Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Korean Films: Meta-Narratives and Binge Drinking (2013 Week 9)

(by Fabien Schneider)

The program for this week looks quite unique, with only two new films, but two independent productions that both have many similarities: they were screened in the Berlinale this month, and propose experiments with narrative. Nothing that could shake the top of the current box office of course, but it will be interesting to see which of these two movies will get the most endorsement from the public.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon  (누구 아닌 해원)

A film student, Haewon, is left alone by her mother who has fled to Canada. She seeks comfort from her teacher, with whom she has already had a relationship in the past. As they wander and go to dinner together at a restaurant, they meet some of her friends. Worried about the secret of their relationship being exposed, they plan to escape. Haewon dreams that things could have happened differently.

Hong Sangsoo is back with his new film, like every year around this time, after his In Another Country which was particularly acclaimed by Korean and international critics. I think I can abstain from presenting Hong Sang-soo, perhaps the most famous Korean director working in film art, thanks to his very personal type of mise-en-scene and the constant regularity of his productions. It is therefore rare that he does not have a new film to send to Cannes, Berlin or Venice. This one was presented in Berlin earlier this month where he was well received overall. It seems to remain in the purest tradition of the director, which should at least delight his fans (I’m not part of them), but fail to broaden his audience. Great commercial results won’t be expected for this film that doesn’t have a star of the scope of Isabelle Huppert. But we will find a familiar face, Lee Seon-gyoon, who has already worked with Hong Sangsoo in Night and Day (2008) and Oki's Movie (2010). It will also include the model Jeong Eun-chae in the lead role, after her brief appearance in Haunters (2010), and who has the distinction of also appearing in the other movie of this week, Behind the Camera. The film will begin its run with 25 screens, which is a lot for an indie film, and most of them are independent theaters in Seoul and surrounding areas, all of them having their loyal audience of moviegoers.

Behind the Camera (뒷담화: 감독 미쳤어)

A director brings together 14 famous actresses and actors of all ages to shoot his new film. But when they arrive at the studio, they realize that he is located a few thousand miles away, in Hollywood, and that he wishes to shoot the film by giving instructions through Skype. His project is actually a documentary about a filmmaker directing via Skype from abroad. The actors decide to protest.

Lee Je-yong, better known under the pseudonym of E J-yong, is best known for his daring fictions as Untold Scandal (2003), in which he adapted the classic French novel 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' to the Joseon Dynasty, or Dasepo Naughty Girls, the film version of the crazy and immoral stories of a popular webcomic. He now seems to be taking it easy with the mockumentary format, since he already delivered in 2009 the excellent Actresses, which allowed the spectators to spend a few hours with some famous figures of Korean cinema. They entered into the spirit of the game with delight, as they turned themselves into derision and exaggerated their personality traits. The director goes to the next level with this meta-experimental film of which the synopsis sounds like a Hong Sangsoo film on amphetamines. The advantage of this concept is that it has truly allowed the director to bring together an impressive cast, in which one can recognize Kang Hye-jung of Oldboy (2003) and Park Hee-soon of The Scent (2012), but also the famous Actresses from E J-yong’s precedent film, like Yoon Yeo-jung of The Housemaid (2010) and Kim Ok-vin of Thirst (2009). I'm not sure, however, that this will be enough to ensure success for the film, as both the form and the complex narratives may the general public. Besides it will open in only 15 theaters across the country, independent ones for the most part, and only a few outside of Seoul. But it should be noted that by casting a glance at the research rankings on Naver and Daum that this film seems to be generating more interest than Hong Sangsoo’s latest, which may indicate a better chance for this one.

New Korean Films is a weekly feature which provide an in-depth look at new local releases in Korea. For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean Reviews, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (Korean Standard Time). Reviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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