying trajectory, as a comedy it often seems to be stop-start and sadly without a firm grasp of Korean (which I do not possess) it appears that much is lost in translation. As other reviewers have noted, the joy of watching this film will come from your appreciation of the bit roles and supporting characters. Jung Jae-yeong, one of my favorite Korean actors, appears briefly as an odd gangster and is hilarious as always. From a technical standpoint the film looks and sounds great, although I wonder if aside from a few key scenes Jang just went through the motions. A lot of the proceedings feel like a 1980s Hong Kong action flick, perhaps it was easier to follow that blueprint for the obligatory procedural scenes which seem to detract from the real focus of the film: the characters and their interactions. 

The final section of the film, which focuses firmly on the case, underwhelms yet still achieves its likely intention of subverting audience expectations. Throughout the film the dialogue is amazing and those who speak it, do so well and with gusto. Shin Ha-kyun, who starts out as a primary character but gently fades away (sadly), is a standout. While not one of Jang’s best it is still a thoughtful and clever addition to his filmography and a valuable and worthwhile entry for Korean film fans.

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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Monday, August 1, 2011

Korean Cinema News (07/25-07/31, 2011)

A wealth of Korean cinema news this week with KOFFIA getting ready to go, many interviews, some great features, and trailers for eagerly-anticipated films.


Bong Joon-ho to Direct Japan Quake Short
Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho will take part in an omnibus film which will commemorate the March earthquake in Japan. He will be part of a group of 60 directors (40 of which from Japan) who will contribute to the project. (The Korea Herald, July 29, 2011)

'History of Korean Cinema' from KOFFIA
The upcoming Korean Film Festival in Australia has released a video featuring clips form Korean cinema through the ages as a warm-up to its event. (, July 29, 2011)

Rob Cohen to Direct Korean War Film Produced by CJ
Hollywood action director has signed on to direct 1950, a CJ-produced korean war film that is said to be the most expensive Korean film ever made with a budget of $100 million. While CJ is producing, the filmmakers and source material are all American, so I would debate that claim. (indieWIRE, July 29, 2011)

New Book Examines Spread and Influence of Hallyu
A new collection of academic essays on the Korean New Wave has appeared which focusely on transnational identity. Hallyu: Influence of Korean Popular Culture in Asia and Beyond is edited by Kim Do-kyun and Kim Min-sun and published by Seoul National University Press. (The Korea Times, July 29, 2011)

Yoon Je-kyun's Dueling Summer Blockbusters
Producer Yoon Je-kyun, who previously conquered the Korean box office with Haeundae (2009), is back with two films in this summer season which are vying for box office glory. Quick, which opened last week has been performing well and upcoming Sector 7 is expected to do very well. (Jong And Daily, July 29, 2011)

KOFIC-Funded Stateless Things to Screen at Venice
The Orizzonti section of the upcoming 68th Venice Film Festival will featured Stateless Things, a film produced by the Korean Film Council. (, July 29, 2011)

Film Business Asia to Launch Film Database
On August 1, Film Business Asia will launch its Asian Film Database which will track information on 45,000 films, 80,000 people and 10,000 companies & organisations and grow over time. It will only be available to paying subscribers. (Film Business Asia, July 28, 2011)

Sunny Holding its Own Against Summer Titles
Homegrown success Sunny has managed to hold fierce Hollywood summer competition at bay as it has remained a force to be reckoned for 12 weeks at the local box office. A new director's cut with 10 additional minutes of footage was released on Thursday. (Film Business Asia, June 28, 2011)

Sector 7 Offers Technical Thrills but Little Else
The first Koran 3D IMAX film Sector 7 breaks ground with it's dazzling digital effects but offers little in terms of story and characters. (The Korea Times, June 28, 2011)

The Day He Arrives Gets Korean Release Date
Hong Sang-soo's latest film, The Day He Arrives, which screened at Cannes earlier this year has secured a Korean release date, it is slated to open on September 8. The above link also features a new poster for the film. (, July 28, 2011)

Provocative North Korea Doc Opens in Seoul
A documentary about North Korean defectors from American filmmaker N.C. Heikin called Kimjongilia (The Flower of Ki Jong-il) has opened in Seoul. (Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 2011)

Korean Service Provider Encourages Smartphone Filmmaking
KT, a Korean carrier which was the first to carry the iPhone, is promoting filmmaking with handheld devices through film competitions and other promotions. (, July 28, 2011)

KOFFIA Announces Lineup
The Korean Film Festival in Australia has announced its lineup for its 2011 edition which will take place in both Sydney and Melbourne. The program is built around 6 themes and will include, among others. The Unjust, The Man From Nowhere, The Journals of Musan, Bedevilled, and The Show Must Go On (2007). (Twitch, July 27, 2011)

Korean Animation to Be Focus of Brazilian Documentary
Producers in Brazil have made a documentary on Korean animation which will screen on Brazilian television early next year. (Arirang, July 27, 2011)

Toronto to Showcase Countdown
The hotly anticipated Countdown, which stars Jeon Do-yeon and Jeong Jae-yeong will screen at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival. (Film Business Asia, July 27, 2011)

Park Chan-wook's Stoker Adds Jacki Weaver
The immensely talented Jacki Weaver will join Mia Masikowsa, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman in Park Chan-wook's English-language debut Stoker. (, July 27, 2011)

Sunny Showing in America
After scoring over 7 million viewers and still going strong in Korea, Sunny has opened in select theaters in most major metro areas in America. These include LA, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Texas, Virginia, New Jersey, and Hawaii. (The Chosun Ilbo, July 27, 2011)

Leafie Invited to Sitges Fantastic Film Fest
Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild, the eagerly awaited Korean animation, will screen as part of the 44th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia's Sitges Kids section(, July 27, 2011)

Old Partner to Open Kerala Documentary and Short Film Fest
Breakout Korean documentary Old Partner (2008) will be the opening film for the fourth International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala. The documentary about the relationship between an old farmer and his ox was one of 2008's top grossing films. (, July 26, 2011)

British Producers Tackling New Film Featuring Kim Jong-il
Jeremy Thomas, the British producer behind films such as Crash (2004) and The Last Emperor (1987) is embarking on a project focussed on Kim Jong-il. Details are light on the project but he has said that the climax will take place in Vienna. (Screen Daily, July 25, 2011)

The Films of Park Nou-shik
Adam Hartzell brings us on a journey through the delirious cinema of action star of the 1970s Park Nou-shik. He discusses Suspended Sentence (1973), Why? (1974), and A Mad Woman (1975). (VCinema, July 24, 2011)


Interview with Dai Sil Kim-Gibson
Senses of Cinema conducts an interview with documentarian Dai Sil Kim-Gibson on reality and imagination. (Senses of Cinema, July 30, 2011)

Q&A For Beat at PiFan
Transcription of a Q&A for Beat after its screening at the 2011 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival on July 16, 2011. (Asian Media Wiki, July 30, 2011)

Time Out Interview With Lee Chang-dong
Revered Korean director Lee Chang-dong discusses is latest film Poetry, which was just released in the UK, and his inspiration for it. (Time Out, July 29, 2011)

A Few Words with Seoul Art Cinema’s program director
Seoul Art Cinema's program director Ki Seong-uk discusses the importance of watching classic films and the difficulty to keep the habit alive in modern Korea. (The Korea Herald, July 26, 2011)

Sunny Director Reaches Milestone
Kang Hyung-chul, who recently became the first Korean director to have two films cross the 7 million viewer mark, discusses his reasons for making his latest smash Sunny. (The Chosun Ilbo, July 25, 2011)


Lots of new trailers this week, including one for a new Song Kang-ho film (Hindsight) and subbed one for Jang Hoon's latest (The Front Line)

The Front Line (eng subs)


Front Line Wins Weekend in Close Three-Way Battle
Jang Hoon's war pic The Front Line prevailed over  Quick and Harry Potter with 474,000 admissions versus their 466,000 and 434,000 respectively in a close battle for the top spot. New animation Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild had a decent opening with 228,000. Sunny added another 58,000 to its coffers while its director's cut opened with 25,000. (, July 31, 2011)

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

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Death Bell (Gosa) 2008

As I have previously examined with Whispering Corridors (1998), the schoolgirl ghost horror film is a prevalent and perhaps necessary form of Korean horror which contrary to the typical depiction of young woman in the horror genre, presents a vehicle for the representation of Sonyeo, that is to say the ‘sensitivity’ of young girls. What we expect from schoolgirls in horror films, in Hollywood and also in Japan (where the schoolgirl look is a particularly exportable fetish), is precociousness and promiscuity. K-horror dabbles in sexuality but often in more oblique ways, like Memento Mori (1999), which explores the ghostly ramifications of homosexual relationship between two teenage girls and the social alienation that precedes it.

Schoolgirl horror
Not two minutes into Death Bell there is a close-up shot of a young girl’s white panties as her period quickly stains them with blood. Despite all the horrific imagery that follows in the film, this is probably the most shocking of all. Upon viewing this my initial thought was that this film would be more sexual than it’s predecessors and may explore new ground. But ultimately, aside from the high concept generic mash-up of ghostly horror, murder mystery, and torture porn, Death Bell does follow the same beaten path as the Whispering Corridors series and others have before.

The plot is simple, an elite high school class of 20 pupils are tormented by a vicious Saw-like killer who poses them questions and riddles, which if left unanswered or not solved in a timely manner, will result in the gory death of one of their classmates. After a while it becomes evident that the reason behind this carnage stems from the unsolved death of a girl in the school two years prior. During it’s brief and well-paced 85 minute running time, there is no need for much more plot than this and besides the expository first act and denouement the film contents itself with moving on from one horrific set piece to the next.

Lee Beom-su as Teacher Kim
This may sound like a snub but director Yoon Hong-seun, who was also the writer, exhibits a deft handling of the fairly straightforward proceedings. The film is a potent cocktail of memorable horror staples and is edited in a breathless, visceral, and exuberant style which does it many favors. It may be fair to say that the brief and flighty nature of the film allows it to succeed in glossing over a few mistakes or low points that occur here and there although the strong production values and good performances, especially Lee Beom-su (Mr. Gam’s Victory; Au Revoir UFO, both 2004) as the affable and friendly teacher Chang-wook, make up for this.

The film touches on a couple of themes including Korea’s obsession with good academic results but it does not serve as a comprehensive commentary on the state of affairs for education in the nation. The climax inevitably evokes a lot of history and by employing some decidedly Korean melodramatics it reminds us of Korea’s considerable historical trauma without directly referencing it.

Death by washing machine
I would recommend Death Bell to any fan of horror or any general enthusiast of Korean cinema as I believe it has the ability to please both with it’s confident production style and, if not necessarily memorable, its colorful take on the generic territories it occupies. Although some have dubbed this as torture porn (a sub-genre which I despise) I think this film has a little more in common with Battle Royale (2000), although it is nowhere near as original.

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

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Memories of Murder: Part VIII - Conclusion

“The recovery of the self remains as the objective in these films, but … the subjectivity reconstituted or denied in the end is the man’s alone" this may be true of the films of Park Kwang-su and Jang Sung-woo in the late 1980s and early 1990s but Memories does not abide by this strict dictum. In the end Det. Park is left where he started and while he has moved on, clearly nothing has been resolved and the past is as confusing as ever. More importantly, since we know nothing of his personal trauma beyond the work-related serial killings investigation, it would be inaccurate to say that his position at the end of the film’s narrative is a conclusion to his character’s progression. For the film is scarcely about the individual, he is only a symbolic vessel, a metaphorical amalgamation of the post-traumatic masculine id of South Korean males. His experience during the narrative is not his life story; it is a window into a frail national psychology circa 1986. Unlike Peppermint Candy (1999), for example, the bulk of the film (everything expect for the coda) happens in too short of a timeframe and showcases too few personal interactions and relationships to be a comprehensive portrait of one man, it is about a time and a place. Det. Park is our guide to the past and through him we must experience the nation’s subjective conscious. Characters like Park "provided an unconscious sense of urgency through their inability to articulate and their ineffectuality that metaphorically was symptomatic of the terror and trauma ushered by the military regimes“. They continue to do so in the new millennium in films like Memories.

"The l980s was the decade of post-trauma - one that anxiously awaited the replacement of a father-figure of South Korea and the implementation of a social structure alternative to capitalist relations, both of which would not materialize.”

An unsecured crime scene
Memories, made in 2003, unfolds in this period of post-trauma as a means of recuperation. Like other national cinemas, according to Teshome Gabriel “the past is necessary for the understanding of the present, and serves as a strategy for the future". South Korean cinema is not a third world cinema by any means. However, its turbulent past has created somewhat similar anxieties for filmmakers to elucidate upon. The past is the primary point of contention in a large proportion of contemporary South Korean cinema. Most films ignore the past and focus on an idealized present but many cannot let go of a past so traumatic that it can’t help but shape the ever-changing present and by extension their narratives.

Trying to save the evidence
There is an early scene in Memories which showcases the confusion of a society within a very difficult moment of collective trauma. It is a virtuoso two minute steadicam shot that is minutely choreographed and perfectly executed, furthermore it includes a wealth of information. We stand by Park's side, who is smoking a cigarette in a field as he is shouting instructions and giving out to officers for not having roped the area off. The music from the previous scene has trailed off at this point. Another officer calls him over to the dirt road where he shows Park evidence, some footprints. Park circles the area with a stick and enquires as to the whereabouts of the forensics team. He heads back down to the field still shouting questions and instructions; he also refers to the crime scene as "total chaos". We then see a number of cars parked by the main road and notice officers and civilians freely roaming the crime scene. A new character, the chief inspector of police, makes his grand entrance by falling down from the road onto the field, immediately undermining his presence. Park notices him and utters "Jesus, look at him" under his breath. At this point, a number of little children run by him into the field and he shouts at them to leave. Now we move to the centre of the field and we see the victim, dressed in red and dead on the ground. A number of people have gathered around her, including children. The inspectors start to give out about the presence of reporters. They share some brief words before Park hears a tractor behind them. He turns his head and sees that it is heading straight for the footprints. He calls out to it to stop and then starts jogging over to it but the driver never hears him and destroys the evidence. Park discards his cigarette in frustration and is then informed of the arrival of the forensics team, Park curses them as he makes his way to that side of the field only to see them slide down as well. Park calls them "sliding fools". The chief inspector is back in shot and seems somewhat bewildered, he turns around and as he is more or less facing the camera says "What’s going on?" and this is the end of the shot/scene.

"What's going on?"
In this scene, we are given much evidence to condemn the procedural skills of the investigators. Nothing seems to be done right and no protocol is being followed, it is slightly humorous to witness the bumbling efforts of these detectives but the muted colors and the grotesque sight of the corpse severely offset this notion. It is telling to see that no one is listening to these supposed figures of authority because to them all they stand for is subjugation to a hated dictatorship and way of life. They are not attacked since they are not mean-spirited and do not impose hardships on the civilians, they are simply ignored. The scene also underscores the uneasy relation between police and the media. We know beforehand that this is a small town and that these were the first serial killings in South Korea, so it can be fair to state that they had simply never dealt with this type of situation before. This is evident throughout the film, as everyone seems to get a little better at their job as the case wears on but at the same time we are also predisposed with the knowledge that they will never accomplish their mission.

A black hole, symbolic of a shadowy past or uncertain future?
The climactic scene, which is set in 1986, shows Detective Suh, after having seen the dead body of the little girl that he had grown to know over the narrative, drag the prime suspect to the train tracks by a tunnel and mercilessly beat him. Having never seen him use violence before, this heavy outburst is all the more shocking. He has become a desperate man and is at his wits end. As he beats him, there is a shot of the tunnel that eerily moves zooms in. It is very ominous and represents the end of the narrative, a big black hole. Det. Park comes down waiving the document whose content is expected to inculpate the suspect, but this turns out to be inconclusive. This drives Suh over the edge and he is about to shoot the suspect but Park stops him and then stares into the would-be killer’s eyes, desperately trying to figure him out but finds nothing and lets him go. A train comes and separates them and once it has past the suspect is already escaping through the tunnel. Suh runs down and shoots and Park stops him again. They both look down the tunnel and see the man lying on the ground, seemingly dead. But than he gets up and runs into the dark, he is a confusing enigma. The truth is lost forever. It is an extremely dramatic scene which shows us how these male characters have hit the end and may not recuperate any male subjectivity. Suh, as the supporting character has a neater arc where he does change, a little for the worse. Systems he trusted in have collapsed around him and have left him empty. Whereas Park, as the more emblematic character of a generation, hasn’t really changed throughout the narrative but after what he has seen through his eyes (as they are constantly in close-up throughout the film), the trauma has built up so much that he is forced to move on, as we see in the coda.

Searching for answers in vain
After a few shots which briefly establish his family life and line of work, Park stops off at the field which was the site of the first murder. It is a beautiful, sunny day and he slowly walks over to the ditch where the narrative began. He crouches down and peers into it much the same way as he did at the beginning of the film and after a while, a young girl asks what he is looking for, he says nothing and than she mentions that a man had recently done the same thing and had stated that he had "done something here long ago". At first, Park is panicky and quickly his Detective instincts kick in. He asks the girl questions about the man, her answers are less than concrete and after looking around for a while with his darting eyes, Park looks directly into the camera, lost and bereft of answers, and it is here that the film ends.

Back at the scene of the crime, back on the road
Aside from being a visual bookend to the film, this scene does effectively adumbrate the journey, or lack thereof, that Park has undergone. After having extricated himself from the force he comes back to the scene of the crime, seemingly just like the criminal, and although presented with this new information he still lacks the knowledge of how to process it and thus he looks directly at us, the only moment that the fourth wall is broken in the film, as if he is pleading us to help him find his path. "The subjects in Korean painting never seem to avoid eye contact with the viewer. On the contrary, it seems that they accept their role of represented subject, and an audience must accept their role of viewer. This is true also of cinema”, one could side with this interpretation with regards to the final shot, as the intertextuality of the film anchors this as a South Korean film as opposed to just a genre film. By the end of his trajectory, Park is unable to recuperate his subjectivity on his own. It takes very little for the historical trauma he experienced to overwhelm him again and he is incapable of knowing what to do about it. This is why he must end in the narrative exactly where he started because he cannot find his own path, he cannot go anywhere and he has no real destination. While his journey in the narrative has been entirely cyclical, in the end, through his frustrations and failings, we the spectators have gone on an incredible and complex journey with him which has enabled us to delve deep into the repercussions of an immense collective national trauma. We begin and end on a road and like so many characters of the Korean New Wave before him, Park finds himself on it, constantly in search of a home which has been destroyed.

Park looks directly into the camera
Therefore, the film offers up the conclusion that there is no easy way to deal with the serious psychological trauma which has stemmed from countless historical atrocities that South Korean males have suffered in the 20th century. Many people cannot simply forget about these traumatic events and their lives and behavior are heavily informed by this scarred history. However, it is also not simply ignored, with dozens of films released every year that deal with these intense psychological and sociological issues. The fact that these demons are being faced in such a direct fashion is proof that as a nation South Korea is ready to move on from their traumatic history and clearly have successfully been pulling away from it in recent times. In terms of the future of South Korean cinema, it remains to be seen how these historical events will be dealt with by subsequent generations that may not have been personally scarred by these events. Although since social problems are so keenly addressed in contemporary South Korean cinema, it is difficult to imagine that these modes of filmmaking will be forgotten or cast off any time soon.