Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Korean Cinema News (10/06-10/12, 2011)

Lots of news stemming from the Busan International Film Festival, which is currently underway and will wrap up on Friday.  Also a number of great features and analyses peppered throughout. 


In Review: 2011 Busan International Film Festival
The 2011 Busan International Film Festival (now known as BIFF) began last Thursday and continues until this Friday.  I was able to attend 12 films over the course of the weekend, catching many of the movies I most wanted to see.  Overall the quality was quite strong, with a number of great films that will certainly be among my favorites in what has already been a very good year in world cinema.  (The One One Four, October 12, 2011)

Han Ga-in Returns After Seven Years With Architectural Theory
Actress Han Ga-in, who hasn't starred in a film since Once Upon a Time in High School (2004), will make her comeback with Architectural Theory, the new film from the director of Possessed (2009), Lee Yong-joo-I.  (, October 11, 2011)

Asia’s Directors Embracing 3-D
A 3-D horror movie set in a public toilet block is part of a revolution underway in the Asian film industry as low-budget 3-D productions take on the big studios at their own game.  At the 16th Busan International Film Festival, audiences have been lining up to see the likes of multimillion dollar 3-D productions The Three Musketeers and the reimaged version of the local monster hit The Host (2006).  (Joong Ang Daily, October 12, 2011)

What's Missing from Busan This Year? Hollywood
Notice anything different about the Busan International Film Festival this year?  Actually, there are many changes.  There's a new festival director, Lee Yong-kwan; there's a new venue, the Busan Cinema Center; and the Asian Film Market has moved to the Busan Exhibition and Convention Centre.  But amid all the changes, something's missing: Hollywood.  (The Hollywood Reporter, October 9, 2011)

Korea Contents Fund Showcase at Busan
At the 16th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) and the 6th Asian Film Market, fund managers presented a variety of options for filmmakers at the Korea Contents Fund Showcase yesterday.  BIFF Festival Director LEE Yong Kwan opened the event with a message of welcome and thanks.  “It’s a wonderful thing to have these leading investment funds presenting here at the Busan International Film Festival today.  It is one of our goals to support filmmakers to find financing and distribution means, in addition to screening their films in our festival.”  (KOBIZ, October 12, 2011)

BIFF Closing Ceremony Selects Hosts
Director Jang Jin and actress Ryu Hyun-kyung will host the closing ceremony for this year’s Busan International Film Festival.  The ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday and will signal the end of the nine-day event, now Asia’s largest film festival.  The festival’s opening ceremony was hosted by two actresses, Ye Ji-won and Um Ji-won - representing the first time in history two women had hosted the opening event.  (Joong Ang Daily, October 12, 2011)

Ordinary people presented iPhone-made shorts on the sidelines of the Busan International Film Festival over the weekend, demonstrating even a 12-year-old can venture into filmmaking as the high-tech handset lowers the age threshold.  Despite featuring no film luminaries and drawing much smaller audiences than the festival’s official selections, these smartphone flicks show how amateurs can take advantage of technology to turn their mundane life into cinematic art.  (Joong Ang Daily, October 12, 2011)

Chapman University Presents The Busan West Asian Film Festival Nov. 11-13, 2011 in Orange, CA
Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, recognized as one of the premiere film schools in the United States, in continued partnership with South Korea's Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), Asia's largest film festival, is proud to announce the Busan West Asian Film Festival, November 11-13 in Orange, Calif.  Busan West presents a unique filmmaker showcase that brings select Asian films and filmmakers from BIFF to the U.S. to create a new platform for heightened recognition outside of Asia.  This year the festival organizers are excited to welcome internationally acclaimed writer/director Bong Joon-ho (Mother, 2009; The Host, 2006; Memories of Murder, 2003), as the Busan West Icon Award recipient.  (, October 10, 2011)

Busan’s Asian Film Market Opens at New Venue
The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF)’s Asian Film Market opened yesterday for the first time in its new venue at the Busan Exhibition Convention Center (BEXCO). The market has reported a 67% increase in sales booths and a 24% increase in participant registration since last year.  (KOBIZ, October 11, 2011)

Little Wonders - The Child Actors of South Korea
The way people perceive of child actors can be guessed by the term itself. "Child actor" instead of "actor", as it is for everyone else.  Whether the world likes it or not, Western cinema, and mainly Hollywood, is the one that is available everywhere and so in our faces that we are often having trouble finding anything else.  So the usual idea people have about child actors as well, comes from Hollywood.  (Orion 21, October 9, 2011)

Showbox Sells Busan Opening Film Always to Japan
Major Korean distributor Showbox/Mediaplex has sold Song Il-gon’s melodrama Always, the 16th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) opening film, to Japan’s Pony Canyon.  The film tells the fatal story of a former boxer and a blind girl who fall in love. It stars heartthrob So Ji-sub, who has built a fan-base in Asia after the hit TV series I Am Sorry, I Love You and Jang Hun’s debut feature Rough Cut (2008).  Opposite him stars Han Hyo-joo who swept up drama awards last year for her performance in the TV series Dong-Yi.  (KOBIZ, October 9, 2011)
Two months after the fact, it has been revealed that actress Han Chae-won killed herself on Aug. 25 at her home in Yeonhui-dong, central Seoul. Han was 31 years old.  The Seoul Seodaemun Police Station announced Saturday that Han appeared to have committed suicide since they discovered no signs of murder at the scene.  They did, however, report a suicide note, which said, “I want to die. I’m really sorry for my parents.”   (Joong Ang Daily, October 10, 2011)

Netflix Expanding Asian Movie Selection in Deal with Korea's Top Studio CJ E&M
CJ E&M today announced an agreement to feature twenty of its acclaimed Asian movies on Netflix, the world's leading Internet subscription service for enjoying movies and TV shows.  Beginning in October 2011, Netflix members in the US will be able to instantly watch the twenty titles multiple platforms, including TVs, popular tablets, key gaming consoles, computers and mobile phones.  (, October 7, 2011)

Local Heroes Heed the Call
Films from South Korea had a quietly successful year in the first eight months of 2011, despite a lack of high-profile titles on the international stage.  The industry is set to finish the last quarter in strength with a series of high profile releases.  For the first eight months of the year, local films enjoyed a 49% market share by admissions (47% by box office), a steady increase on the 42% (and 39%) achieved in the first eight months of 2010.  Overall admissions during the period were fractionally up at 107 million with box office at W838 million ($735m).  (Film Business Asia, October 10, 2011)
With a new name, a new venue and an emphasis on actors and directors from lesser-known parts of Asia, this South Korean port city is moving decisively to assert its status as the region's pre-eminent film industry destination.  (Reuters, October 10, 2011)

Kim Kee-duk Back in Director’s Chair
Kim Kee-duk, the 1960s cineaste who is not to be confused with the younger film maverick Kim Ki-duk (Arirang), was honored with a special award from Hermes Korea, Friday.  Kim appeared thoroughly moved as he received the Hermes Director’s Chair, a handsome piece of luxurious leather furniture monogrammed with his name.  (The Hollywood Reporter, October 8, 2011)

Bong Joon-ho’s The Host Gets Converted Into 3D, Sequel Still In The Works
While it’s never been a better time for the crossover of Asian cinema to audiences on this side of the ocean, none have been quite as big as Bong Joon-ho‘s The Host.  The 2006 film became a sensation, not only smashing box office records at home in South Korea, but becoming a must see film stateside, breaking out of its genre niche and finding a larger audience than this kind of flick normally would.  It seems that producers around the world all share the common trait of milking a hit movie for all it’s worth, as not only is there a long gestating sequel to the movie still on the table, until that arrives, The Host has gotten a brand new 3D makeover.  (indieWIRE, October 11, 2011)

Actors Buy 1,000 BIFF Tickets for Underprivileged
Actress Kong Hyo-jin and actor Cha Seung-won purchased 1,000 tickets to the Busan International Film Festival and donated them to organizers to hand out to socially marginalized groups.  (The Chosun Ilbo, October 12, 2011)

Korean WWII Film Promises Big Action, Bigger Drama
A new World War II action drama with an Asian perspective promises never before-seen battle scenes rife with humanist messages.  After holding a large-scale press junket at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the makers of My Way held the first Asian media showcase in Busan on Saturday.  Footages of the 28 billion-won Korea-China co-production were revealed during the event, featuring exquisite period details of 1930s Seoul to bloody battle sequences on European battlegrounds.  (The Hollywood Reporter, October 8, 2011)

Korean Animators Face Screen, Financing Barriers
Leafie, A Hen into the Wild was nicknamed “the emperor of the matinee” in Korea when the film first hit theaters this summer.  An animated film directed by Oh Seong-yoon with the budget of 3 billion won ($2.5 million), it is one of the few Korean animated films that broke 2.5 million admissions domestically. Still, theater owners refused to screen the film during the evening hours.  And when it did, the film was given screens left over by 3D Korean blockbusters such as Sector 7.  (The Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2011)

Korean Summer Box Office Analysis
It was a summer of higher expectations than ever before.  People wondered if this year might be one that produced another film that clocked up the watershed number of 10 million admissions.  This year, an impressive number of big-scale Korean films were making their debut, including Quick and Sector 7, produced by Haeundae director J.K. Youn; The Front Line directed by Jang Hun, who had shot to stardom with popular films Rough Cut (2008) and Secret Reunion (2010), and War of the Arrows (a.k.a. Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon) by Kim Han-min (Paradise Murdered, 2007;  Handphone, 2009).  (Korean Cinema Today, October 7, 2011)

Actor Song Kang-ho
Not many would dispute the statement that actor Song Kang-ho is one of the best, if not the best actor currently working in the Korean film industry.  He’s always met our expectations and Hindsight is no exception.  Du-heon (Song) has left a gang to start a new life by opening a restaurant when a girl comes into his life.  (Korean Cinema Today, October 7, 2011)

Always Busan Q&A
Press conference took place after a press screening of Always at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival on October 6, 2011.  Appearing as speakers are the movie's director Song Il-Gon, lead actress Han Hyo-Joo and lead actor So Ji-Sub.  AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun was there and transcribed/translated the session.  (asianmediawiki, October 6, 2011)



You Pet

(Modern Korean Cinema, October 10, 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.

I Am a Dad (Na-neun Abba-da) 2011

Different films come with different expectations. Depending on the pedigree attached, the budget afforded, or the genre/subjects mined, our preconceptions vary accordingly. B-movies have been popular since the early days of cinema, they have entertained us with their cheap thrills and delighted us with their far-fetched plots. Due to the nature of the production of these films, low budgets and short shoot times are a necessity, and consequently nuance and high production values are ill-afforded extravagances. Things tend to be exaggerated and excessively stylized, since when the actions on screen deliberately eschew realism, it is much easier to get away with things. Hence our expectations are very different for a glossy film with a high-budget, which we tend scrutizine, and a dime-a-dozen B-movie, which we are more likely to accept for what it is, cheap and simple entertainment.

Gritty B-movie
B-movies are mainly considered an American form of filmmaking but in other countries the rules of engagement are necessarily different. In Korea there has been a small number of 'authentic' B-movies including this year's Invasion of Alien Bikini and The Neighbor Zombie (2010), both from the same group of filmmakers. There are, however, a great many low-budget, generic studio features churned out in Chungmuro every year. I Am a Dad is not quite a B-movie, but it comes close and for me, before watching it, I had similar preconceptions. That is to say it looked cheap, gritty, exaggerated, generic, and featured a second-tier Korean star.

The story is simple and deliberately channels popular Korean exports of the 'Asia Extreme' variety. It features a revenge plotline, a very violent and corrupt detective, and illegal organ donors. Kim Seung-woo plays Detective Han Jong-sik, the corrupt investigator who has framed people for crimes to further his own ends. One of these victims exacted his revenge by killing his wife and injuring his daughter (Kim Sae-ron), who is now in desperate need of a new heart. In order to pay for his daughter’s condition, he goes on the take for some gangsters. Meanwhile another innocent man, Na Sang-man (Son Byeong-ho), that he put away from murder, is released, but not before his daughter dies and his wife winds up in a coma. Just like this year’s Heartbeat, it turns out that Na’s wife, who is considered clinically dead, is the only heart transplant available that could save Han’s daughter.

Kim Sae-ron, in need of a heart
The concept isn’t bad, even if it is quite contrived, but it loses its impact as a result of its excessive foreshadowing. Detective Han and Sang-man are tied via their parrallel fates, or rather that of their wives and daughters. Indeed, most of the narrative is played off of repetition, which inevitably means that a lot of time is wasted over the development of story and characters that has already been presaged. Having the ability to see ahead of time how the broad strokes will play out takes away much of the fun and leaves little to the imagination.

Kim Seung-woo, who is known mostly for starring in lesser Korean films like Spring Breeze (2003) and The Unbearable Lightness of Dating (2006) and has recently taken co-starring roles in more significant works like the K-Drama Iris (2009) and John H. Lee’s war epic 71: Into the Fire (2010), works best in measured, stoic parts, playing military or law enforcement figures. In I Am a Dad, he hams it up as an investigator prone to excessive bouts of violence. Kim plays Detective Han with a straight face, his portrayal of Detective Han is humorless and unironic. Normally I would take issue with a performance such as this one but given my expectations, which I have already outlined, it fits quite well with the style of the film.

Son Byeong-ho as the innocent family man
Son Byeong-ho does his best in the role he inhabits, but his best scenes are early on as clown/family man. For the rest of the film he displays two emotions: rage; and uncertainty. Unfortunately, child star Kim Sae-ron isn’t given much to do but I find it extraordinary that, in what seems like a pernicious bit of typecasting, for the third time in a row, following A Brand New Life (2009) and The Man From Nowhere (2010), she plays a girl who has lost her mother.

Im Ha-ryong, as the over-the-hill Detective Kim, is the standout performance, an affable. He is a positive presence on screen, it is unfortunate that some of the lines he is fed do not do him justice. Im has toiled away in minor roles in major films for years, such as Arahan (2003), Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005), Insadong Scandal (2009), and Good Morning President (2009) and is familiar to most who have an even limited exposure to Korean cinema.

Kim Seung-woo as Detective Han
The main indicators of the film’s lowly standing are its production values, sadly they are also one of its weakest assets. The camera is constantly shaking, the colours are washed out, the editing is fast-paced and slapdash, and even the sound tends to spike in the film’s loudest moments. There is no visual flair and the framing is all easy to set-up mid-shots. It seems to me that the haphazard manner of the production is a by-product of its meager finances and quick schedule.

The final sequences are a bit of a departure from what is an otherwise standard and unstylized narrative. I’m not quite sure they worked but I appreciated the effort nonetheless. The filmmakers took a little poetic license and were more florid in their mise-en-scene. Despite all its flaws I Am a Dad is never less than watchable and as long as you don’t expect much from it, it amounts to a pleasant enough way to distract oneself for 100 minutes.

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, October 10, 2011

Korean Box Office Update (10/07-10/09, 2011)

Weekend of October 7-9, 2011:

Title Release Date Weekend Total
1 The Crucible 9/22/11 447,049 3,743,065
2 The Client 9/29/11 395,973 1,456,121
3 Fighting Spirit 10/6/11 90,941 120,802
4 Real Steel (us) 10/12/11 73,738 74,127
5 Countdown 9/29/11 61,010 403,805
6 Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon 8/10/11 50,536 7,378,874
7 The Three Musketeers (uk) 10/12/11 41,083 45,537
8 The Debt (us) 10/6/11 31,606 37,922
9 From up on Poppy Hill (jp) 9/29/11 30,082 168,018
10 Mr. Popper's Penguins (us) 9/7/11 16,337 967,290
- Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild 7/27/11 3,952 2,193,214
- Punch 10/20/11 3,233 6,350
- Marrying the Mafia IV 9/7/11 2,535 2,362,103
- Sunny 5/4/11 1,332 7,373,387
- The Day He Arrives 9/8/11 508 40,451

Box office was down significantly this weekend with a total take of 1.29 million but this was still a strong figure given the time of year. This is now the 11th consecutive weekend that a Korean film has claimed the top spot at the box office. Indeed, Korean films dominated the marquees with 5 of the top 6 spots and an 81% market share. To put this in perpective, the same figures for the comparable weekends of the last 3 years were:

2010: 1.09 million adms. - 50%
2009: 1.06 million adms. - 70%
2008: 1.28 million adms. - 32%

The Crucible aka Silenced, which has inundated Korean media of late as the real-life figures it depicts are now under investigation, held onto its top spot. However, after last weekend's astonishing increase it tumbled 56%, this was still enough for a big 447,049 frame but its lead was much narrower than expected. It currently has 3,743,065 admissions and sits at no.4 on the yearly domestic chart, just after Detective K, which it will pass before long. I'm keen to see how it holds over the coming weeks, it should be the third film to cross 5 million in 2011 but I don't think it will have enough steam to challenge the top two spots.

The Client, which despite being completely overshadowed by The Crucible last weekend, had a strong opening weekend and has held very well in its second weekend of general release with a drop of 26%. This brings its total to 1,456,121 and it it continues to play well throughout October it should become the sixth Korean film of the year to cross 3 million admissions.

The sole local platform release this week was Fighting Spirit, Kim Sang-jin's new baseball comedy, it mustered a weak 90,941 opening weekend. Kim's films, which include Attack the Gas Station (1999), Kick the Moon (2001), Jailbreakers (2002), and Ghost House (2004), used to always wind up in the yearly top 5. 2009's Attack the Gas Station 2 was his first film since before Korean cinema's resurgence which failed to break the 1 million mark but Fighting Spirit, which has garnered decent reviews but sported a relatively tepid marketing campaign, looks to fall well short of the former's 731,426 total. It's sad to see one of Korean cinema's brightest embers start to fade away.

Countdown, which opened to lower than expected figures has suffered a precipitous fall (63%) and attracted a measly 61,010 viewers over the frame. It's total now stands at 403,805 but it will likely drop out of the top 10 very soon, maybe as early as next week. This is a disappointing performance from a well-received film which features two big stars, Jeon Do-yeon and Jeong Jae-yeong. Clearly, name recognition is not the drawing factor it used to be in Korean cinema.

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon dropped 50% for a 50,536 total, this was enough for it to claim the top spot of the year over Sunny but only by 5,000. Despite all the huge blockbusters that held the weight of expectations on their shoulders like Sector 7, Quick, and The Front Line, this late summer entry which debuted with much less buzz than the previously mentioned films, has comfortably outpaced all of them. It has, in fact, more than doubled all of their totals. A great performance from a very well-reviewed film, considering Sector 7's calamitous flop, clearly Korean moviegoers are a discerning audience!

As for foreign releases, Real Steel, The Three Musketeers, and The Debt opened with 73,738, 41,083, and 31,606, respectively. Poor openings across the board as foreign films in recent months have failed to gain a foothold in Korea.

Looking ahead, there are a number of important local release during the rest of October. With the Busan International Film Fest in full swing, films like Always (which opened the event) and Punch are likely to gain extra exposure after their screenings. K-Pop film Mr. Idol will open at the end of the month and I am very curious to see how it performs, the hallyu element could be a significant draw but it may also bomb, we shall see.

The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Monday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News 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, October 9, 2011

The Cat (Go-hyang-i: Jook-eum-eul Bo-neun Doo Gae-eui Noon) 2011

To be honest, it's not very difficult for a film to give me a scare, or rather a bit of a jolt. However, unlike yesteryear's films like The Shining (1980) and Don't Look Now (1975), which truly inspired terror, the current breed of horror cinema more often than not relies on the juxtaposition of judicious editing and loud noises. It's an effective technique, because it works on me, but it is not honestly earned and therefore results in just a fleeting sensation which leaves no lasting effect. Also, once the string section has made its impact and we see the ghost/killer/weapon, all the tension disappears, therefore any subsequent action leaves no impression until the next build-up of tension. I may not be a huge horror buff but it really bothers me that so few horror films even attempt to do more than repeat this technique throughout a feature’s running time.

The pet store
Sadly The Cat falls into this category of frankly lazy filmmaking, worse it displays no panache with the scares it attempts to conjure. The moments of tension are very brief and don't amount to much. The problem is that they are so clearly foreshadowed that you can nearly anticipate the exact moment that every reveal occurs. I don't think I flinched once during the film, which is both a surprise and a victory for me.

The story is extremely simple, So-hee (Park Min-yeong) works in a pet store, one of whose clients dies in an elevator, leaving behind only a cat, which So-hee takes care of. With this new addition comes visions of a scary little girl with cat-like eyes and a rotted face. Since she is already in therapy, she thinks she is just seeing things but soon it becomes clear that this cat is linked to the deaths of the people around her.

As Tom Giammarco remarked in his review, The Cat successfully held its big reveal until the end, which for baffling reasons many films don't seem to do. Theoretically, this should keep the suspense level up during the film's running time. Unfortunately, in this case there is no real suspense to begin with. There are a number of reasons why this film didn't work and I think that they are readily identifiable.

The animal pound
First and foremost, the story was quite dull. It was very easy to follow but felt very stretched over the 105 minute running time. The world that the plot inhabited felt very limited and was not populated with interesting characters. Secondly, the mise-en-scene was uninspired, especially given the technical skill demonstrated by its Korean contemporaries. The cinematography was functional and coupled with the banal and nearly monochromatic production design, costumes, and color schemes, the whole affair was quite drab. Lastly, I was left cold by Park Min-yeong’s performance, she is very pretty to be sure but I could not care one ounce for her character. I was particularly nonplussed by her ridiculous facial expressions.

Korea’s film history is known, principally, for its effective melodrama. Consequently this means that as a national cinema it is predisposed to the production of horror films, especially the kind that features past trauma that comes back to haunt people. Just like more typical melodramatic fare, Korean horror films tend to visit protagonists’ and antagonists’ traumatic backstories as a means to explain the supernatural and/or violent happenings in the diegetic present of their narratives.

Park Min-yeong as So-hee
The Cat explores both the principal character’s scarred past, which manifests itself in claustrophobia and psychiatry sessions, and the antagonists’ agonizing backstory. Although each is kept secret right until the end, neither are worth the payoff, and though they are somewhat logical, they aren’t very interesting or original. What is more unfortunate is that the film doesn’t really explore its concept. Cats have always had supernatural connotations and as Tom Giammarco articulately pointed out in his article on the history of supernatural cats in Korean cinema, they have been very prominent but of late they seem to have disappeared as a source for K-horror, until this film. Although there are many haunted and possessed cats in The Cat, I felt that they weren’t used as much more than a prop, since the haunted presence in this film is another of the oh-so prevalent little girl ghosts.

For the most part I was very bored when I watched this film, the story was beyond lacklustre, the characters rigid and one-note, and the horror was soporific. I can excuse a good idea that isn’t successfully brought to screen or a talented group of filmmakers who lack a good story, but I cannot abide a film which takes the easy way out at every turn and makes no effort with its mise-en-scene. I felt let down by The Cat and worse, that I wasted my time. I expected a lot more from director Byeon Seung-wook, who previously worked as the assistant director on Lee Chang-dong's sublime Peppermint Candy (1999).

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, October 7, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (10/01-10/07, 2011)

Another good week for reviews spread over a wide range of films. A number of reviews for I Saw the Devil (not sure why) and trio for BIFF opener Always. I anticipate that next week's edition will feature a lot fo BIFF reviews, until then!


(Init_Scenes, October 3, 2011)

(Seen in Jeonju, September 28, 2011)

(Soul's Rebel, October 1, 2011)


(cut print review, September 15, 2011)

I Saw the Devil

(Init_Scenes, October 4, 2011)

(, October 1, 2011)

(, October 1, 2011)

(Radar Redux, October 3, 2011)

(, October 3, 2011)

(Modern Koreaa Cinema, October 6, 2011)


(, October 2, 2011)

Daisy, 2006
(, October 2, 2011)

Death Bell, 2008
(Hangul Celluloid, October 3, 2011)

(Init_Scens, September 30, 2011)

(cut print review, September 20, 2011)

(10 Mag, September 28, 2011)

Turn It Up to 11, 2009
(Twitch, September 22, 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, October 6, 2011

White: The Melody of the Curse (Hwa-i-teu: Jeo-woo-eui Mel-lo-di) 2011

I don’t frequently get excited about horror films but White: The Melody of the Curse was somewhat of an exception. I had consistently heard good things about its directors, Kim Gok and Kim Sun, a pair who have been churning out low-budget indie horrors since 2003. Sadly, I have not had a chance to see any of them yet. White is their first big budget, commercial film, and it is also fairly ambitious, especially from a technical standpoint despite employing a number of done-to-death (excuse the pun) clichés. The other reason I was curious to see this film was its subject matter, as the narratives takes place within the fiercely competitive K-Pop milieu. While I do not know very much about this global Hallyu phenomenon it does fascinate me and upon hearing about this project, I felt the topic particularly conducive to horror.

K-Pop idols
The story gets underway very succinctly and involves a pop band which has fallen from grace. One of them, Eun-joo (Ham Eun-jeong), a former back-up dancer, serves as the team leader and is ostracized due to her background. Her benefactor arranges for them to record in a new studio, which is fancy and high tech but harbors a mysterious past. Eun-joo discovers a secret compartment behind a mirror in the dance hall and within it an old videocassette featuring an old K-Pop routine. This becomes the group’s new song, which, as the title suggests, is indeed cursed. One by one, each girl who is given the coveted center position is subjected to awful accidents and a bit of haunting for good measure. Eun-joo seeks to uncover the secret of the tape with a little help from her friend before it’s too late.

One thing about horror films is that everyone who watches them is looking for something different: some want a good story; others a few good scares; and others still are in it for the blood and guts. White delivers on all three of these but probably not to an ultimately satisfying degree for any. I appreciated the K-Pop setting with its fan obsession and competition between performers but the story that is set within it features a too-good to be true haunted location, a cursed video, and a long-haired and decomposed ghost seeking revenge. This is very unoriginal stuff and a little disappointing. Next, while there are some good scares, some of the set pieces are borderline ridiculous and have the potential of eliciting an undesired reaction. Finally, there is some slightly gruesome violence but these moments are infrequent and lack cinematic flair, which is odd considering how well made the film is.

Strong use of colours and production design
For me some of the strongest sequences were those in between the scares which were either investigatory, expository, or relationship-based. One reason they worked quite well is that they are so well shot. It is not often with this kind of film that the production values prove a real asset, A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) comes to mind, but that was always designed as a ‘prestige film’. The colors, framing, and especially the use of the locations were at times beautiful, foreboding, and menacing. The set pieces themselves also display strong mise-en-scène but I found it less convincing than the other scenes. This may have been because there was a tendency to overdo it, mostly on the editing side. Rarely, in my opinion, does fancy, hyperkinetic editing add something genuine to a film. As much as I can appreciate its value for horror, which is so often low-budget, quick cuts all too often rob a scene of tension, which needs to be earned.

There isn’t too much to say about the performances, which mostly veer into caricature, but everyone seems to handles themselves relatively well here. A couple of the starlets are also K-Pop singers, I wonder if this added anything to their performances. Arguably, not a great deal is required for these kinds of performances.

Generic staple,  à la ring
Despite the reliance on very generic staples, especially of local Asian horror cinema, in my eyes White was a cut above recent K-Horror entries, a lot of which have been disappointing, save for a a few gems like Possessed (2009) and the brilliant Bedevilled (2010), although the latter probably lends itself more to the revenge thriller categorization. However, given people's very different tastes when it comes to horror, I would suggest that you would do best to approach this one with caution. I enjoyed myself and am looking forward to the next Kim gok and Kim Sun film, hopefully they will give us something a little more ambitious. Perhaps that is why there is something lacking with White, at times it feels like a test run.

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

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Korean Cinema News (09/29-10/05, 2011)

Big news week for Korean cinema, a good portion of it for the incoming Busan Film Fest and the controversy surrounding new film The Crucible. A number of trailers this week as well as a brief new section to showcase new posters.


Extreme-Short Film Festival Opens in Seoul
Last Thursday, the 3rd Seoul International Extreme-Short Image and Film Festival opened in Guro, Seoul. 387 short of about three minutes are being featured at this year's edition. 144 films are competing across the six categories . The festival openers were A Pale Purple Bird directed by actor Oh Kwang-rok, The Diner directed by Korean singer Horan, and Curse direct by Korean comedian Park Seong-gwang. (, September 29, 2011)

Always, which is opening the 16th edition of the Busan International Film Festival, sold out online in a staggering seven seconds. This marks an improvement over the already impressive 18 seconds achieved by Hawthorne Tree Forever, last year's opener. (, September 27, 2011)
It's been a tough year for the folks running the Busan Intl. Film Festival. Following the retirement of former director Kim Dong-ho it has been a difficult year for those running the Busan International Film Festival. Some critics from within the domestic film industry and the international community wonder whether the fest can continue without Kim's leadership. However, the 16th edition of Asia's largest film festival is gearing up for change, with a new name and new headquarters. (Variety, October 3, 2011)

Arrow, the Ultimate Weapon – The Historical Background
Kim Han-min’s Arrow, the Ultimate Weapon historical action flick is set to get the London Korean Film Festival 2011 underway in a few weeks. Director Kim, whose previous features are Paradise Murdered (2006) and Handphone (2009), sought to attempt something more historical with his third film, and chose this interesting period in the early 17th century. Philip Gowan explains the background to the film. (London Korea Links, September 29 2011)

DMZ Docs 2011 Closes With Tiniest Place Top WinnerThe 3rd DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival (DMZ Docs 2011) closed with a screening of The Tiniest Place. Directed by Tatiana Huezo, the international competition top award winner. The Mexican film was the recipient of the White Goose Award which comes with KW15 million and the honor of screening as the festival’s Closing Film. The documentary film festival, which ran for seven days, took place around Paju City, led by co-festival directors Cho Jae-hyun and Yoo Ji-tae. (kobiz, September 30, 2011)

Sector 7 and Five Other Korean Films to Screen at Tokyo
Six Korean films have been invited to the upcoming 24th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF)  including the sci-fi film Sector 7 as a Special Screening. The other Korean films include Kong Quee-hyun’s mystery U.F.O. and Na Hong-jin’s thriller The Yellow Sea, which will both feature in the Winds of Asia section. The 3D underwater creature feature Sector 7 is due for release in Japan on Nov. 12, 2011. (kobiz, September 30, 2011)

The 16th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF)’s Asian Cinema Fund (ACF) will join the World Documentary Exchange (WDE), a documentary network between Europe, the Americas, and henceforth Asia. The expanded network aims to create more opportunities for documentaries around the world. (kobiz, September 30, 2011)

Stateless Things and The Day He Arrives Continue Fest Rounds
Kim Kyung-mook’s Stateless Things has been invited to the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), which runs in Canada until Oct. 14. Kim’s independent film is in the Dragons and Tigers competition. Stateless Things has also been invited to the upcoming 55th BFI London Film Festival’s World Cinema section, along with Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives. The London Film Festival will run Oct. 12 – 27 this year. (kobiz, September 29, 2011)
The Busan Cinema Center, which features a huge roof shaped in a wavelike pattern, opened Thursday in Busan. It is propped up by a single pillar built to resemble a pair of ice-cream cones. The center will be the main venue of the annual Busan International Film Festival, previously known as the Pusan International Film Festival. With the completion of the center, the southern port city wants to be recognized not only as a regional cinematic hub but also as the home of key architectural landmarks. (The Chosun Ilbo, September 30, 2011)
A movie currently running in cinemas is sparking a growing call for the revision of laws governing sexual crimes against the disabled and minors. The Crucible, a film based on the true story about school staff sexually assaulting hearing impaired students, is adding mounting pressure on policymakers and politicians to change the laws on sexual assaults on children and welfare foundations. (The Korea Times, September 29, 2011)

Song Stars as Grieving Documentary Maker
After starring as the famous Joseon gisaeng - female entertainer - Hwang Jin-i and the mysterious daughter of a Korean shaman, Song Hye-kyo is returning to the big screen as a documentary filmmaker mourning the death of her fiance. "When I pick movies, I don't really think about whether the film I'm going to shoot is going to be a commercial one or an art house one," Song told reporters at a press conference promoting the film, A Reason to Live, on Monday. (, September 27, 2011)
Fans of Oldboy star Choi Min-sik have had to face rather a lot of downtime for the actor in recent days, Choi first withdrawing from the film industry entirely to protest proposed changes to the screen quota system in 2006 and then working only sparingly since his return. Kim Ji-Woon's 2010 effort I Saw The Devil was just Choi's second lead role since 2005 effort Crying Fist and his only work since that effort was to contribute his voice to an animated feature. But Choi will be back in 2012 in the lead role of Yun Jong-bin's The War Against Crime (aka Nameless Gangster) in which he will play opposite Ha Jung-woo as a government official in Busan during a very public and hard fought war against organized crime in the early 1990s. (Twitch, October 3, 2011)

Pan-Asian Youth Film School Opens in Busan
A film academy inviting young aspiring filmmakers from across Asia began last week ahead of the opening Thursday of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). The Asian Film Academy (AFA) opened for the seventh time Thursday as part of the country’s largest cinema event. This year’s installment has invited 24 men and women from 17 countries to take part in workshops, master classes, mentoring sessions and other educational initiatives. (The Korea Times, October 3, 2011)

How a New Cinema Center Could Change the Busan Film Festival
Organizers hope the $15 million Busan Cinema Center, designed by Coop Himmelblau, will dazzle festgoers arriving for one of Asia's most important film events. Destination architecture is hitting the film festival world with the opening of the Busan Cinema Center. Designed by influential contemporary architects Coop Himmelblau of Austria, the building will serve as the home of Asia's largest cinema event, the Busan International Film Festival, which opens Oct. 6 in South Korea's second-largest city after Seoul. (The Hollywood Reporter, Ocotber 1, 2011)

Korean Film Archive Showcases 'Radio Days'
Throughout October, the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) is holding a free VOD retrospective on films from the golden era of the 60s that were originally based on popular radio programs called “Radio Days”. The program will feature 10 films. In Korea, the 1950s and 60s were the heyday of not just films but of radio, too, and a lot of radio programs that were popular hits were then adapted into films and plays. The classic films A Romantic Papa, directed by Shin Sang-ok in 1960, and The Sea Knows (a.k.a. Hyunhaetan Knows), directed by Kim Kee-duk in 1961, were both based on radio serial shows. (kobiz, October 4, 2011)

Busan International Film Festival to Amuse Movie Fans With 307 Films
Busan is set to thrill movie lovers from around the world when the 16th Busan International Film Festival gets underway on October 6 for nine days. Over 300 films from 70 countries, as well as a plethora of famous movie stars from both Korea and overseas, will be featured at the festival this year. A number of films have already sold out their screenings in record times. (, October 5, 2011)

In the aftermath of the box-office hit Dogani (aka The Crucible/Silenced), depicting the true tale of sexual abuse in a school for hearing-impaired students, the Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education determined Monday that it would force the Inhwa School to shut down. Gwangju officials convened an emergency meeting to discuss measures against the school for disabled students and will require all 22 students to be transferred to another establishment soon. (Joong Ang Daily, October 5, 2011)

Actress Kang Soo-yeon has been chosen as one of the judges of this year’s Asiana International Short Film Festival. Along with the actress, four other prominent film industry names, including Japanese director Isshin Inudo, chief director of the festival Seigo Tono, director of Guanajuato International Film Festival Sara Hoch and director Kim Tae-yong, have been selected as judges this year, according to the festival organizers. (Joong Ang Daily, October 5, 2011)
The 2nd Gwacheon International SF Festival in Korea opens today (Sept. 30) with the Japanese animation Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society 3D directed by Kenji Kamiyama. The festival will run until Oct 16 at the Gwacheon National Science Museum. It aims to encourage creativity and imagination in children by combining "scientific imagination and filmic imagination". (kobiz, September 29, 2011)

Korean High-Schooler Wins Int'l Animation Award 
A Korean high school senior has won a prize at the 2011 Ottawa International Animation Festival. Kim Bo-won of Korea Animation High School in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province was given the 2011 Adobe Prize for Best High School Animation for her work titled I'm Sorry, beating about 2,000 entries from around the world. (The Chosun Ilbo, September 30, 2011)

Another Film Shows Sexual Abuse of the Disabled in N. Jeolla Area
With the hit Korean movie The Crucible fueling public outrage against sexual abuse of the disabled, another film about sexual violence against the disabled in Gimje, North Jeolla Province, is drawing keen attention. The Crucible, a 125-minute commercial feature, includes descriptions of sexual assault in Gwangju, but Sum, an 89-minute independent film, describes the pain and love of the heroine and the rape victims. Park Ji-won, a 30-year-old disabled woman, played the heroine in Sum and more than 20 other people with disabilities also performed as supporting cast. (The Dong-a Ilbo, October 1, 2011)

Korean Animation Waddles Into China
The first Korean animated film to play at Chinese theaters opened at 3,000 screens yesterday and is about the adventures of a hen who escapes a chicken farm to realize her dream of hatching her own egg. Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild is based on the hit teenage novel of the same name and has a running time of 93 minutes. The 3-billion-won ($2.5-million) film is currently showing nationwide in China with dubbing in mandarin. It earlier became the first Korean animation to draw 1 million viewers domestically, experts said, where it posted box-office receipts in excess of 2.2 million after it was released in July on 350 screens. (Joong Ang Daily, October 1, 2011)

Pres. Lee Calls for Measures to Prevent Sexual Crimes Against Disabled & Minors
President Lee Myung-bak recently got to watch the much-talked about Korean movie The Crucible which is based on a true story about school staff sexually assaulting hearing impaired students. After watching it, the President said that our society needs to be more conscious of sexual crimes against the disabled, and that he will work to better protect people with disabilities and minors from becoming victims of such crimes. (, October 4, 2011)

Film Picks for 2011 Busan Film Fest
The 16th annual Busan International Film festival, one of the world’s most prestigious, will once again kick off on the 1st Thursday of October. The sheer amount of film options can seem a bit overwhelming. Approximately 300 movies from 70 different countries with 135 world premiers will be screened in Haeundae, Centum City, and Namp-dong. Here is a "lockdown" list of picks. (The Vanguard Element, October 5, 2011)

IMAX Signs Revenue Share Deal in China With CJ CGV Holdings, Ltd
IMAX Corporation today announced that CJ CGV Holdings, LTD, a subsidiary of Korean media conglomerate CJ CGV Co. Ltd., has signed a revenue share agreement to add 15 new IMAX(R) digital theatre systems in the People's Republic of China. Under the terms of the agreement, CJ CGV Holdings, LTD is scheduled to install the first IMAX systems in 2011, with all remaining installations expected to be completed between 2013 and 2017. (Market Watch, October 4, 2011)
Spike Lee is set to direct an American version of the South Korean favorite Oldboy, withJosh Brolin looking like the guy to play the lead role. Brolin would be a man who is kidnapped one night and imprisoned for fifteen years for reasons unknown to him. Released back into society just as abruptly as he was snatched, he begins to look for the person or persons responsible for his incarceration. Along the way he meets a young chef who becomes his partner in the search. And now there’s a report that Rooney Mara, of The Social Network (2010) and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), is the choice to play that role. (/Film, September 28, 2011)


Metamorpheses Director Oh In-chun
Inchun Oh is a Korean filmmaker, director and screenwriter. Born on August 30, 1980, he studied filmmaking at Korea National University of Arts, where he wrote and directed A Moment - a collaboration between Korea National University of Arts and Beijing Film Academy, filmed entirely in Beijing. His latest short film Metamorphoses (2011) has been screened internationally at a number of film festivals. (Hangul Celluloid, October 3, 2011)



You Pet

(Modern Korean Cinema, October 3, 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.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Korean Box Office Update (09/30-10/02, 2011)

Weekend of September 30 - October 2, 2011:

Title Release Date Weekend Total
1 The Crucible 9/22/11 911,179 2,501,300
2 The Client 9/29/11 480,049 640,454
3 Countdown 9/29/11 145,775 219,271
4 Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon 8/10/11 91,886 7,245,651
5 Abduction (us) 9/29/11 64,972 82,045
6 From up on Poppy Hill (jp) 9/29/11 61,370 65,924
7 Mr. Popper's Penguins (us) 9/7/11 30,086 916,939
8 Contagion (us) 9/22/11 21,501 207,766
9 The Killer Elite (us) 9/22/11 12,828 147,049
10 Marrying the Mafia IV 9/7/11 11,227 2,345,076
- Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild       7/27/11 4,435 2,183,191
- Pained         7/9/11 3,658 696,117
- Champ         7/9/11 1,215 530,801
- The Day He Arrives         8/9/11 1,013 37,169

Business picked up a little this week over the last two with nearly 1.9 million admissions counted over the weekend. Two big Korean film opened wide and while only five films in the top 10, four of those led the marketplace and took a hefty 87.2% of business. Of the other five films, three were American holdovers (Mr. Popper's Penguins, Contagion and The Killer Elite), and the two midlevel openers were Abduction from Hollywood and the new Studio Ghibli film From Up on Poppy Hill from Japan.

Once again The Crucible (aka Silenced) dominated the marketplace with a staggering 911,179 tickets sold, this represents a huge 33% increase over last week's already impressive opening. With 2.5 million already tucked away (which puts it at No.7 on the yearly domestic chart), The Crucible should well in the coming weeks and may finds itself very high up the chart before long.

Last week yielded some solid preview figures for The Client, and it looked like a good bet to come in first this week. It managed 480,049, a strong number for this kind of film and this time of year but it barely managed to earn half of The Crucible's second weekend, which clearly ate into its potential earnings. However the buzz has been building on this film due in large part to an agressive marketing campaign so it may yet conjure up some big numbers.

The other wide Korean release this week was Countdown, the new thriller starring Jeon Do-yeon and Jang Jae-yeong. Reviews have been good but the film only managed a disappointing 145,755 admissions in its first frame despite the strong pedigree attached. This kind of figure seems to reinforce the notion that star wattage is dwindling at the Korean box office in favor of strong ensemble cast. Last month's Hindsight seemed to suffer a similar fate.

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon dropped 38% this week for a 91,886 weekend. Its total, which stands at 7,245,651 is within 130,000 of Sunny's chart-topping performance. It should pass it within the next two weeks unless it crashes out very quickly but will not go any further.

Marrying the Mafia IV all but disappeared from the marketplace with a minuscule 11,227 as it finished out its run. Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild, Pained and Champ are still hanging around with very small takes while Hong Sang-soo's The Day He Arrives added another 1,013 to brings its total to 37,169.

The Crucible is all but guaranteed to stay up top next week as there will be no significant openings. The only wide Korean release will be Kim Sang-jin's new film Fighting Spirit, a baseball-themed comedy-drama.

The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Monday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News 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.