Monday, May 27, 2013

New Korean Films: Save The Documentaries (2013 Week 21)

Dancing Forest
(춤추는 숲)

At the heart of the temple of globalization and consumerism that is Seoul lies a village created by some irreducible citizens gathered around the mountain Seongmi, who have been sharing during the last 17 years the mad dream of wanting to live in communion with nature. But the hard urban development is threatening in 2010 to raze the mountain to build a school. The community tries to oppose it by all means.

If you've ever set foot on the streets of Seoul, you've probably been impressed by the size of this metropolis, but also the individualism of its people. Seongmisan is a unique case in the capital city of a community village denying the strongly competitive capitalist ideology promoting growth over society, a utopia based on the exchange, mutual assistance, a green lifestyle and above all a human modernity. The result? A neighborhood where all the inhabitants greet each other, participate collectively in important decisions but also gather for harverts or art projects, and have developed several services such as childcare, social care, or co-housing and car-sharing. Director Kang Seokpil happens to be part of this community, and while he was a producer on several other documentaries, the threat which weighed on Seongmi pushed him to finally make his debut as a director. I think it's an important documentary to watch, because unlike many others I have talked about in this section, this one involves a universal problem and, also the extreme shift that represents this village as opposed to its urban areas should be of special interest. The underlying political theme can also generate interest among a segment of the population dissatisfied by the frantic urban projects of their governments. This independent production will be distributed in Seoul of course, but also in some other cities, for eight theaters in total, and yet it is already in the top 10 of tickets selling, which is quite a feat for a documentary.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Bhikkuni - Buddhist Nuns

Baekhong temple is open only to bhikkuni, Buddhist nuns, and is known for its conservatism and rigorous training. Sang-wook, after having graduated from prestigious universities in Korea and the USA, decided to become a nun to the great displeasure of her mother. Sun-woo was abandoned in the temple when she was three and wonders if she is made for the monastic life. Min-Jae found out about the temple on the internet and wants to join the nuns. Young-woon, 70-year-old Buddhist master, is looking back at her life with doubts.

Director Lee Chang-jae, who debuted in 2006 with Between, a documentary about traditional music, returns with a subject just as "exotic" from an outside point-of-view with the very sealed world of Korean Zen centers. This, coupled with a feminist them, makes it the perfect candidate for international festivals. It has already been added to the selections of the Seoul Independent Film Festival, the Jeonju Film Festival and the defunct Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival. The fact that there are a few storylines echoing the social problems of modern Korea gives me a great desire to see this film, especially as the pictures shown in the trailer are far from ugly. This documentary will also have a pretty good distribution with 10 theaters, but those are only clustered in the region of Seoul and Busan.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

The Intensity of Stimulation
(자극의 세기)

In a dark room, two men are sitting in front of each other. One of them is tied to a chair, and the other one begins to tell his story. Suddenly he jumps on the listener to strangle him, while explaining the pain he is supposed to feel.

Here is another film that corresponds exactly to what some festivals or foreign distributors are looking for in Korean cinema: a bloody thriller. Very few details have emerged on this film; there is no trailer, a few stills, and a vague synopsis. Not sure this is the best strategy to first attract the attention of the public and then to raise interest. Another equally important problem is that it will only be available in two cities, Daegu and Daejeon, thus missing the two major urban centers of Seoul and Busan. But fortunately it is also already available on some VOD platforms. One of the three directors, Jeong Gil-yeong, already made ​​his debut in thrillers with the anecdotal Our Town in 2007. The only known actor is Kwon Tae-won, who has never had a leading role, but has appeared in a huge amount of popular movies of the last 20 years so you can be sure to have already seen him somewhere. Well, I've already told you everything there is to know about this movie. It will require a lot of luck to be able to watch it, since apparently even Cine21 failed to see it, but from the limited information available I can tell you I don’t have a good feeling about it. It’s probably lacking in originality and may just be yet another movie for your bloodlust fix.

No trailer 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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