Friday, September 28, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - Pink (핑크, Pingkeu) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

The passage of time affects us all in certain ways, our experiences and our memories all take on different forms after we’ve lived them and they leave behind a trace.  This imprint can be faint and slip through our conscious memory just as it can leave an indelible mark, a scar that bears the weight of its genesis.  Most things change with the passage of time but some do not and Jeon Soo-il’s new feature Pink is a dirge to the intransigence of the roots of our defining characteristics.

Jeon, who hails from Korea’s vibrant port city Busan, is a fiercely artistic filmmaker who has quietly been making films for the past 15 years.  While respected within the filmmaking community, Jeon has never attracted anywhere near the same level of international reputation as his arthouse contemporaries, such as Hong Sang-soo (The Day He Arrives, 2011), Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring, 2003) and Lee Chang-dong (Poetry, 2010).  His films are slow, deliberate and difficult and though they are successful on the festival circuit (he has won awards at Fribourg, Busan and Venice), a larger audience may never gravitate towards his oeuvre.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - Ideological Barriers and Invisible Borders in Poongsan (풍산개, Poongsangae) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

Kim Ki-duk is one of the filmmakers who initially drew me to Korean cinema.  The first film of his I saw was The Isle (2000), which was, in a French DVD edition, packaged together with Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (1999).  While the films may have been very different they were also a fantastic double bill that complemented each other in many ways.  I wasn’t as shocked by the violence as I may have been because I had already seen Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and before dipping into Korean cinema, had more or less exhausted Takashi Miike’s catalogue up until that point (around 2003).

Park’s film, while harrowing, was a pure piece of cinema brimming with adrenaline and the pure pleasure of filmmaking.  Lee’s poignant drama was elegant, realistic, literary, and propelled by social issues and recent Korean history.  Kim’s effort was slow and laconic, it was violent while at the same time elegiac.  The Isle had an artist’s touch and was unlike anything I’d seen before, just as the previous two films were.  Indeed I was very lucky to have selected the three Korean films that I did as my introduction to the nation’s cinema, the hooks were in deep from the start.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

KCN: A Bittersweet Life Gets US Remake, Pieta Sales and a Boatload of Posters (09/20-09/26, 2012)

It's been a very busy week here in Korea as I'm switching jobs, moving, preparing for Busan and have lost my phone so apologies for the slower pace of articles and this abbreviated version of Korean Cinema News. 


A Bittersweet Life to Be Remade, Albert Hughes Takes the Reigns
One half of the directing duo behing Menace II Society, From Hell and The Book of Eli, Albert Hughes, is set to direct a fast-tracked remake of the seminal Korean gangster film A Bittersweet Life. Anthony Peckham, recently behind Invictusand Sherlock Holmes, has been brought in to polish the script. No word yet on cast or possible release date.

There's been a awful lot of news surrounding Korean films being remade in Hollywood or Korean directors making their mark in Tinseltown lately but this is one development I can't get excited about. I'm generally not a fan of foreign films being remade (much less Korean ones) so I'm not one of the people who is excited for Spike Lee's take on Oldboy. However, I do recognize the potential that such an original premise has in a new market. The same goes for the upcoming remake of Castaway on the Moon, one of the very best films made in the last decade. Last I heard, Mark Waters (of Mr. Popper's Penguins fame) was at the helm, and while I don't think that'll amount to much I do concede that it is property with a fantastic premise, ripe for the remake treatment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - Blind (블라인드, Beulraindeu) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

First impressions are important and as film viewers we are particularly prone to making rash decisions based upon the opening moments of anything we watch.  This is perhaps even more important in this day and age as multimedia is so readily accessible.  Our already short attention spans are dwindling ever further as we can easily switch between TV channels, on demand, stored digital, and portable media.  Those first few minutes of a film can dispense a large volume of information but even so, they cannot always prepare you for what you are going to see.  Opening scenes are important but not every kind of film can benefit from a flashy beginning.

One of this year’s most successful Korean films, Blind does not get off to the greatest start and blunders on through the first act with heavy feet, trampling through the early stages of the plot.  Subtlety is not the film’s strong suit and the quicker this is accepted, the better.  Once I got used to the heavy-handedness of the proceedings I was able to enjoy myself but the film walks a dangerous line from the start.  It doesn’t really announce itself properly and seems like a relatively sober affair at first, it is only as it continues in unsubtle fashion and when things become even more ridiculous that you begin to understand the intent of the film, which is to be a trashy and entertaining potboiler.  It does succeed on that last count, but it takes a while to get there and is not without its fair share of problems.

KBO: Masquerade Still King (09/21-09/23, 2012)

Masquerade Still King

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Masquerade 9/13/12 60.50% 1,192,689 3,227,946 922
2 Spy 9/20/12 16.80% 341,696 415,422 576
3 Resident Evil 5 (us) 9/13/12 5.70% 101,271 501,391 331
4 Ted (us) 9/20/12 3.90% 81,313 100,920 301
5 Pieta 9/6/12 3.50% 69,518 505,744 292
6 Wolf Children (jp) 9/13/12 2.90% 61,269 169,760 220
7 The Bourne Legacy (us) 9/6/12 2.10% 39,773 998,212 262
8 Traffickers 8/29/12 1.90% 36,518 1,618,528 192
9 The Thieves 7/25/12 0.40% 6,969 12,944,840 86
10 London Boulevard (uk) 9/20/12 0.30% 6,735 11,617 131

Friday, September 21, 2012

Howling (하울링, Hawoolling) 2012

In Korea, genre is a dish almost never served by itself. Rather than use tried and tested formulas, local cineastes tend to concoct more bizarre and seemingly unworkable combinations. One of the enduring appeals of Korean cinema is that they are often (but not always) able to make them work. Director Yu Ha is an interesting figure: he used to be a poet but for the last ten years he has been one of the country’s most reliable genre filmmakers. First impressing audiences with his successful foray into romance (though I use the term loosely) with Marriage Is a Crazy Thing (2002), next with one of the peninsula’s best high school films (Once Upon a Time in High School, 2004), following that he made, for my money’s worth, the best Korean gangster (or ‘jopok’) film (A Dirty Carnival, 2006) and most recently he produced a gay period epic (A Frozen Flower, 2008).

Following a slightly longer break than usual, Yu is back with his fifth feature and I was excited the moment I heard about the project. Not least for his involvement but also due to the participation of Korean thesps Song Kang-ho and Lee Na-young and the premise which was initially loglined as a procedural about spontaneous combustion. Though not an outright failure, the film did not find an enormous audience in Korea when it opened in February and has since picked up a number of detractors but as far as I’m concerned, though a flawed film, it is one of the best genre efforts of the year to date.

WKR: Masquerade and Bounty of Recent Releases (09/15-09/21, 2012)

Lee Byung-Hyun's smash hit period pic Masquerade gets a number of reviews this week while a wide selection of recent Korean films gets covered all around the world, from DVD and cinema releases to TIFF, Zipangu and Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today coverage.



(Film School Rejects, September 20, 2012)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today 2012 - In Another Country (다른 나라에서, Dareun Naraeseo) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today event at NY's Museum of Modern Art. (previously published).

Quick disclaimer before barreling on with my discussion of Hong Sang-soo’s latest: This is the first film I’ve seen in a theater since my move to Korea and I saw it without subtitles and it must be said that my knowledge of Korean is fairly limited.  That said, over two thirds of In Another Country is in English and I was able to more or less follow the rest as well.  Undoubtedly there were some things I didn’t pick up on, so in the interest of full disclosure I thought I’d mention it.

Clearly, the most remarkable thing about Hong’s 13th feature is the presence of French screen legend Isabelle Huppert in the lead role.  This fact was picked up on by many global news outlets and gave the film some more recognition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, versus last year when Hong’s previous feature The Day He Arrives was screened.  It may also have been what landed it in the main competition.  However, while it was well received, it was left out during the closing night’s awards ceremony.

U.F.O. (2011)

One of the recurring motifs in Korean cinema is the representation of repressed trauma. Whether as a lazy deus ex machina in a rote romcom or the underlying social agenda of an auteurist prestige pic, it never seems to be far from the surface. It’s prevalence in the country’s film industry is in itself an indication of just how important it is. Having been subjected to numerous colonizations and following decades of inequity at the hands of local autocratic governments, Korea is no stranger to psychological wounds and dark memories. However, as the country finally moved into the light, slowly but surely, following the end of Chung Doo-hwan’s administration in 1988, this trauma has been relegated to the basement. But then, why shouldn’t this be the case?

We all have memories we would rather forget but rather than a few isolated instances, Koreans have had whole generations that still haunt them. The need to forget is potent and has almost become a collective requirement of Korean society. Of course none of it can truly be forgotten and the past is constantly alluded to, if rarely overtly. Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003), as a heavily cited example, was a breathtakingly complex work that encompassed the collective repression of a nation’s trauma, but it did so in the guise a serial killer genre piece. The fact that five million people saw it is also a testament to the need for these subtle acts of mnemonic cleansing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Architecture 101 (건축학개론, Geonchukhakgaeron) 2012

By Rex Baylon

Woe to all the young lovers around the world. In the arena of melodrama there seems to be no greater sin than to be young and in love. And within the confines of Korean film, a national cinema that relishes in using sickness, war, class conflicts and all manner of other obstacles great and small to keep its young lovers apart, the cinematic landscape is littered with countless failed and stillborn romances that have withered on the vine due to masculine pride or the natural process of time. The trauma brought on by these failed first time affairs of the heart reverberate all the way to adulthood with failed marriages, arrested development, and emotionally vacant characters being familiar tropes within the Korean romance genre.

After dabbling in the eerie atmosphere that is K-Horror with the supernatural thriller Possessed (Bulsinjiok, 2009), architect-turned-filmmaker Lee Yong-ju was back in the spotlight in 2012 with his new project Architecture 101. Revolving around the complicated relationship between an architect, Seung-min, played by Uhm Tae-woong, and his first love, Seo-yeon (Han Ga-in). Lee’s sophomore feature uses a split narrative focusing half the story in the not-so-distant past, where the two lovers of our story first meet and subsequently fall in love, and the present day where, for reasons not yet made aware to us, Seung-min and Seo-yeon have drifted apart and are no longer together. Commissioned by Seo-yeon to design a new home for her on Jeju island, Architecture 101 follows the same story beats that countless Hallyu love stories have followed since Hur Jin-ho’s masterpiece Christmas in August (1998).

KCN: New Park Chan-wook Project, Pieta Oscar Bid, BIFF Sched. & Thieves Triumphs in HK (09/13-09/19, 2012)

Lots of news this week as Park Chan-wook takes on yet another new film, BIFF announces its schedule, Pieta gets its chance for Oscar glory and The Thieves begins its world conquest.


Park Chan-wook Signs Onto Another New Project with Gangster Pic Corsica '72
Only a few weeks after signing on to the western The Brigands of Rattleborge, Park Chan-wook has taken on an additional Hollywood gig. This new project is one that has been knocking around for a while after appearing on Hollywood's Black List (a yearly industry poll of tinseltown's best unproduced screenplays) in 2009. Previously Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, 2006) and Luca Guadanigno (I Am Love, 2009) had been attached to the script by the scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade who have been involved in all the recent Bond films.

Corsica '72, as the title would suggest, takes place on the small mediterranean island and follows two best friends who grow up to find themselves on opposite sides of the law and in love with the same woman.

It seems that this project will go ahead of Rattleborge as that one will require more time for casting due to its violent nature. It's great to see Park so busy these days but personally I was hoping he would head back home to helm another feature in Korea rather than do three on the trot stateside. But who am I to complain when I now have three films to look forward to from one of the world's best filmmakers? (Modern Korean Cinema, September 18/Twitch, September 18, 2012)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The 3rd 'Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today' at MoMA - Preview

New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is kicking off its 3rd edition of Yeonghwa: Korean Cinema Today tomorrow and the event, which features an eclectic array of arthouse and commerical films until its conclusion at the end of the month. Our US correspondent Peter Gutierrez offers up his views on a trio of featured works below (Helpless, Mirage, and A Fish) while I've chimed in with my own two cents on the new Lee Sang-woo film Fire in Hell.

More reviews will appear over the coming days and anyone in NY should do their best to check out this great event. The wonderful lineup, which includes In Another Country, Blind, Pink, Stateless Things, Jesus Hospital, Poongsan, From Seoul to Varanasi and some Shin Sang-ok films, can be viewed in full by following the below link: