Showing posts with label kwon sang-woo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kwon sang-woo. Show all posts

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pain (통증, Tong-jeung) 2011

Kwak Kyung-taek is primarily known as a maker of manly films, his filmography includes a number of testosterone fuelled works such as Friend (2001), Typhoon (2005), and Eye For an Eye (2008).  So it should come as some surprise that in 2011, his ninth feature was essentially a romance film, or so the marketers behind it would have us believe.  The truth is, Kwak is actually no stranger to romance narratives.  One of his best films is Love (2007) and if the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, it is a love story, albeit one played in a world of gangsters.

Nam-soon (Kwon Sang-woo) lost his family in an accident when he was young and as a result he no longer feels any pain. He now works as a debt collector whose partner beats him in front of debtors until they pay up. He lives an emotionally barren life until he meets Dong-hyeon (Jeong Ryeo-won), a street stall vendor who suffers from hemophilia. As their unlikely bond grows stronger, Nam-soon gradually opens up and a lifetime of hurt washes over him.

Having seen six of his films I’m still a little undecided as to how good a filmmaker Kwak is.  Friend was a strong feature that prompted such a wave of popularity in Korea that it carried him to the upper echelons of the industry, not least because the film was reportedly based on his own youth.  His films are always polished and are well put together but he lacks a visual stamp, which is a defining feature for many of his confreres in the industry.  Aside from male characters, the most defining characteristic of Kwak’s films is the omnipresence of his protagonist's backstories, they are never free of tragedy or their social class.  Structurally this will be conveyed in one of two ways, either we are presented with the tragedy or poor social setting beforehand as a prologue to the events of the films, such as in Friend, Mutt Boy (2003), and Love, or we discover their traumatic backstories through flashback, like in Typhoon, Eye for an Eye, and now Pain.

Like so many Korean films that have come before it, the source of the protagonist’s anguish in Pain is rooted in a deadly car crash.  Off the top of my head, in 2011 alone, I can think of Champ, Blind, and the popular K-Drama City Hunter that have all used the same trop.  Granted it is an effective tool but perhaps more to the point, it has believability on its side.  There aren’t many accidents that can wipe out most of a family and still be deemed plausible.  Fires (also very popular in Korean cinema) and vehicular collisions pretty much fill out this list.

Riskier still are the ailments of the lead characters.  Analgesia and hemophilia are conditions that we do not encounter on a daily basis, far from it.  So to have two characters suffering from them meet and fall in love goes quite a ways to stretching credulity.  Misgivings aside though, it works surprisingly well.  It’s original and leads to some novel situations while also accentuating the emotional highs and lows of the narrative.  Of course Nam-soon's insensitivity to pain is also a metaphor for the suppression of his traumatic memories, to the point where he can no longer feel them or any thing else.  He holds himself responsible for his family’s death and as a result constantly subjects himself to punishment.  Since he cannot feel pain, this cycle can only accelerate and escalate, never providing any relief.

Throughout Kwak’s films you won’t find many strong female characters.  Even in Love, the presence of the female romantic interest is largely symbolic: the impetus of the film’s actions rest on Joo Jin-mo’s character’s shoulders.  I wondered whether Pain would suffer a similar fate but thankfully Dong-hyeon is afforded much more characterization than previous women in his films.  Perhaps even more successful is the casting of the delightful Jeong Ryeo-won, who was wonderful in Castaway on the Moon (2009).  She’s perfect for the part, equal parts tough, vulnerable, and cute, and as always, a joy to watch on screen.

I think that Pain stands as one of Kwak’s best films, even though it was far from his most successful one.  The only part of the film that drags is the end, which smacks a little of inevitability.  However, it does make reference to the conclusion of Park Kwang-su’s seminal Chilsu and Mansu (1988), whose damaged characters find themselves at an impasse by the film's end.  They stare down into a precipice from up on high, not quite understanding what lead them there and helpless as they await their fate, forced upon them by a traumatized society, which is breathlessly trying to move towards the light.


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, February 1, 2012

Korean Cinema News (01/26-02/01, 2012)

NY's Korean Film Festival is back and the KCCUK is holding 12 mini director's retrospectives through 2012 in London, so it's a good time to be a Korean film fan (at least if you live in a major metropolis).  Lots of interviews, including three for Lee Myeung-se, trailers, posters, and box office news this week.  

Don't miss MKC's own feature on How Korean Cinema Fared on 2011's Year-end Lists.


“Should I put the word ‘arrowhead’ in a movie title?” joked a film producer during a recent meeting with the Hankyoreh.  The producer’s company certainly hit their target at the box office.  The follow-up to last year’s hit War of the Arrows, which drew 7.4 million viewers, Unbowed (the Korean title of which translates as Broken Arrow), passed the one million viewer mark just over a week after its debut early this year.  (The Hankyoreh, January 27, 2012)

Kwon Sang-woo Finishes Work on New Action Film with Jackie Chan
Hallyu star Kwon Sang-woo has finished work on the movie 12 Chinese Zodiac Heads with Jackie Chan.  The announcement was made yesterday by the actor’s agency, which also reported that Kwon had returned to Korea just before Lunar New Year.  “Currently, Kwon is taking a well-deserved break and is looking over some movie proposals from China, the United States and other countries,” said a representative from the agency.  (Joong Ang Daily, January 28, 2012)

NYC Happenings: NY Korean Film Festival 2012
Whether it's a full-on retrospective at Japan Society, a centennial celebration of studio giant Nikkatsu, or the annual wackiness of NYAFF, New York is a city never short on cinematic offerings from across East Asia, and that has always included a healthy helping of Korean cinema.  From February 24th - 26th, BAMcinématek and the Korean Society, along with Korean movie giant CJ Entertainment, will be presenting 7 contemporary features, big and small in the 10th edition of the New York Korean Film Festival.  (Twitch, January 30, 2012)

Unbowed, a low-budget South Korean film based on the true story of the so-called “crossbow terror” incident of a college professor, is heating up the local box office, drawing renewed public debate over the 2006 incident.  The movie claimed the No. 2 spot by bringing in more than 1 million viewers at local cinemas as of Wednesday, a week after making a robust debut, the Korean Film Council, a government agency in charge of promoting domestic films, said on Thursday.  (The Korea Herald, January 26, 2012)

Controversial Film on Gangjeong Village Finally Hits Theatres
An independent documentary film titled Jam Docu Gangjeong is finally showing in independent movie theaters 40 days after having been banned by the Korean Film Commission. Pressure from the film industry resulted in the film’s eventual release.  The film was reportedly delayed due to its controversial subject matter and the independent film industry is now calling for a policy reform to prevent the Korean Film Commission from banning films it finds politically objectionable.  (The Hankyoreh, January 26, 2012)

Korean movie and K-Pop stars united together for a new effort against piracy being led by Gaon Chartcalled the '2012 Good Downloader Campaign'.  Actors Ahn Sung Gi, Park Joong Hoon, Lee Min Jung, Jang Hyuk, and music stars Yoon Do Hyun (YB), Kim Yuna (Jaurim), Yunho (TVXQ), Nickhun (2PM), Sohee (Wonder Girls), as well as Sulli (f(x)) banded together for the campaign during a shoot yesterday, sending the message that pirating movies and music is illegal and wrong.  (allkpop, January 30, 2012)

Film of the Year Awards (Korea Film Reporters Association)

The Korea Film Reporters Association feted Korean cinema in its 3rd Film of the Year Awards last night.  Silenced picked up best film, with the director prize going to Kang Hyung-chul for Sunny.  Meanwhile Kim Yun-seok and Tang Wei were best actor and actress for their respective roles in Punch and Late Autumn.   (AsianMediaWiki, January 31, 2012)

Over on the Otherwhere blog, Alua has kindly transcribed the full 2012 programme for the Korean Film Nights at the KCCUK.  12 Korean directors will be featured with 4 films and a Q&A each month.  It's hard not to be incredibly jealous of anyone living in London right now.  (Otherwhere, January 27, 2012)


In one excruciating scene of Kang Je-kyu’s new movie My Way, Soviet soldiers order two war prisoners of different nationalities to fight to the death, but the Korean one refuses to kill his fellow Japanese captive, who he had known as a rival in sports.  Instead, an unlikely alliance begins to form.  The movie is the most expensive ever made in South Korea, a fictionalized account of the real-life story of how a Korean man ended up fighting for the Germans in World War II and being found by American soldiers at the invasion of Normandy.  (The Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2012)

Thanks to her previous films In Between Days and Treeless Mountain, and a none-more-indie cast featuringPaul Dano and Jena Malone, So Yong Kim's latest For Ellen had to be one of the most anticipated films of the Sundance Film Festival. Forming one half of a power couple of indie cinema (with Bradley Rust Gray, director of The Exploding Girl and the upcoming Jack and Diane), it marks her first time working with more established names and proves to be her most accessible project to date.  (indieWire, January 25, 2012)

To the present day, Lee Myung-se is probably best known for his 1999 film Nowhere To Hide which was the first ever Korean film to be released on DVD in the UK.  Born on August 20th, 1957, his first directorial feature film was Gagman in 1989, and in 1991 he won the Best New Director award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival for My Love My Bride.  Since then, he has gone on to make a number of iconic films, including Duelist (2005) and M (2007) - as visually stunning as they are narratively interesting.  (Hangul Celluloid, January 26, 2012)

For January’s edition the director in question was Lee Myeong-se in conjunction with his 2005 film Duelist.  Presiding over the event was Dr. Daniel Martin who introduced both the film and the director, giving the history and context to Lee Myeong-se’s illustrious career and auteuristic sensibilities.  (Hanguk Yeonghwa, January 27, 2012)

Taekwondo at the Apollo: Lee Myung-se and the Great Safety vs. Cinema Debate
The ‘Year of the 12 Directors’ idea is a wonderful one—what began as a series of film screenings in the Korean Cultural Centre has become, for 2012, a celebratory mini-series of director retrospectives which promises to roll on from now until December.  On Thursday night, we spent three engaging hours in the pleasant company of director Lee Myung-se, whose 1999 action/police procedural Nowhere to Hide officially opened the 12 Directors programme over three weeks ago.  (New Korean Cinema, January 30, 2012)


2 Lines

Russian Coffee



Doomsday Book


(Modern Korean Cinema, January 30, 2012)

South Korean films enjoyed a 22% growth in revenue last year, according to new data from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).  Nationwide, admissions grew by 8% to 158 million, while box office revenues grew in local currency terms by 7% to ₩1.23 trillion ($1.10 billion).  (Film Business Asia, January 30, 2012)

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, July 25, 2011

Korean Cinema News (07/18-07/24, 2011)

Lots of news this week including some interviews with directors Jang Hoon and Lee Joon-ik, casting news, festival items, and english-language home market release announcements.


After recently blasting past the 7 million viewer mark, Sunny is set to reappear in cinemas with a special director's cut on the 28th. It will feature 10 minutes of additional footage and will screen in roughly 30 theaters around the country. (, July 24, 2011)

A number of sports film are set to hit Korean screens throughout the remainder of the year, including Fight, Pacemaker, Champ, Korea, and The Perfect Game. (Joong Ang Daily, July 18, 2011)

Popular Korean actress Bae Doona, of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and The Host (2006) fame, has been cast in the hotly anticipated adaptation of Cloud Atlas. (, July 18, 2011)

After recently acquiring a Vietnamese exhibition chain, CJ has also inherited the company's legal troubles as many companies sued it for allegedly setting minimum prices and other conditions. (The Hollywood Reporter, July 19, 2011)

Eros International, the Indian film producer and exhibitor, is planning to release Endhiran in South Korea on 50 screens. (Media Mughals, July 19, 2011)

Moon Si-hyun, one of Kim Ki-duk's former assistant directors, has just revealed her debut film at PiFan. The film, Sins of Fathers deals with broken families and the disillusioned middle class. (The Hollywood Reporter, July 20, 2011)

The world's first QR Code Film Festival will make content available online and accessible through the use of QR codes, a new form of digital bar codes that can be scanned by smartphones. (PC Advisor, July 21, 2011)

The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) recently suggested a contract for cinemas and distributors that aims to ensure a minimum screening period for films and alter the proportion of profit shares. It is not a recommendation and sanctions will not be imposed. (The Korea Times, July 21, 2011)

Kwak Kyung-taek (Friend, 2001; Typhoon, 2005) cast Kwon Sang-woo in a new melodrama which is due to hit screens in September. Kwak is normally known for action films but admits a soft side for melodrama which he wishes to explore in his new film Painted. (The Korea Times, July 21, 2011)

Korea has been selected as the guest country for the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico, which will be held July 22 – 31. A whopping 76 Korea films will be on display, including retrospectives on Bong Joon-ho and Kim Dong-won. (, July 21, 2011)

Hong Sang-soo's recent Cannes entry The Day He Arrives is set to open the 5th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival. The festival will screen 98 films from 32 countries. (, July 21, 2011)

Elizabeth Shim reflects on the Sea of Revenge spotlight at the recent New York Asian Film Festival. In particular she discusses closing night film The Yellow Sea. (Korean Culture Service NY, July 21, 2011)

Terracotta, a great distributor for Asian films in the UK, is launching a new sub-label that will focus exclusively on horror. Terror-cotta will release the Korean Death Bell (2008) as its first title. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)

Winners were announced for the 15th Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and included: Best Film for Rubber, Best Korean Independent Film and Best Asian Genre Film for Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley, and Best Director for Na Hong-jin. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)

Kim Jee-won's revered A Bittersweet Life  (2005) will be coming to Blu-ray on August 30th, courtesy of Korean distributor Content Zone. This English-subbed version has faced numerous problems before finally seeing the light of day. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)

Recently it is no longer marquee names that are attracting audiences in South Korea. Ensemble films and relatively low-budget have been competitive in securing a large share of the market. (The Hankyoreh, July 23, 2011)

After movies, TV, and pop, comics may be the next hook in the Korean Wave. Various comic book source materials have been made into films and TV shows and with the support of festivals and trade associations they seem to be on the rise again. (Arirang, July 23, 2011)


Closer Look at The Front Line
The Joon Ang Daily provides more info on new War drama The Front Line and interviews its director Jang Hoon. (Joong Ang Daily, July 22, 2011)

Conversation with Lee Joon-ik
Lee Joon-ik discusses his retirement, his latest film Battlefield Heroes, and planting trees in the desert in Mongolia. (Twitch, July 22, 2011)


A pair of new trailers this week including one for the director's cut of the enormously popular Sunny.


Harry Potter held its lead in a crowded marketplace and has now accumulated close to 3 million admissions. Meanwhile The Front Line (550,000) and Quick (430,000) opened strongly even if they were unable to unseat the bespectacled wizard, look to them to perform strongly in coming weeks. Sunny is dying down after reaching the 7 million mark but still added 70,000 viewers this weekend to its tally. (, July 24, 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.