Friday, September 9, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (09/03-09/09, 2011)

A number of great reviews this week including a pair from refresh_daemon over at Init_Scenes on two old Yoo Hyeon-mok films 

RECENT RELEASES

(Unseen Films, September 5, 2011)

(Acid Cinema, September 9, 2011)

(subtitledonline.com, September 3, 2011)

(hancinema, September 3, 2011)

(justpressplay.net, September 5, 2011)


PAST FILMS

(Hangul Celluloid, September 3, 2011)

(init-scenes.blogspot.com, September 3, 2011)

(WhatCulture!, September 7, 2011)

(The Hindu, September 7, 2011)

Oldboy, 2003
(CineAwesome!, September 3, 2011)

(init-scenes.blogspot.com, September 8, 2011)

(Blu-RayDefinition.com, September 6, 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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Korean Cinema News (08/29-09/04, 2011)

Lots of great features and trailers this week, as well as some strong interviews. I have changed the format slightly, as always I welcome feedback.


KOREAN CINEMA NEWS

Summer is the season for horror. Among many Korean ways to beat the heat, a favorite method is to break out in a cold sweat by scaring oneself silly. As a result, many horror movies are released in the summer and horror specials are broadcast on TV. So why are long-haired girls in white hanbok the stars of summer horror? (The Korea Blog, August 22, 2011)

The Curious Case of Korean Cinema
A feature on violence against women in the native Korean cinema scene. Violence against females is either a major plot device, or is at least featured in some capacity in a large amount of Korean films. (Scroozle's Sanctuary, August 28, 2011)

Kang Woo Suk, Master of Modern Korean Cinema
Frequently noted as one of the most powerful men in the Korean film industry, Kang Woo-suk has been an important force in the shaping of the peninsula's national cinema, not only as a director, but also as a producer and financier. (yesasia.com, August 29, 2011)

Korean Film Content Needs Global Perspective: Visual Effects Expert
The Korean film industry’s production capabilities are extraordinary, but it is unfortunate that the content is still being made for Korean people, an American visual effects expert said at a forum Tuesday. Scott Ross, co-chairman of inDSP USA, a company specializing in converting 2-D motion pictures to 3-D, said content business is the future of all economies, including Korea. (The Korea Herald, August 30, 2011)

Won Bin Attends Press Conference in Japan for The Man from Nowhere Premiere 
Actor Won Bin recently attended a press conference in Japan for his film The Man from Nowhere. A video entitled ‘Won Bin during his introduction in Japan’ was posted online, showing the actor alongside young actress Kim Sae-ron and director Lee Jong-bum. (allkpop, August 31, 2011)

Huge Debt Stifles Last Godfather Director Shim
The director of The Last Godfather and D-War (2007), Shim Hyung-rae, is drowning in enormous debt. Industry insiders say his production firm Younggu-Art Entertainment is on the verge of going under. (The Korea Times, August 31, 2011)

Sky's the Limit for Kwon Sang-woo as He Targets China, Hollywood
While Kwon Sang-woo has been overlooked in the past he thinks his latest role in the movie Pain may change all that. The film is directed by Busan-born Kwak Kyung-taek, whose blockbuster Friend (2001) was a smash hit 10 years ago. Kwon is expecting a positive reaction to his 10th movie when it comes out on Sept. 8. (The Chosun Ilbo, August 31, 2011)

Stoker Begins Principal Photography
Scott Free Productions, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Indian Paintbrush announced today that principal photography for the psychological thriller Stoker has begun in Nashville, Tennessee. The film stars Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Oscar ® winner Nicole Kidman with Dermot Mulroney and Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver. (Movie City News, September 1, 2011)

The First Theatrical Feature Documentary Made by a Korean in New Zealand
The New Zealand International Film Festival has recently screened the first theatrical feature documentary made by a Korean in the country. Moving focuses on a Korean couple and the struggles they faced before, during and after the infamous series of earthquakes which systematically devastated Christchurch houses, schools, business and its entire central business district. (Korean Film Biz Zone, September 1, 2011)

Kim Jong-il "Lee Young-ae Is a Great Actress"
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il spoke very highly of actress Lee Young-ae.It seems that he has ordered North Korean artists to watch Lee Young-ae's Dae Jang Geum and learn acting. A North Korean radio channel reported that Kim said, "Don't say you've watched a movie when you haven't seen Dae Jang Geum or Rambo". (Han Cinema, September 1, 2011)

My Sassy Girl Director Takes the Helm of a Chinese Film
The next project for My Sassy Girl director Kwak Jae Yong is a Chinese historical film starring Fan Bing Bing. The will make him the first Korean director to do so. Kwak will begin shooting Yang Guifei in October with a 30-man strong Korean staff. The film is scheduled for release early 2012. (Soompi, September 3, 2011)

An Anonymous Island by Yi Mun-yol
Yi Mun-yul's classic short story An Anonymous Island appears in this week's New Yorker magazine. (The New Yorker, September 5, 2011 - Paid Subscription Required)

Crossroads of Youth: Korea’s Oldest Silent Film Comes to Stage at the Thames Festival
This year the KCCUK and Korean Film Archive are proud to present Crossroads of Youth. This film is the oldest surviving cinematic Korean release which premiered in 1934. This print which will be screening has been fully restored by KOFA. The screening time is 8pm on Saturday 10 September 2011. (London Korea Links, September 5, 2011)

Yeonghwa: Korea Film Today @ MOMA
Yeonghwa, or “film” in Korean, is a good word for cinéastes to know, given the Korean film industry’s success at festivals and among critics and audiences worldwide. This second season of Yeonghwa includes eight feature films, opening with Rolling Home with a Bull, by Lee Soon-rye, and Jean Kyu-hwan’s remarkable Town Trilogy. (The Korea Society, September 2011)


INTERVIEWS

Director Ryoo Seung-Wan Talks Failure And Success To Han Cinema
Having accumulated a ten-film filmography over the last decade, Ryoo Seung-wan can be considered a veteran director, but his style is still evolving amid a mixture of success and failure. But Seung-wan has kept his eye trained to the future and is now basking in the success of his latest feature, The Unjust, which has strengthened his footing on the international film scene. (Han Cinema, August 28, 2011)

Ha Jung-woo Confident About Korean-Style Legal Thriller
Actor Ha Jung-woo and the other makers of The Client are certain that their film will offer something new to local audiences as the country’s first legal thriller. (The Korea Times, August 31, 2011)

Jeju Filmmaker Captures Local Quirks
O Muel, a Jeju native, has been igniting the local indie scene with a pair of films showing in theaters. Both works capture the spirit of the region, though with a contemporary, modern and humorous edge that won him a jury award at the Jecheon International Music Film Festival. (The Korea Times, September 5, 2011)


TRAILERS







Painted (music video)


BOX OFFICE

Arrow Crosses the 5 Million Mark
For a fourth straight week, Arrow has clinched the no. 1 spot of the Korean box office and although it was off slightly from last week's take, it has now amassed over 5 million admissions and looks poised to cross more milestones in the near future. Meanwhile, the new Song Kang-ho film Hindsight opened with 259,000 tickets sold over the weekend. A decent start, but it will need to make a lot more to be considered a success. Both Blind and Leafie performed well again and they now each have crossed the two million mark. Next week, Marrying the Mafia IV is likely to unseat this past month's champ and dominate the marketplace. (Han Cinema, September 4, 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, September 2, 2011

Weekly Review Round-Up (08/27-09/02, 2011)

RECENT RELEASES

(Film Business Asia, September 1, 2011)

(Film Business Asia, August 30, 2011)

(Blog Critics, August 28, 2011)

Poetry

(Rockets & Robots, August 29, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, August 27, 2011


PAST FILMS

(Paper Blog, August 31, 2011)

(Hangul Celluloid, August 27, 2011)

(Heroic Cinema, August 22, 2011)

The Chaser, 2008
(hubpages, August 28, 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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Korean Cinema News (08/22-08/28, 2011)

KOFFIA

KOFFIA began last Thursday and ended last night for the Sydney portion of its run. It will start up again in Melbourne on September 10. Below are plenty of reports and videos from the festival to keep you occupied in the meantime.






KOREAN CINEMA NEWS

Sector 7 Fades Away
After less than a month in theaters, the much-ballyhooed 3D blockbuster Sector 7 will disappear from multiplexes with its meagre takings. (hancinema.net, August 28, 2011)

Secret Sunshine: A Cinema of Lucidity
Dennis Lim's essay from last week's Criterion Release of Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine (2007). (Criterion.com, August 2011)

Busan Film Festival and the Emergence of Asian Cinema
The increasing links between Hollywood and China have been a big source of film industry news in Asia this week, but there's been some pretty big news coming out of South Korea too, as it starts to gear up for the region's most prestigious festival. (The Independent, August 26, 2011)

Kim Tae-hee Takes on TV Role in Japan
Last Thursday, Kim Tae-hee's Agency announced that she will take the lead role in Fuji TV's new romantic comedy, tentatively titled Me and My Star's 99 Days. (The Chosun Ilbo, August 26, 20110)

Kim Jee-woon's The Last Stand Will Begin Principal Photography in October
Director Kim Ji-woon's Hollywood debut and Arnold Schwarzenegger's comeback The Last Stand is set to start shooting this October in New Mexico. (hancinema.net, August 25, 2011)

The Front Line Selected as Korean Oscar Contender
South Korea has selected The Front Line as its national contender for the foreign-language Academy Award. Directed by Jang Hoon the film is a war-is-hell treatment of the Korean War that takes as its focus a complicated skirmish for a hill in 1953. (Film Business Asia, August 24, 2011)

The Yellow Sea Scores US Release
Fox International, the arm of the studio that deals with overseas releases, will give Na Hong-jin’s The Yellow Sea stateside releases, although no date is set as of yet. (indieWIRE, August 24, 2011)

Sunny Ends its Run at No. 11 on All Time Chart
Following a long run in theaters Sunny has finished at 11th place on the alltime Korean box office chart with 7.44 million admissions. (hancinema.net, August 24, 2011)

Busan Announces Competition Lineup
The Busan International Film Festival has announced its main competition lineup for this year's edition. Included in the Asian lineup are two Korean films, from Kim Joong-hyun and Stanley Park. (Film Business Asia, August 24, 2011)

Hindsight Premieres Music Video
Shin Se-kyeong, star of Hindsight, stars in a music video being release in anticipation of the film's imminent release. (Asian Media Wiki, August 24, 2011)

How Will Marrying the Mafia IV Fare?
Given the enormous success of its predecessors, will Marrying the Mafia IV reaps similar rewards? (hancinema.net, August 24, 2011)

An Examination of Hong Sang-soo's Body of Work
Over on Little White Lies, Yusef Sayed takes a look at the films of Hong Sang-soo. (Little White Lies, August 23, 2011)

Pathfinder to Release 5 Korean Movies on DVD in US/Canada
Five critically-acclaimed Korean films will finally find their way to the North American home video market courtesy of Pathfinder Pictures. The titles include: The King and the Clown (2005), I'm a Cyborg but That's Okay (2006), The Servant, The Recipe, and Magic. (Asian Pop Shock August 22, 2011)

Korean TV Station Tussles Start Afresh
After the political maneuvering which led to the creation of new TV stations that have yet to start operations, tensions are growing now that the first effects of these nascent entities are rippling through the industry. (The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2011)


INTERVIEWS

Lim Woo-seung Talks About His New Film
Director Lim Woo-seung opens up about filmmaking with the release of his sophomore film Scars. (The Korea Herald, August 24, 2011)

Ryoo Seung-wan at KOFFIA Press Conference
As the Korean Film Festival in Australia opened last week, Ryoo Seung-wan discussed his films The Unjust and No Blood No Tears (2002), both screening. (Inside Film, August 24, 2011)

IFFR Sitdown with Lee Chang-dong
A wondeful and in depth interview with Lee Chang-dong, during his stop at the International Film
Festival Rotterdam. (Twitch Film, August 22, 2011)


TRAILERS



Quick (eng subs)



BOX OFFICE

Arrow Scores for a Third Straight Weekend

Arrow had another big weekend adding 706,000 for a total 4.4 million admissions to date. Both Blind and Leafie held well with 257,000 and 137,000 respectively, they will likely cross the 2 million mark shortly. (hancinema.net, August 28, 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, August 27, 2011

Troubleshooter (Hae-gyeol-sa) 2010

Sol Kyung-gu has been one of Korea’s most bankable stars since Kang Woo-suk’s Public Enemy trilogy hijacked the box office in 2002 and I have already taken some time to discuss his career up until this point with my review of his other 2010 thriller No Mercy. His bankability which now seems to be borne out of his suffocating typecasting rather than his immense acting ability succeeded in bringing this film great success at the local box office. The only differences (from a narrative standpoint) between Troubleshooter and the aforementioned No Mercy is that is that Sol sports a slightly longer, shaggier hairstyle and is a much better fighter (invincible nearly). Besides that we are still left with a character who operates on the fringe of the police, is a single father, has his daughter kidnapped, and must do his aggressor’s bidding. No Mercy begins with the kidnapping whereas Troubleshooter starts with Sol being framed for murder but with those opening shots, which reveal the somewhat troubled nature of his relationship with his young daughter, it is inevitable that she will get taken at some point.

Kang (Sol Kyung-gu) gets framed
It sounds as though I am attacking the film for a lack of originality and a stubborn reliance on tried and tested formula. While this may be true I am more forgiving towards this film than I was towards No Mercy. The reason being that this is a deliberately simple narrative that is rendered very effectively. It also seems like a test of some sorts for rookie director Kwon Hyeok-jae who has come out from under the wings of the formidable Ryoo Seung-wan, director of Crying Fist (2005), The City of Violence (2006), and The Unjust (2010), who serves as producer here.

Sol Kyung-gu plays Kang Tae-sik, a private detective, or self-described Troubleshooter. Kang goes on a simple job and finds a dead body, it quickly becomes clear that he is being framed for the murder and he receives a call from the orchestrator of the scene who now blackmails him to do his bidding if he is to receive the evidence that will prove his innocence.

Really simple stuff but it gets going very quickly and requires limited exposition. Unlike other Korean films Troubleshooter hardly falls back on melodrama, instead remaining firmly rooted in the present as it thunders on at a breathless pace. That is not to say that there aren’t certain moment that drag and a few scenes that could have been trimmed or cut out but as a rookie effort it displays a keen understanding of pace and structure and a mature appreciation of brevity. In addition, the dissemination of information in this mystery/action film is thoughtfully calculated, sustaining our interest over the entire running time.

Great fight scenes
As you would expect from a film that features Ryoo’s name somewhere in the credits, the action scenes, particularly the tightly-choreographed fight sequences are typically impressive and hard-hitting. Jeong Doo-hong, Ryoo’s longtime martial arts choreographer brings his particular brand of quick and inventive fighting techniques and applies them to Sol’s character. The scenes that result are very impressive and will satisfy any action cravings, as long as you accept it. As great as the scenes were, I felt it was a little contrived that this private eye would be such an expert and quasi-unbeatable martial arts expert. Had the film taken place in an alternate, more stylized universe, such as a comic book adaptation for example, I might well have accepted it but as it stands, his skills seem a little incongruous. A small complaint though, given how thrilling the fight sequences are.

The main problem with the film for me was when it deviated from the immediate action involving Kang and his antagonist. The police scenes had something quite off about them and this surprised and disappointed me, not least because the lead detective on the case was played by my favorite character actor in Korea. The inimitable Oh Dal-su has incarnated some of the most memorable characters in Korean cinema (Oldboy, 2003; The Show Must Go On, 2007; Thirst, 2009; The Servant, 2010) and has served as the principal foil to some of it’s greatest protagonists, but here what is supposed to have an air of sardonic wit seems tired and decidedly flat. I am reticent to blame Oh’s portrayal of his character as I think this is likely an error in judgment on the part of the director. I can see what he was trying to do as he both pays homage to the slick investigatory style of Hollywood while also sending it up with a playful cynicism. But the scenes end up being far too dry and the comedy sometimes gets lost in the deliberate downplaying of the mise-en-scene. Thankfully in as the narrative progresses and Oh and Sol get to share screen time, these problems evaporate and Oh manages to impress yet again in a small role.

Oh Dal-su in the dry police segments
On the back of this strong and technically proficient genre entry, I must say that I am very exited for the next project that Kwon Hyeok-jae will undertake, I just hope that it will be a slightly more complex work. Given it’s strong central performance, excellent production values, and effective pacing, Troubleshooter is a film that is well worth your time, just don’t expect to see anything you haven’t before.


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 26, 2011

Weekly Review Round-Up (08/20-08/26, 2011)

A lot of new reviews this week, many because of the US DVD release of both Lee Chang-dong's Poetry and Secret Sunshine (2007), the latter on Criterion! Also multiple reviews for The Last Godfather, recently released on DVD, A Bittersweet Life (2005), just out on Blu-ray in the states and The Unjust, which opened the KOFFIA festival on Wednesday.


NEW KOREAN RELEASES

(The Korea Times, August 25, 2011)

(Joong Ang Daily, August 19, 2011)

(The Hollywood Reporter, August 22, 2011)

(init-scenes.blogspot.com, August 24, 2011)


RECENT RELEASES

(Modern Korean Cinema, August 25, 2011)

(The Hollywood Reporter, August 22, 2011)

(reviewsfromtheabyss, August 20, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, August 24, 2011)

Poetry

(hancinema.net, August 20, 2011)

(The One One Four, August 24, 2011)

The Last Godfather

The Unjust

(Shadowlocked, August 24, 2011)


PAST FILMS

A Bittersweet Life, 2005

Phone, 2002
(slashingthrough.com, August 21, 2011)

Secret Sunshine, 2007


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 25, 2011

Modern Korean Cinema turns 1!


Hard to believe that this much time has gone by but today marks the one-year anniversary of Modern Korean Cinema. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing at first but steadily through the support of all the site's readers, today I am very pleased with the direction that MKC has taken.

I want to thank each and everyone one of you that has ever visited, read, forwarded, retweeted, 'liked', or commented on the site. It goes without saying that this venture would be fruitless without your support. I love doing this site and I hope that it keeps growing in the years to come as I have no intention of stopping or slowing down. If anything I hope to add more elements to the site.

I would like to use this milestone to reach out to you and ask what you think of the site as it stands. Is there anything you dislike, anything that could be improved, or toned down? Any comments or suggestions at all would be most welcome. Once again this site would be nothing without its readers and I aim to please you and provide you with the content you seek.

Again, thank you all so much, it is a pleasure and an honour!


Pierce

Grand Prix (Geu-rang-peu-ri) 2010

Like a great many other males of this earth, I am frequently seized with an insuppressible feeling of revulsion when faced with the prospect of sitting down to watch a romance film. Gender bias aside, I do not think that this feeling is unwarranted. Given the quality in recent years of the romance genre across the globe, there is very little reason for any person, let alone men, to waste their time with the products on offer. It used to be that romance films were among the best examples of cinema for any given period in time. Silent cinema produced some gems including F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), but it was in the 30s and 40s that Hollywood really embraced romance. Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939), Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story (1940), Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), and so many more are all considered to be classics. Indeed even beyond that period and also across the globe, cinema produced magnificent, heartrending, devastating, and brilliant romantic films. I can’t say exactly when it started but at a certain point the beauty, poignancy, lyricism, wit, and levity began to disappear from the genre and what we have today is for the most part a collection of the most astoundingly crass, classless, corporate, consumerized, and commercialized examples of shockingly sexist, hollow, and demeaning drivel. Harsh words but rarely so justly deserved.

Kim Tae-hee's sadface
There are still some great examples, The Notebook (2004) and (500) Days of Summer (2009) among others, represent some of the most worthwhile examples of classical and progressive approaches to the genre. Sadly these are few and far between. For this reason, and innumerable others as you well known by this point, many of us have been drawn to Korean cinema. I am not allergic to romance films because I am a man, I am simply offended by them because I consider myself to be a discerning (and sadly very cynical) film lover. To my shock and wonderful surprise, aside from the great Asia Extreme films that were the introduction for many of us to Korean cinema, I discovered this far eastern Asian cinema was equally adept at making timeless love stories. The first I came across and to date still the most popular export in the genre was My Sassy Girl (2001), a fresh, zany, hilarious, and touching romantic comedy that had the ability to appeal to many demographics. Beyond that there are many romantic Korean films that have moved us, including: Il Mare (2000), The Classic (2003), A Moment to Remember (2004), Someone Special (2004), My Little Bride (2004), and A Millionaire’s First Love (2006), to name but a few.

This is why, unlike anything that comes out of Hollywood, I will give any Korean romance a chance. With this spirit I thought that I would give Grand Prix a chance, a racetrack-themed love story starring the beautiful Kim Tae-hee. Now I know that not every Korean film is going to worthwhile, especially as romance is concerned, but I must say that I was quite taken aback at how truly abysmal this film was. Cloying, saccharine, insincere, vapid, and lacking any finesse and skill, Grand Prix is a film that attempts to be as manipulative as it possibly can and as bad as that sounds, the fact that it is so poorly made and in no way comes anywhere close to affecting us with its confounded opportunism sticks it right at the bottom of the pile.

World's most irritating child
Kim Tae-hee plays a jockey who falls during her race and her horse, who has broken its leg, is put down in front of her. She is so distraught by the experience that she do the only thing she can do and that is to give up her profession and wear pretty clothes while traipsing around the prairies of Jeju island and looking wistfully and longingly at the scenery and other horses. On her travels, or rather the first thing that happens when she steps off the boat, she meets another jockey (Kang Dong-geun) who is a guy she will fall in love with for reasons unknown and is riding the horse that she will ultimately compete with in the Grand Prix of the title. What else happens, let me see there’s a local equestrian center and some old people who are mean to one another because of some longwinded and laughably dark backstory, a frequently topless male model who is just there for no ostensible reason, and the world’s most irritating, uncute, and strangle-worthy child. If these elements can’t combine into a surefire hit then I don’t know what can!

Grand Prix is one of those films that is masterful and awe-inspiring in its complete and all-encompassing ineptitude. There is not one thing that works in this film. The cast: Kim Tae-hee is pretty but can’t really act, she is also the last person I would chose to cast as a jockey; Yang Dong-geun (a replacement for Lee Jun-ki who dropped out to do military service a month into filming) is irritating and a terrible romantic lead; I’ve already mentioned the kid who I would have little reservations dropping off of a cliff; and all the other inconsequential supporting characters are either annoying, dull, or vacuous. The plot is hackneyed, patched together with an odd array of multi-colored and ill-fitting bandaids, and replete with soulless, melodramatic backstories. The production values are okay but there are some real problems with respect to the sound and editing.

The insufferable Yang Dong-geun
It was very difficult to watch this all the way through to the end and despite being stubbornly democratic in my viewing tastes for Korean cinema, especially as I undertake my 2010 film project, I daresay I regret wasting my time with it. There are many far superior mediocre films that deserve your squandered leisure time over this. Don’t make the same mistake I did.


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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Mercy (Yong-seo-neun Eobs-da) 2010

Sol Kyung-gu was the first Korean actor whose name I remembered and after his extraordinary turn in Peppermint Candy (1999) I was convinced that he was someone to look out for. Sure enough, as I poured myself deeper into Korean film I came across Public Enemy (2002) and Oasis (2002), which further cemented him in my eyes as a great actor. After his earlier works, a lot of which were arthouse films, Sol’s career trajectory took a turn. How can I say this, he became a bankable star. Kang Woo-suk’s Public Enemy trilogy made millions and turned into one of the country’s most well-known names. He then starred in an even bigger project, the short-lived highest-grossing Korean film that was Silmido (2003), also by Kang. Beyond that he became a consistent presence at the Blue Dragon and Grand Bell awards (Korea’s most prestigious industry awards ceremonies), the highlight being when he was double-nominated in 2005 for Public Enemy 2 (2005) and Rikidozan (2004). After this it starts to get a little spotty: Another Public Enemy film called… Another Public Enemy (2008); some very successful but somewhat underwhelming blockbusters, Voice of a Murderer (2007) and Tidal Wave (2009); and then in 2010 he made a film about a man connected to the police whose daughter is kidnapped by another man whose bidding he must do to ensure her safety. Wait! He actually made two of those, they are called No Mercy and Troubleshooter.

Sol Kyung-gu in familiar territory
While most of the films that Sol lends his name to these days range from decent to quite good, the problem is that he is horrendously typecast. This is a common phenomenon in most industrialized national cinemas but Sol takes the cake. He invariably plays emasculated men who are single fathers who must protect and/or save their daughters. It is a very specific kind of typecasting and one would wonder why producers think that audiences could still accept him within such confined parameters. The truth is that these films are making a lot of cash, Troubleshooter, his most recent, scored nearly 2 million admissions on the back of his name and a thin premise. It’s little unfortunate that the formula is working as that indicates that we will have to put up with the same Sol characters for a while yet. His best recent role was probably his ethereal cameo in 2009’s wonderful A Brand New Life, which harkens back to the roles that began his career in earnest.

It seems to me that with No Mercy the producers thought they would make a film that ticks a few boxes and lends itself to being marketed overseas under the popular Asia extreme moniker. First off, it stars Sol Kyung-go, who despite my already noted reservations, is one of Korea’s most exportable stars. The premise is dark and twisted and the revenge formula that is predominant in the narrative is nothing new in Korean film. All this is well and good and the film trundles along at a good pace and is never less than engaging. The performances from Sol and the ever versatile Ryoo Seung-beom are strong and production values, if not the best Korea can offer, are top notch. The end of the film is what really gets me, it it was uninspired and worse made me look over that which had already played out very poorly.

Ryoo Seung-beom as the suspect
Sol plays Kang Min-hom a pathology professor who is frequently employed as an expert by the police. After a grisly murder takes place he and Detective Min Seo-yeong (Han Hye-jin) work together to apprehend the killer (Ryoo Seung-beom). They do so but as Kang is at the airport waiting for his daughter he receives word from the jailed suspect through an accomplice that he has his daughter and to see her alive again he must get him out. Thus he must try to mislead the police, perjure himself, taint evidence, and all sorts of degrading and dishonorable things for the sake of his daughter’s life. The past and memory feature prominently as more is revealed of the characters in the film through flashback, which is typical in melodramatic Korean cinema.

*Spoilers ahead

Unlike most Hollywood films but not unsurprising for the local industry, things do not turn out well. This is an interesting phenomenon in of itself but I don’t think this is the best film to discuss it with. But I think that Kang’s malfeasances and the hardships that befall him and other characters have a certain sense of inevitability to them. For example, his daughter was born with a genetic disorder, if I understood correctly she was a hemophiliac. This is both very a propos but also very trite as she will of course be sacrificed and will thus bleed for her family, it would seem this is her destiny.

The end is lifted in big spoonfuls from Oldboy (2003) and given that the production has nowhere near that prestige pic feel, this is a giant mistake which serves to derail what should have been a solid, albeit standard, thriller.

*End of Spoilers*

"Graphic" autopsy
The film tries very hard to be hard boiled and dark. There are a number of autopsy scenes that are meant go the distance to make you squirm (although they look kind of ridiculous) and even some surprisingly graphic sex scenes but they feel tacked on and do nothing to help the narrative. It’s unfortunate that the proceedings become so obvious as the film progresses because I feel that the film had quite a lot of potential. The early red herring that is supposed to explain the murder is far more interesting and original than what ends up happening. Oh well, maybe next time. In the meantime: Mr. Sol, please get a new agent before you become completely irrelevant!


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 23, 2011

The Unjust (Bu-dang-geo-rae) 2010

(Opening film for KOFFIA 2011)

Ryoo Seung-wan is already a popular and respected filmmaker who has pleased fanboys (The City of Violence, 2006) and critics alike (Crying Fist, 2005), but with his new film The Unjust, he has elevated himself to a new level, from which he can now comfortably tower over the majority of his peers. Principally known for his exceptional action sequences and choreography, Ryoo is a technical wizard who has the ability to inject vitality into just about any subject. What he has done here is namely to use his strengths in action filmmaking and apply those techniques laterally into different elements of the film. While The Unjust may be a film about cops and murder, there is much less action than you would imagine from Ryoo, although it is to his credit that it never feels that way.

Hwang Jeong-min and Yu Hae-jin
With a blistering pace, a cool head, and intense focus Ryoo has fashioned a film that has successfully built on its most accomplished predecessors. It feels like a Korean and slightly more stylized version of a New Hollywood film from the 1970s. In particular I’m reminded of Serpico (1973) and The French Connection (1971) but also many others. The paranoia from that era’s conspiracy thrillers and the composed, organized, and yet organic framing and juxtaposition of those tempered filmmakers like Sydney Lumet and Billy Friedkin’s mise-en-scene, are all on evident display in this simultaneously old school and progressive masterclass of filmmaking.

The Unjust is probably the most richly conceived film to come out of Korea in 2010, although The Yellow Sea comes in as a close second. The busy, cluttered, and yet highly precise production design is more than amply matched by the constantly angled cinematography which is so richly composed and sequenced to highlight the  proliferate characters in all their physical and psychological states. In essence mirroring the deliberately convoluted and tense narrative, the mise-en-scene is dense and mesmerizing. The sound is exceptionally well-crafted and carefully orchestrated with the tight editing, and some key sequences employ parallel editing while also taking advantage of the intense and powerful music, especially the recurring, sinister horns.

Ryoo Seung-beom
The story involves a great number of characters but at the heart of the plot there is a stoic and gruff police captain Cheol-gi (Hwang Jeong-min) who has been passed over for promotion one too many times, Joo-yang a young prosecutor (Ryoo Seung-beom), ruthlessly ambitious in his profession but conflicted by his frequently compromised ethics, and Jang, a cagey gangster (Yu Hae-jin) who wears a suit and pretends to inhabit the business world despite being more comfortable stabbing someone in the back with his knife. The narrative begins with the manhunt for the killer of a young girl which has a lot at stake for the police department. Its conflict arises from the higher-ups enlisting of Cheol-gi to cover up a death and make a conviction stick to a patsy while Jang harbors ambitions to take down his rival who has Joo-yang in his pocket. As the story gets more complicated they get more entangled together.

My primary misgiving with The Unjust is that like a great number of the New Hollywood filmmakers, Ryoo Seung-wan doesn’t seem to have strong or relatable female characters in most of his work. The film is a prime example of a male-driven thriller that makes no effort to portray the opposite gender. In one sense this is sort of a blessing in disguise as all the males and therefore all the protagonists in this narrative are shown to be corrupt, ruthless, and/or motivated purely by personal gain. Moral fiber figures in some of the characters ideals but this veneer is swiftly peeled away to show the moral turpitude of everyone associated with the system and then some.

Film noir
The main theme of the day is police corruption which is something that is so frequent and dare-I-say blasé in modern Korean film that the proposition could potentially seem a little risky. I don’t know if it has ever been so pronounced and vociferous though, everyone is a very dark shade of grey in this film and the corruption is so all-consuming, depraved, and simply conducted that it kind of takes your breath away.

The performances are among the cast’s best, the script (from I Saw the Devil scribe Park Hoon-jung) is tight and menacing, the sparse choreography by Jeong Doo-hong will blow your socks off, and Ryoo’s expert and thrilling direction will keep you on the edge of your seats all throughout. This film noir is one of the best Korean movies of the last few years and I suggest that you don’t miss it!


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.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Korean Cinema News (08/15-08/21, 2011)

KOFFIA

More KOFFIA news this week including the MKC preview of the event which is set to kick off on the 24th in Sydney.





KOREAN CINEMA NEWS

Lots of festival news, especially regarding the once-again prolific Kim Ki-duk.


Montreal World Film Festival to Feature Two Korean Films
At this year's Montreal World Film Festival, two Korean films will be screened. They are Dance Town and Secrets, Objects. The MWFF is a good opportunity for people to see Korean films if they did not get a chance to at Fantasia, the screenings of which frequently sell out. (Montreal Gazette, August 13, 2011)

Busan Announces Selection for 30-Film Project
The Asina Project Market has selected 30 films for the Busan International Film Festival's Pusan Promotion Plan. Projects include the new Park Jung-bum and Park Chan-kyong films. (Film Business Asia, August 17, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk's Latest to Premiere at San Sebastian
Amen, a new film by Kim Ki-duk will get its world premiere at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. The film was shot in Europe and depicts the mysterious journey of a young Korean girl and her meetings with a man on her trail. (Film Business Asia, August 17, 2011)

Info Gleaned From The Host's DVD Commentary Track
34 nuggests of information taken from the DVD commentary track to The Host (2006) with director Bong Joon-ho and revered critic Tony Rayns. (Film School Rejects, August 17, 2011)

Busan Fest Moves to New Location
The Busan Cinema Center, which will house the Busan International Film Festival, has nearly finished construction and is scheduled to open its doors on Sep.29, a week before the festival begins. (Joong Ang Daily, August 17, 2011)

Arirang Picks Up Grand Prix at New Horizons Film Fest
This yea'r s New Horizon Film Festival has awarded Kim Ki-duk's latest film Arirang its Grand Prize. The film beat out 11 other competitors at the Polish festival. (The Chosun Ilbo, August 18, 2011)

Blind Announced for Fantastic Fest in Austin
The second wave of the Fantastic Fest, which will take place in Austin, TX during September 22-29, will include the US premier of current Korean hit Blind. (Fantastic Fest, August 18, 2011)

Arirang to Screen at CinDi
The Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival welcomes Kim Ki-duk's latest oeuvre Arirang to its lineup as a surprise screening. This film the film's Korean premiere. (Film Business Asia, August 18, 2011)

The Servant to Be Revived as Mini-Series
Last year's phenomenal The Servant will breath life again as a mini-series on Korean TV. Director Kim Dae-woo was involved in the writing process. The show will air in 4 episodes and air in October of next year. (Asian Media Wiki, August 2011)

My Wife Is a Gangster Gets Chinese Remake
The immensely popular My Wife Is a Gangster trilogy is set to be remade as a film in China. The film's production is in the early stages and will likely not begin shooting until next year. (Asian Media Wiki, August 2011)


INTERVIEWS

Conversation With Korean-Brazilian Director Iara Lee
An interview with the Korean-Brazilian Director Iara Lee, whose new film Cultures of Resistance will screen at the EBS International Documentary Festival in Seoul. (10 Magazine, August 17, 2011)

Interview of Cast and Crew of Ashamed
A view interview of the cast and crew of Ashamed, including director Kim Soo-hyun and stars Kim Hyo-jina and Kim KKot-Bi. Video is in Korean with no subtitles. (youtube.com, August 20, 2011)


TRAILERS




BOX OFFICE

Arrow Stays Strong in Second Week
Despite some competition from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arrow had a confident second weekend where it dropped less than 15% for 894,000 admissions and 3.1 million overall, surpassing all of the summer's other blockbusters. Blind and Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild also held very well for 338,000 and 168,000 and 1.35 and 1.69 million total, respectively. Meanwhile Quick just managed to cross over the 3 million mark as it wraps up its run while The Front Line may fall just short of that mark. (hancinema.net, August 21, 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 21, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Dare Miss KOFFIA 2011!

If you are fan of Korean cinema but have not heard of the brilliant and imminent Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA), surely you must be living under some sort of internet-repelling rock. I want to take a little bit of time to explain in plain terms why you should know about it, why you should be very exited about it, and, as it follows, why you be remiss to miss this wonderful celebration of the ingenuity, versatility, beauty, explosiveness, and awe-inspiring power of the South Korean film industry.
Jang Cheol-soo's Bedevilled
I make no secret and certainly no apologies for my zealous love of this national cinema. I've spent my entire life watching films from across the globe spanning time immemorial, or at least since the Lumieres Brothers, Thomas Edison, or Louis Le Prince, depending on what you believe, changed and enriched our lives forever. I have witnessed; the wondrous and striking early treasures of 1920s and 30s cinema from the US, Weimar Germany, Communist Russia, and many more; the bold and majestic glory of 1940s Hollywood and the heart-rending honesty of Italian Neorealism; the triumphant and poetic genius of 1950s Japanese cinema; the witty, cool, and powerful French Cinema of the 60s; the progressive confidence of 1970s Hollywood and New German Cinema; and the infinitely versatile and too many to name global cinemas of the 1980s, 90s, and new millenium. So much to love, so much to inspire, so much to revere. Yet none more so than an industry that has been plugging away at full steam for over a decade and show no signs of letting up. For me cinema as an industry has never been so complete as it has in the hands of the globalized, revitalized, and ferociously competent Korean cineastes of the modern era.
Kim Tae-kyun's A Barefoot Dream
It's a rather lofty endorsement and not one that I expect all to ascribe to, but no matter what your tastes, if you are a lover of cinema then more or less by default, you should be a lover of Korean film. Those Korean films that have penetrated into the Western consciousness have been unquestionable successes, films like Oldboy (2003), Memories of Murder (2003), A Bittersweet Life (2005), and The Host (2006). However, they only hint at the depth of the industry from which they emanated. Dig a little deeper and you will finds some of the world's greatest art films, romantic comedies, horrors, action films, thrillers, melodramas, and so, so, so much more. For this reason and more I urge you to take a look at KOFFIA 2011.
Hong Sang-soo's Oki's Movie
This year's expanded edition of KOFFIA demonstrates why Korean cinema demands and deserves your attention. The event, which takes place in Sydney August 24-29 and then moves to Melbourne for September 10-13, is split into a variety of categories that cater to your preference in cinema, including: Crime and Punishment, Bloody Friday, Ride the Dream, Extraordinary Ordinary Families, Indie Cinema, Brothers Divided and Masters and Students.
Lee Jeong-beom's The Man From Nowhere
The festival's most well-known offerings are a dizzying display of modern cinematic technique, impeccable storytelling, and thoughtful creativity. Ryu Seung-wan's The Unjust, Lee Jeong-beom's The Man From Nowhere, and Jang Cheol-soo's Bedevilled are three out of the most well-known Korean films from 2010 to western audiences and for good reason. Looking beyond these hardboiled thrillers you will find: some of last year's most lauded arthouse films, including Hong Sang-soo's Oki's Movie and Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan; as well as emotional and well-crafted inspirational films such as Kim Tae-kyun's A Barefoot Dream. Beyond last year's films the festival will also present an eclectic mix of past but still recent Korean movies that you may not have had a chance to see on the big screen, like: Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area (2000), Ryu Seung-wan's No Blood No Tears (2002), and Han Jae-rim's The Show Must Go On (2007). These and many more promise great things for one of the world's most exiting yearly exhibitions of Asian film. Don't you dare miss out!