Showing posts with label FIFF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FIFF. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fribourg Intl. Film Festival: Huh Jong-ho Interview

Last Friday morning I had the opportunity to sit down with Huh Jong-ho, the director of Countdown, which was screening in the main competition of the festival.  His film was awarded the FIPRESCI award during Saturday's closing ceremony.

Born in 1975, Huh is a graduate of the Korea National University of Arts and was an assistant director on Park Kwang-su's Meet Mr. Daddy (2007) prior to making Countdown, which is his debut film.

We covered a range of topics in our long discussion, including film schools, first time directors in Korea, the future of the industry, plans for his next project and much more.

I would like to thank Director Huh and his translator Kyung Roh Brannwart for their time, as well as Gunnar Gilden, the Press contact for the FIFF for setting up the interview.


Was it your choice to cast Jeong Jae-yeon and Jeon Do-yeon?  And if so, why did you cast them?

It’s really difficult to work with big stars.  As I was writing the scenario I already had these two actors in mind and after finishing it I worked with my producer to get in touch with them and luckily it worked out.  Jeong Jae-yeong, the main actor of the film, has had many roles, often playing soft characters.  The way I saw him as a director, I felt he had a very urban feel with a lot of solitude.  I was interested in him from the beginning and he was the first person to be cast in the film.

What was it like to work with them?

With Jeong Jae-yeong, at first the relationship was very professional but now we have become very good friends.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of Korean films from first time directors and often we don’t hear from them again.  Could you comment on why this happens so often?

As you know there are a few very famous directors who have met with success from critics but are also commercially successful.  This commercial success is a very important factor nowadays, a lot of young directors try to make something great and successful but it has become difficult to meet both of these demands.

With first time directors, is it true that there is an element of control from the studio, where they may not be completely free to pursue the project the way they want to?

Luckily, in my case I was afforded the freedom to do what I wanted to do.  The studios have adopted the system of Hollywood, where the producers are very much involved from the writing itself to the filming where they make comments after each first shot.  So it’s very controlled.  But it’s not just the producers, the investors have a lot of say too.

With Countdown we were very lucky to have a very well known producer, Oh Jung-wan, who has worked a lot with Kim Jee-woon.  He has also worked on many other big films, like E. J. Yong’s Untold Scandal (2003).

South Korea has an extraordinary film school system that has done much to bring the industry to a very high technical level.  As a graduate of the Korea National University of Arts (K’Arts) how do you view the role of these institutions in the industry?

I was very much influenced by my school especially since while I was there, the equipment we used was actually better than that used in the industry.  The ex-president of the school saw Jurassic Park (1993) and then realized that movies have much greater commercial potential than say, selling a car.  So he created the school and made a lot of investments to improve it and made sure it was stocked with the very best equipment.  While I was there I made short films and had access to the best possible equipment for editing and sound.  After I left I didn’t feel that there was much of a gap with what was being used in the industry.  It was an easy transition.

On the subject of K’Arts, your first big job in the industry was as an assistance director for Park Kwang-su’s Meet Mr. Daddy (2007).  Was he your teacher in K’Arts and is that how you got involved in the project?

That’s true, during my last year at the school he was a professor.  Lee Chang-dong was also an assistant director for Park back in the 1990s and after I graduated he became a professor at the school.

After having him as a teacher, what was it like to work for him on set?

It is impossible to theoretically learn how to make a movie so while I was in school I would take my camera, go out and film and I would then talk with professor Park.  Later, as I worked for him, it was great to witness how he works on his own projects.

What are your influences as a filmmaker and which ones did you draw on for Countdown?

I couldn’t find many references for my film as the main character isn’t really a good person and he undergoes a transformation at the end.  I wasn’t able to find a textbook example of this.  But I’m sure that the many Hollywood, Japanese and French films, especially crime ones that I’ve seen have influenced me and can be seen on screen.

Some Western spectators have had trouble with the end of Countdown, namely the melodramatic conclusion that brings to light the backstory of Jeong Jae-yeong’s character.  There are also many other recent Korean films that are similarly constructed.  Could you comment on this phenomenon?

I understand and agree that there are many films that have this melodramatic aspect that is commercially motivated.  But for me the initial inspiration was the ending of the movie, the relationship between the man and the son.  At first the movie wasn’t called Countdown, its initial title was ‘My Son.’  For the beginning of the movie I adopted the action and crime genres as a way to tell the story. 

That’s very interesting, personally my favorite part of the film was the end.  So is there an element, and I'm not necessarily talking about your film, that studios like to throw in melodrama to attract audiences?

In my case it was different, as the studio had already agreed to the initial idea before the script was even written.  The car chases and various actions scenes actually account for very little screen time in the film and they were low budget and thankfully effective.  The studio was surprised to have these scenes added and in any case as a director I am interested in these genres so the film became a bigger project.

In other cases though, as you say, I’m quite sure the studio is very interested in adding these elements.

I was very happy to hear you mention during your film’s introduction at last night’s screening that you are working on a second film.  Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Even last night and when I was making my first movie I realized that there is a complication when different genres are mixed up.  For my second movie I want to be more straightforward and focus on one genre.  The film does not have an official English title yet but its literal name is Happy Country.  It’s set during 1979 and based on the events surrounding the assassination of the Korean president Park Chung-hee by his chief of intelligence.  The main character is not going to be one of the people responsible for the assassination but one of their lawyers who has completely different political convictions but defends his client nonetheless.

That’s very interesting, as there have been a number of successful courtroom films coming out of Korea recently, including Unbowed (2012) and The Client (2011).  Park Chung-hee’s assassination has already been captured in the famous Im Sang-soo film The President’s Last Bang (2005), how will your film compare to that?

Im Sang-soo’s film is more of a black comedy whereas with my point-of-view I’m trying to give an honest account of the characters involved, it will be more dramatic.

The Korean film industry, in its modern incarnation, is still quite young and undergoes constant change.  What do you think the next few years have in store for the business?

It’s true that we had a big setback between 2006 and 2009, less movies were made during that period.  Now it’s coming back again and a lot more movies are being made.  I think that the investment companies have settled down now, before it was a little shakier but it has become more solid.

Before we used to call the film industry ‘yeonghwa pan’ which means it’s a small place where we used to know everyone.  But now there are a lot more people working on different projects.  We even have a big Chinese market and some projects are specifically made for that country.  So commercially we are stronger and I think things will continue that way.  Although with this increasing industrialization we may run a risk of losing the special character of the Korean film industry.  What investors want is for the Korean film industry to become the Asian Hollywood so there is a bit of a danger.

CJ Entertainment is such a huge company and sometimes it seems like their trying to take over the entire world.

Now we don’t always film with 35mm as there are a lot of digital movies and as a result it has become possible to produce movies with very low budgets.  Because of this the contrast has also become quite big.  There are the big budget movies made by CJ but at the same time there are a lot of smaller independent films.  Sadly there is nothing in between.

Yes and that’s a bit of worry.  Although a lot of these smaller films are also being funded by bigger companies.  For instance the Korean Academy of Film Arts’ (KAFA) student features are all partly funded by CJ.

It’s a bit like a big supermarket trying to control everything!

I actually have a question from one of our readers.  Lauren, an English teacher currently based near Busan, wants to know what your favorite Kimchi is!

Kimchi? (laughs)  My favorite is baechu, this is the most common type of kimchi.

Finally, could you please tell us what some of your favorite Korean films are?

I really appreciate Lee Chang-dong’s older movies, especially his humanity which is really profound, not to mention his research.  Whenever I watch his movies I think ‘I’m going to do the opposite, I’m going to make a commercial movie!’ 

Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

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, April 2, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Final Thoughts, Top 10 and Awards

Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.

It's been a long week and after 35 screenings which included nearly 50 films, my time at the festival comes to an end.  As I had mentioned in the preview this was the first time I've been able to attend the festival despite living so nearby.  From what I understand the direction of the FIFF has changed somewhat under the guidance of its new director Thierry Jobin.  I was lucky to speak with him a few times during the week and I appreciated his thought process behind the selections on display at this year's event.

We spoke a little about Korean films and he seems to be just as excited as I am about Bong Joon-ho's upcoming Snow Piercer (which everyone should be)!  I also asked him what his favorite Korean films were and he professed great admiration for Bong and Park Chan-wook, choosing Oldboy (2003), Memories of Murder (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005) and The Host (2006).  In addition, he was particularly excited to be presenting The Raid (2011) as a midnight screening and he plans to expand the midnight section for next year's edition, a commendable decision!

There was a lot on offer at this year's festival, the program was deep and particularly strong.  Typically when you go to a festival, unless you cherry-pick the films that are most likely to impress, you wind up with a mixed bag of films.  The brilliant coexists with the drivel and there's always a number of wild cards which will entrance some and infuriate others.  At this year's FIFF there was very little I didn't enjoy and there was a lot that I outright loved.  There were a number of films I didn't have the chance to see that I was interested in and after experiencing such a wonderful week of cinema it saddens me a little to think of what I may have missed.

A film festival is about the joy of cinema and the beauty of discovery and this is where this event stood apart.  There were many films which celebrated the medium, but in much more intelligent and energizing ways than say the pleasant nostalgia of The Artist (2011) or Hugo (2011).  Films like Cut, Golden Slumbers, Salt and This Is Not a Film (all 2011) were great reminders of why I was there in the first place.  As far as discovering new areas of cinema goes, I will be seeking out the works of Khoo, Labaki, Naderi, Ouedraogo, Panahi and Xiaoshuai and I will be trying to get my hands on more Bangladeshi cinema and, if at all possible, Golden Age Cambodian films.

Below I offer my favorites of the festival and beneath that the festival's press release listing the prize winners of the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival.

As a final word I'd like to offer a big thank you to the festival for hosting such a wonderful event and giving me a press pass to attend it!  Particularly Thierry Jobin for a great program and Gunnar Gilden for all his help with my press queries.

Festival Picks

Top 10

1. Cut (Japan, France, USA, South Korea, Turkey; 2011) - Day V
2. The Raid (Indonesia, 2011) - Day VIII
3. This Is Not a Film (Iran, 2011) - Day VIII
4. Tatsumi (Singapore, 2011) - Day VII
5. Where Do We Go Now? (France, Lebanon, Egypt, Italy; 2011) - Day IV
6. 11 Flowers (China, 2011) - Day I
7. Historias Que So Existem Quando Lembradas (Argentina, Brazil, France; 2011) - Day I
8. Asmaa (Egypt, 2011) - Day VI
9. Honey Pupu (Taiwan, 2011) - Day VII
10. Romance (Switzerland, 2011) - Day VII

26th FIFF Prize Winners (FIFF Press Release)

Never Too Late by Ido Fluk wins 'Regard d’Or' 2012

Israeli-born director Ido Fluk‘s film debut was an International Premiere at FIFF.  Brazilian director Julia Murat won a total of four awards for her first full-length feature film Historias Que Se Existem Quando Lembradas, including the highly endowed Talent Tape Award.  The Egyptian film Asmaa by Amr Salama is the winner of this year’s Audience Award.  The award ceremony took place in Fribourg last night.

Never Too Late, winner of the Grand Prize "Regard d’Or" 2012, is a touching story of a personal quest:  A young man by the name of Hertzel comes back to Israel broke after years abroad and finds work hanging advertising posters.  He drives across the country from north to south in his deceased father’s old Volvo until his journey brings him face to face with himself.  The award "Regard d’Or" is endowed with 30'000 Swiss Francs.

On stage during the ceremony, Ido Fluk declared how touched he was by this award and that his film is not about politics, that it shows different realities:  He pointed out that there are a lot of Israelis like him who want withdrawal from the occupied territories and peace.

The Special Jury Award, worth CHF 10’000 goes to The Last Friday by Yahya Al-Abdallah, a co-production between Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The Talent Tape Award worth 19'000 CHF was awarded to the producers of Historias Que Se Existem Quando Lembradas, a co-production between Brazil, Argen-tina and France.  The film by director Julia Murat also wins the Exchange Award (Youth Jury), the Don Quijote Award of the International Federation of the Film Societies (FICC Award) as well as the Ecumenical Jury Award.

Taiwanese film Honey Pupu received a special mention by the International Jury, while the film Asmaa by Amr Salama (Egypt) won the audience award.  The International Federation of the Cinematographic Press FIPRESCI awarded the South Korean director Huh Jong-ho for his film Countdown.

The 26th edition of the FIFF, the first under the artistic direction of Thierry Jobin, recorded steady audience numbers: More than 30’000 tickets were issued.  Filmmakers from all over the world found their way to Fribourg.  Panel discussions, evening events and a masterclass with Ivan Passer also generated interest.  Thanks to very successful screenings at local schools and video workshops for multimedia students the festival keeps in touch with future festival generations.

The 27th edition of the Fribourg International Film Festival will take place from March 16 – 23, 2013.
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.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day VIII Report

Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.

The Zebra
(Mexico, 2011)

Dir:  Fernando Leon

This Mexican western, my final pick from the 'Once Upon a Time in the South' section, was a nice surprise.   It is an enjoyable road movie (with a zebra substituting for a vehicle) featuring a healthy dollop of wry humour.  Two bandits are vaguely making their way to the Obregon camp in Mexico circa the 1910s.   Along the way they make a few stops and meet some obstacles, all the while encountering various characters.

The plot is very episodic but benefits from the strong performances of the two protagonists who seem to suit each other very well, even though they can’t seem to trust one another.  For the most I enjoyed myself with The Zebra but after a while the directionless of its narrative caused it to overstay its welcome.  By the film’s end I had become a bit restless but this was by no means catastrophic.

Leon's film is a worthy addition to the genre and as has been the case with a number of films this week, I feel as though I would have gotten a little more out of it were I more familiar with its context.

Golden Slumbers
(Cambodia, France; 2011)

Dir:  Davy Chou

This documentary sheds lights on a forgotten part of film history, a golden age of Cambodian cinema that began in 1960 and abruptly ended in 1975 with the ascension of the Khmer Rouge.  Most of the industry’s leading lights died subsequently during Pol Pot’s brutal regime and almost the entire body of their work was destroyed.

Chou’s beautifully filmed and wonderfully paced documentary features the stories of some of the period’s few remaining directors, producers and stars and celebrates a era of film that brought hope to a nation’s populace and seeks to revive it through remembrance.

The first hour of the film is strong but it is in the final stages, which recount the decimation of the industry, that I was really drawn into it.   One producer breaks down in tears as he recounts the ordeals he went through and his sudden realization after escaping to France that after being a respected artist in his native country, he had become nothing, reduced to working in a factory.

The photography is particularly strong for a documentary and is utilized to gorgeous effect in some of the work’s more whimsical and nostalgic moments.  Phnom Penh and its nearby surroundings are saturated with colour but also heavy with a bloody history.  A fantastic discovery and I only wish I could see some of the films mentioned in Golden Slumbers.   As an avid cinephile, Chou’s work of cinematic remembrance struck a chord with me.

La Désintégration
(France, 2011)

Dir:  Philippe Faucon

The first half of this French film motored along very nicely and I was intrigued with its Muslim youths who were trying to get by in a fractured society.  Especially one young man who seems to be on the right path but suffers many setbacks due to his name and the colour of his skin.

However the second half of Faucon’s film alienated me as a viewer and by the film’s end I must say that I was quite annoyed.  The three youths end up recruited by a terrorism cell and you can guess what happens from there.  The subject is extremely topical, not just because of its terrorism elements but particularly due to the rising racial tensions in France, which recently have been the focus of much news coverage.

The problem is that La Désintégration feels like a topic of the month effort.   It puts an alarmingly simplistic spin on a very delicate matter and in its attempt to be relevant and weighty it comes off as redundant and a little conceited.  Interestingly, I noticed that in the opening credits I had some trouble identifying any Arab names among the producers and other makers of the film.  As I was worried before going into it, Faucon’s film is one that thinks it can coast by on the merit of its dark subject amtter without earning any of its audience’s respect.

This Is Not a Film
(Iran, 2011)

Dir:  Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

I had heard great things before going into This Is Not a Film but I had no idea what kind of a film I was sitting down to watch.   Sure enough, this pseudo day-in-the-life documentary is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and stands as one of the most progressive, unique, challenging and important films of the past few years.

The famed Iranian director Jafar Panahi is under house arrest, he is banned from making films for 20 years.  He calls his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, asking him to come over.  He wants to make a film and yet he is not allowed to so he begins to act out a script he had been meaning to make.

This staged documentary is a veritable tour-the-force which shows off Panahi’s brilliant intellect and bristling artistic temperament.   His passion for the medium is vivid and makes his arrest and thus the raison d’être of the film all the more poignant.  Full of charm, wit and character, this singular effort is both a love letter and a brilliant act of defiance.  An extraordinary work which becomes more intricate each time I think about it.  Be sure to seek this one out.

The Raid 
(Indonesia, 2011) 

Dir:  Gareth Evans

Without a doubt, of all screenings I had booked for my week at the FIFF, this was the one I was most excited about.   The final film to play at the festival was the much ballyhooed Indonesian action film The Raid.   Thierry Jobin, the director of the event presented the film.  Clearly very excited to be screening it, he introduced it as the best action film of the last 20 years and further mentioned that this would be the first and only screening he was actually going to sit down for after his busy week.

Gareth Evans’ blistering film did not disappoint.  It features the simplest set-up imaginable, features almost not plot and character development and instead launches almost immediately into the relentless and eye-melting action.  It’s like a cross between Johnny To’s Breaking News (2004) and the excellent horror film The Descent (2005), except with a breakneck pace and the best and most inventive marital arts in choreography to come along in some time.  Not to mention that it is an excellent cherry-picked amalgam of the genre’s very best, borrowing from Die Hard (1988) to Oldboy (2003) and featuring the freshest incarnations of the most basic elements of the genre.  Never have I seen people thrown through windows with such gusto.

All I can say is that The Raid understands what makes an action film tick.  It was the most exhilarating cinema experience I’ve had in some time and I urge you to see it if it comes along your way.

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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day VII Report

Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.

Yesterday I saw my final two International Competition films and since the prizes will be announced later today I thought I would chime in with my own predictions.  I will post my favorites at the conclusion of the week but if I were a betting man I would wager on Historias Que So Existem Quando Lembradas (Brazil, Argentina, France; 2011) for the top prize, the Regard d’Or, and Lucky (South Africa, 2011) for the public prize.

I also had the great pleasure of interviewing Countdown (South Korea, 2011) director Huh Jong-ho yesterday morning.  We chatted for nearly an hour and went over a range of fascinating topics.  It will take me a little while to transcribe our conversation so I plan to publish the piece on Monday.

Honey Pupu
(Taiwan, 2011)

Dir:  Chen Hung-I

Honey Pupu is one of the most singular works to be screened this week at the FIFF.  Its take on the modern world is fiercely original and it employs a dizzying array of different formats and techniques to recount its philosophical and energetic tale of how people’s identity is shaped and disrupted by the world’s virtualization.

Vicky is a radio hostess who is searching for her lover who has disappeared.  She seeks the help of a number of young people she has encountered through social media with names like Cola, Assassin, Money and Playing.

Chen’s film combines gorgeous and whimsical cinematography with other techniques such as a futuristic platform for social media and photography.  His film features a terrific soundtrack which quickly oscillates from classical pieces to modern electro music without missing a beat.

Disappearance and the fear of the loss of identity are the crucial themes of Honey Pupu.  Much of the film references the alarming evanescence of the bee population which may or may not be because of the increasing amount of radio waves being given off by our mobile devices.  In turn the film seems to ask whether these mobile phones and laptops are contributing to the evaporation of our personal identitys within an increasingly more complex society.

Honey Pupu will not be to everyone’s taste but it was definitely a highlight for me this week and I think it is a rather important film.  I am curious to see what Chen will do next but also what other films will do in the future as they try to tackle the same slippery contemporary notions of the self.

The Last Friday
(Jordan, U.A.E.; 2011)

Dir:  Yahya Al-Abdallah

My 12th and final International Competition film was a nice, thoughtful and respectable affair that while never dull was admittedly a little slow and not always engaging.  The Last Friday is the debut feature from Jordanian director Al-abdallah.

A divorced father needs to undergo surgery in four days but needs the money for the operation which is ill-afforded by his day job as a taxi driver in Amman.

Ali Suliman is marvelous is the lead role.  He has precious little dialogue and he ambles about almost lazily but his performance is very nuanced and he succeeds in so saying so much with so little.  The cinematography is another strong point of the film, very well composed and taking full advantage of the city’s dry, sun-drenched climate, it is one of the film’s greatest assets.

It’s also nice to see a film from the Middle East which isn’t too politicised, it is a film about a man rather than the society he lives in which makes it rather unique and refreshing.  Not to mention that it is a rare opportunity to see a Jordanian film.  The Last Friday probably won’t walk away with the event’s top prize but it is nonetheless a worthwhile film that I would cautiously recommend.

(Switzerland, 2011)

Dir:  Georges Schwizgebel

This extraordinary short was presented before Tatsumi and was made by Georges Schwizgebel who programmed a section of the festival dedicated to some of the most creative animation being produced in the world today.

Romance follows a man as he wakes up and makes is way to the airport and onto a plane where he sits beside a beautiful stranger.  The film’s soundtrack features a magnificent Rachmaninov track which perfectly complements Schwizgebel’s beautiful film which swirls through tableaus as though in a dream.  The style of the animation resembles late eighteenth century European painting and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on screen.

I highly recommend this short to anybody, an exceptional work that deserves to be seen.

(Singapore, 2011)

Dir:  Eric Khoo

Following Schwizbegel’s magnificent Romance was this biography of manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.  Director Khoo intersperses the narrative of Tatsumi’s life with five stories which bring to life some of the artist’s work.

It is incredible and powerful but more than anything it is a great approach to the biography film.  It celebrates its subject and succeeds in exploring his life and work in equal measure.  The result is almost profound and rarely do I watch a film about a real person I was not familiar with beforehand and come away with a sense that I knew who he was all along.

Tatsumi’s stories are captivating and devastating.  They explore the darkest recesses of the human psyche and as harrowing and dour as their effect can seem, I was invigorated by the experience.

Khoo’s film demonstrates what can be done with animation, a genre that is increasingly producing intelligent work for adults around the world, not just in Japan.  Tatsumi was one of my favorite films of the festival and I am eager to explore more from both Khoo and Tasumi following this week.

Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy
(Hong Kong, 2011)

Dir:  Christopher Sun

My last film of the day is the only one of the week that I knew full well going in how awful it was going to be.  It was a midnight screening which meant nothing else was playing and having been confronted so often with it on Twitter I felt I should see it for myself.

Sex and Zen 3D has gained notoriety for the being first 3D erotic film, though such a claim seems dubious.  It is a B-movie that revels in titillation and theatrical bloodlust and is really no different from other films with the same aims.  It is sometimes creative in its gore and goes to great lengths to throw disgusting things at our faces with its so-so 3D effects.

Thirty minutes is really all you need with this film and it’s certainly not the story that’s going to keep you in your seat.  There’s little point in my criticising this poor and exploitative production but one thing that should be mentioned is just how long it is.  At 123 minutes it stays well beyond its welcome.

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, March 30, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day VI Report

Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.

Never Too Late
(Israel, 2011)

Dir:  Ido Fluk

I was originally going to see this later in the day but I realised that the timing was a little too tight so I opted to catch it in video library in the morning.  I didn’t have much time so I ended up not giving it my full attention.  Never Too Late is another film in the international competition and is the first Israeli film to be produced entirely through crowd-sourced funding.

The film tells the story of Hertzel, a young man who returns to Israel after eight years spent in Central and South America.  He takes a job placing advertisement posters which sees him traveling up and down the country in his late father’s old Volvo.  During this road movie he meets various friends, family and strangers in what becomes a voyage of self-discovery.

Some of the imagery is quite beautiful and much of the dialogue illustrates the present state of Israeli society but I found it to be a slow film which I had difficulty engaging with.  Though again I must stress that I don’t think I gave a fair chance.  Generally speaking I’m not overly keen on introspective road movies and this one didn’t seem to offer anything new.  Not much in the way of narrative is on offer for spectators which for me was a little frustrating but I could feel that there was a strong emotional core at its center that I wasn’t quite able to reach.

Perhaps a more attentive viewing would have resulted in a more satisfying experience.

Antonio das Mortes
(Brazil, France, Germany; 1969)

Dir:  Glauber Rocha

Part of the ‘Once Upon a Time in the South’ retrospective, Antonio das Mortes is a fascinating and bizarre offering from Brazil that would make a great double feature with Jodorowski’s surrealist masterpiece El Topo (1970), also programmed in this section.

Rocha’s film takes place during the Sertao period in the 1940s and follows Antonio das Mortes, a mercenary hired by a town’s patriarch to wipe out the cangaceiro bandits.  However he comes to sympathize with the revolutionaries and goes against his employers.

The opening of the film is full of energy and it is quit infectious, I was immediately drawn into the environment but from there on most of the film is dialogue-heavy and because I had no prior knowledge of this period of Brazilian history it was a little difficult for me to understand the various terms being bandied about.

Things pick up again near the end as the events become progressively more bizarre, stretching into surrealist territory.  The character’s actions become manic and deranged and I was swept up in the insanity of it all even if at times I wasn’t quite sure why.

I wish I’d known a little more about the context of the film prior to watching but I’m very glad I had this chance to witness this fiercely original film on the big screen, one that was also mentioned in the 100 films for 100 punches finale of the brilliant Cut which screened at the FIFF on Day V.

(Egypt, 2011)

Dir:  Amr Salama

Salama’s film starts off with a very dour tone, the images are graded with a cold blue hue and the circumstances of the film’s namesake are desperate.  Asmaa is a 45-year-old mother-of-one who lives with the secret that she is infected with aids.  Through her support group she is approached by the producer of a local telejournalism show which wants to highlight her plight, which is that no doctor will operate on her gallbladder problem because she is a HIV-invented patient.  However, further complicating matters is that the show’s presenter insists that she appear without her face blurred which could have disastrous consequences.

The film really starts to build momentum when we periodically flash back to her youth in the countryside and these sequences are full of brilliant color, in direct contrast with the modern day sequences set in Cairo.  Salama builds the film towards the double climax which will reveal the source of her infection and whether or not she will appear on the show.  A number of films during the festival have highlighted the unfair role of women in various societies, including One, Two, One and Where Do We Go Now?, but Asmaa may be the one that hits home the hardest. 

Asmaa gets better and better as it motors along and by the end I was utterly gripped and truly taken by the protagonists remarkable strength.  One of the best films of the festival that stands a good chance of winning the event’s top prize.

In the Open
(Argentina, France; 2011)

Dir:  Hernan Belon

Another competition film, Belon’s In the Open was not what I was expecting.  It is a domestic drama carefully constructed through a series of genre tropes most commonly associated with horror.  The effect is altogether complementary and lifted the admittedly thin premise up to a higher level.

A young, beautiful Argentinian couple move with their daughter from Buenos Aires to the countryside.  They take residence in a rundown home in need of repairs in a fairly downtrodden and barren rural area.  Their seemingly healthy and very passionate relationship quickly falls apart as the wife feels very ill at ease in her new environment.

The mise-en-scene is polished and the creaky house may as well be haunted and if this weren’t enough to signal what generic territory the film resides in, there’s a creepy old female caretaker who casually enters their home without permission and is a little too handsy with their daughter.

The husband does not seem to mind though, in fact he seems thrilled to be in a space where he can exercise his masculinity. He fixes things, chops wood, hunts and takes his woman every night.  While he enjoys himself, the wife becomes irrational, unpleasant and very selfish.  She is very dislikable and comes dangerously close to being a caricature.

I really liked the film's small moments, it's austere atmosphere and the constant tension that Belon succeeds in ratcheting up is well earned.  A great little surprise, In the Open is not going to enchant enough people to win the week's top prize but I was very happy to see a little dash of genre and original filmmaking in the main competition.

(South Korea, 2011)

Dir:  Huh Jong-ho

This was my second time seeing Countdown but the first time on the big screen.  My thoughts on the film haven’t changed much.  That is to say I felt it was a missed opportunity and one that while well made, felt a little flat and uninspired.  I had previously criticized the production values but after seeing it on a cinema screen I a happy to retract that statement as it is indeed a very handsome film that employs a solod and unobtrusive colour palette.

For my complete thoughts on Huh Jong-ho’s Countdown, which was part of the international competition, please read my review which was poster earlier this year.

I will be sitting down for an interview with director Huh this morning, this should be available near the end of or just after the festival.

 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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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day V Report

Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.

Short Films from the South and the East

These twelve short animated films, ranging from 2002 to 2011, were selected by the Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel.  As with any screening which offers a mix of short films, it is inevitable that some of these twelve shorts are wonderful and others are altogether bizarre and abstruse.

My favorites were Chainsaw Maid (Japan; 2007), a crude zombie claymation that is hilarious and infectious, and The Employment (Argentina; 2008), a wildly inventive and morbidly amusing look at the debasement that we subject ourselves to on a daily basis as employees.

My least favorite was A Clockwork Clock (China; 2009) though I must admit that I just couldn’t understand it.  It was a very artistic piece that was also the last on the program.  Following eleven varied short features I found it hard to focus on it.

I also enjoyed the Korean short Camels (2011) from Park Jee-youn.  It was a very clever work that examined the puzzling aftermath of a relationship.

On the whole I was glad to discover an inventive group of shorts, some of which employed a dizzying array of modern techniques (Luis, Chile; 2009) or brought to life interesting parables (The Old Crocodile, Japan; 2005).

Fable of the Fish
(Philippines, 2011)

Dir:  Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.

My second Filipino film of the festival, Fable of the Fish was a much more satisfying experience than Cuchera (2011), which I saw during Day III.  It was a low budget effort that was filmed in an environment filled with filth and refuse, inhabited by people living in the most insalubrious conditions imaginable, and yet it was also whimsical and loving.

Lina and her husband have just moved from the province to the slum, a squalid locale that seems to be built out that garbage heaps that surround it.  Lina falls pregnant and bears her child during a typhoon.  However her offspring shoots out of her straight into the water, she has in fact given birth to a fish.

Alix’s film builds itself around this fantastical event but it is played straight and the world it takes place in is very real.  People spend their days trawling through the hills of trash in the humid heat and fill their shanty homes with faded and damaged religious iconography.

Christianity is a very large part of the narrative.  The characters are obliviously devout and at one point Lina utters the fascinating paradox, regarding the birth of her water-bound progeny: “Sometimes God chooses to make a mistake.”

There are a lot of ideas swimming around Alix’s thematic narrative such as impotency and the difficulty of accepting a child who isn’t normal.  I also quite liked the cinematography which was never beautiful but very cleverly found its way around the story’s rundown neighbourhoods.  If you can go along with Fable of the Fish’s simple but odd central conceit, you will find a lot of food for thought.

(Japan, Turkey, South Korea, United States; 2011)

Dir:  Amir Naderi

Amir Naderi’s Cut , a dark love letter to cinema, was a breath of fresh air which was infinitely more successful in examining our fascination with the medium than last year’s Oscar-prized The Artist and Scorsese’s Hugo, both fine films which in my eyes amounted to little more than technically splendid homage to the filmmakers’ respective influences.

Cut burrows a lot deeper as it seeks answers to the question of ‘what is cinema?’  It also features the most impressive list of cinematic references that I think I’ve ever seen on screen.

The story is simple and drawn out.  It unravels in exceedingly familiar milieus; starting with a frustrated filmmaker, Shuji, who decries the systematic commercialisation and decline of his trade and then sees him thrown into the age old genre story of a man who must pay off a large debt to the mob inside 12 days following his brother’s death.  How does he raise the money?  He becomes a punching bag and that’s about it as far as the story goes.

For a film that stretched a bit over the two-hour mark, there isn’t much plot and yet there is so much to feast on, including a dizzying array of clips that are displayed throughout.  Every night Shuji literally bathes himself in film as he lays on the ground while his projector caresses his battered body which classic cinema, ranging from Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964) to Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria (1957), John Ford’s The Searchers (1957) and Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari (1952).

He also holds classic film screenings in his rooftop abode, beginning with Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924) which becomes a fascinating film within a film within a film as we watch an audience of Japanese cinephiles gaze at Keaton as he runs through a theater and jumps into the film on screen.  Shuji also shows Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) and Shindo Kaneto’s The Naked Island (1960).

The film is a glorious and yet very dark celebration of cinema.  We revel in these dazzling sequences projected before us while during the day Shuji visits the tombs of the great triumvirate of Japanese film (Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi), lamenting the death of great cinema.  Throughout he takes beating after beating, all in the name of his passion.

Cut is an impressive co-production coming from four countries, directed by the Iranian Naderi (The Runner, 1990), and featuring Japanese actors in a Tokyo setting.  It was also co-written by the great Japanese filmmaker Shinji Aoyama (Eureka, 2000).  The big question is where does this film or its makers fall within the pantheon of great cinema, that, as Shuji blares out on his megaphone to a disinterested public, should seek to blend entertainment and art?  Shuji presents The Naked Island and during its intro explains how at that point Japanese cinema was internationally renowned for its gorgeous cinemascope features.  We then watch a clip of a woman transporting water that has painfully been brought from the mainland and then trips as she scales the barren island that is her abode.  We then cut to Shuji getting beaten in the bathroom of the gangster’s lair.  No cinemascope here, just gritty and shaky digital camerawork.  A tacit acknowledgment of the evolution of cinema?

Is Cut an entertaining and artistic film?  I thought so but it is also highbrow and will likely hold far more appeal to lovers of classic and international cinema.  A formidable and exhilarating work and a must for film lovers.

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, March 28, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day IV Report

Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.

One, Two, One
(Iran, 2011)

Dir:  Mania Akbari

What tends to happen when you pick a lot of films you’ve never seen before at a festival is that sometimes you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into.  Iran has produced a lot of phenomenal cinema over the past decade or more, including last year’s very popular A Separation.  This along with the fact that it was playing in the international competition was enough to get me on board for One, Two, One.

What surprised me was that it is essentially a series of clearly demarcated and very tightly framed conversations, sometimes with only one character talking on the phone.  The main protagonist is Ava, a beautiful young woman whose face has recently been disfigured.  The long takes focus on her discussions at various centers of healing (beauty clinic, psychiatrist, fortune teller) and those of the men who love her.  Relationships and especially beauty are the key themes of the day.

Beauty has a slightly different context in Iran compared to the occidental world as women must cover themselves with veils and yet many characters seem to obsess over how Ava’s appearance may change due to her accident.

Rather than being slice of life, the intimate conversations are filmed with a very noticeable camera that forces its subjects to be still and may slowly and mechanically pan from left to right if the protagonists are sitting beside each other.  This style is very deliberate but it wasn’t always clear why it had to be so rigid and dry.  As a result One, Two, One often feels like a formal and sober experiment.

There were some near-monologue scenes which attempted gravity that I felt didn’t sit well with the other sequences.  Also, since the short film is so neatly packaged into standalone sequences, it is inevitable that you end up judging the elements before the whole work.  Some scenes were wonderful and the project is certainly topical but it was also a little disparate and the effect came off as distancing.

I will say that this isn’t really a style of cinema that I am drawn to and yet I still enjoyed it.  I imagine some others will take away from it than I did.

Where Do We Go Now?
(France, Lebanon, Egypt, Italy; 2011)

Dir:  Nadine Labaki

Festival director Thierry Jobin presented this film which is screening as part of a Lebanese section.  He mentioned that it had been released in Fribourg recently and had attracted a total of 20 viewers.  There were far more of us this time around and having now seen Where Do We Go Now? I have to say that it is a crying shame that this did not get a better run.

It’s a close call but this may be favorite of the festival to date.  Nadine Labaki’s film was beautifully made and though it is only her second film (after the popular Caramel; 2007), it seemed like the work of someone who has been doing this her whole life.  The cinematography was gorgeous and also cleverly effective as it employed slight changes to guide our emotional responses in separate parts of the film.

The film chronicles the happenings in a village split between Muslim and Christian congregations.  They are cut off from civilization and have already lost many young men to the war.  When the woman learn of civil strife erupting again they do everything they can to hide this information from the men of the village who are already starting to antagonize each other.

Like many films before it Labaki’s film approaches a difficult subject through comedy and in my opinion is more successful than most (for instance I’m not a fan of Benigni’s Life is Beautiful; 1997).  What’s more this is also a woman’s film and the female protagonists are colorful and very strong.  If I were to offer any criticism it would that the portrayal of the petty, violent men versus the almost saintly women is a little naïve, even if it isn’t far off the mark!

I highly recommend Where Do We Go Now?, I thought it was hilarious, moving and powerful.  In a word:  magnificent.

(Burkina Faso, Switzerland, France; 1989)

Dir:  Idrissa Ouedraogo

When I chose all my screenings I didn’t realize that I had picked two films from the same Burkinabé director until the opening credits rolled for YabaaTilai (1990), which I saw on Day I, was the other film from Idrissa Ouedraogo and now having seen two of his films I’m starting to see it in a different light.  I am also eager to discover more of his cinema as I am coming to appreciate his direct and idiosyncratic style.

The same actors and settings, namely tribal villages, populate both his films and seeing how his characters interacted the second time around immediately reminded of Yasujiro Ozu’s magnificent body of work, which constantly recycles the same actors and stories and yet always succeeds in being pertinent, new and frankly masterful.  Ouedraogo’s films are very matter-of-fact and cut to the heart of the issues on display almost immediately yet they do not spoon-feed you any easy conclusions the way some lesser films would.

Yabaa is an old woman who lives on the fringe of a community and is called a witch by its inhabitants.  A young boy befriends her and when his friend falls ill following a knife cut, she believes it to be tetanus but the villagers become convinced she has possessed the sick girl and chase her from the village.

As with Tilai, Ouedraogo examines outdated tribal beliefs and the intransigence of these communities.  An alcoholic hobbles around and chimes in with his information on grave matters, which seems to be correct, but he is brushed off as a drunk.  The question then is why did he turn to drink?

I found Yabaa to be a wonderful film and in retrospect I would have to say that Tilai is better than I had first thought.  I am happy to recommend Ouedraogo’s work and I know that I will be seeking out more.

(Bangladesh, 2011)

Dir:  Nasiruddin Yousuf

I was really looking forward to this film but I am sad to say that the screening of Guerilla was nothing short of a disaster.  During the film’s introduction we were told that the copy of the film wasn’t top grade and sure enough it seemed like a very poor Beta transfer.  The print was full of snow and the colors were way off.  What’s more it was presented as a small window on the screen and I can’t for the life of me understand why they didn’t enlarge the image, it was tiny.  Lucky for me that I could read the inset English subtitles but for those (most I’m sure) that needed to read the French subtitles, they were about a yard below the image.

I was already annoyed by this poor projection and was having trouble getting into the film which chronicles the guerilla resistance during Bangladesh’s war of independence of 1971 against their Pakistani oppressors.  The film was a big success in its native country but wasn’t what I was expecting.  It was much cornier that I had imagined and while it wasn’t outright bad some scenes were not good and the effects were terrible.  I was disappointed at first but I slowly got into the film.

However, 30 minutes before the end, the sound suddenly shut off and though someone immediately exited the theater to inform the management it was nearly 10 minutes before they paused the screening.  After a number of apologies and few false starts it was clear that they weren’t going to get it going again in a reasonable time frame so I had to leave.  I was not at all impressed by this screening though I will say that all the others have been of a very high standard.

 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.