Showing posts with label switzerland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label switzerland. Show all posts

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).

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.

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 
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day III Report

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

(Philippines, 2011)

Dir:  Joseph Israel Laban

This was the midnight screening during the opening day but I opted to miss it in favour of attending the opening party, a decision that led to my missing the first film of the next day but I’m all caught up now!  Cuchera is only the second Filipino film I’ve seen, after the impressive The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveiros (2005) which I caught some years ago at the Dublin International Film Festival.

There’s no doubting why this was part of the midnight film section:  Laban’s depiction of drug muling in the Philippines is gruesome, all the more so considering its intimate focus.  The film’s protagonist is a middle-aged woman who is making a transition from being a prostitute and drug mule to setting up her own drug muling enterprise.

Laban’s film casts a cold and disquieting eye over the secret world of vice of the daily struggle of those engaged in its operation, often against their will or at least forced by circumstance.  The film takes a interesting look at a character who was no doubt part of the oppressed but after years of being a victim and a certain hardening in her character is now quite ready to make the leap to being the oppressor.  Her scruples are still visible, if only slightly, but it is clear that they are a nuisance that are easily cast aside as she is trying to become an underworld businesswoman.

Cuchera will likely put any viewer in a state of extreme discomfort and while its attempt to be a scorching commentary on the world it depicts is admirable it also comes off as exploitative.  I believe that the events as they happen on screen have some basis in reality but Laban tends to opt for the worst case scenario at every turn.  Subtlety certainly has no place in such a work but in order to have been properly elucidated, the themes might have played better in the hands of a more accomplished director.

The film is a debut effort but it has to be said that it is an ugly film.  This could be excusable, given the morbid and gritty subject matter, but the poor film technique is off-putting because of its quality, not just its content, and this becomes the undoing of the film.

The Last Christeros
(Mexico, 2011)

Dir:  Matias Meier

Another entry in the international competition, The Last Christeros is a languid look at a small group of Christian rebels in the mid-1930s.  Rather than focus on battles and the action of the confrontations that surround them, Meier chooses instead to delve into the small and quiet moments of introspection that exists between them.  While in theory an interesting idea for me this was a missed opportunity and its philosophical temperament resulted in a drab film that did not present enough interesting ideas to keep me interested.

There were a handful of wonderful scenes, including a great sing-a-long near the end but the long takes were borderline excruciating and went well past any acceptable boundary of artistic expression or some cinematic form of philosophical rumination.  I also quickly grew bored of the Christ imagery, which of course fit the proceedings but were somewhat akin to flogging a dead fish.

In some ways the imagery turned this into a dull counterpart to another film playing at the festival, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s seminal and surrealist midnight pic El Topo (1970).  Though whenever I was reminded of that film I grew frustrated as I wished I could have been watching it instead!

However the film certainly wasn’t awful and though I wasn’t on board with some its major artistic choices, it did demonstrate a commanding and poetic style that made it cohesive, at least from an aesthetic standpoint.  But at the end of the day I felt I wasn’t rewarded for my patience, perhaps I missed something.

Late Autumn
(South Korea, USA; 2010)

Dir:  Kim Tae-yong

Now here’s a film I’ve been dying to see for a while.  It won the public prize at last year’s FIFF edition and so wasn’t a part of this year’s but as I noticed it in the press video library, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see a film from one of South Korea’s best directors that still isn’t available even though it was released two years ago.

Kim Tae-yong’s first film was Memento Mori which he co-directed in 1999 and it is still one of my favorite K-horrors.  Seven years later he came back with Family Ties, easily one of the best Korean films of 2006 and one that deserve wider recognition.  Late Autumn is a co-production with the United States and stars Tang Wei, a big Chinese star.  She shares the screen with Hyun Bin, one of the poster boys of contemporary Korean entertainment who stole a lot of hearts alongside Ha Ji-won in the phenomenally successful K-drama Secret Garden (2010).

Tang plays a woman who murdered her husband and currently resides in jail but she is given a 72 hours furlough when her mother dies in order to attend her funeral.  On her way to Seattle she meets a suave Korean man, a gigolo who is on the run from the husband of one of his clients.

Kim's film explores people who are caught in situations that they do not have the power to control and our two immigrant protagonists kill time by sharing the road together on the classic American vehicle of escape, the Greyhound bus.  There is an element of fantasy in how they conduct themselves as they lie about their current situations to other people and play out the imaginary conversation of a man and woman who are talking in the distance.  This reluctance to be truthful could be a coping mechanism for two individuals who are not only immigrants but live on the fringe of their own minority communities.  Tang's character confesses her story and crime to her temporary road partner but does so in Mandarin while Hyun answers after each sentence with the only two words he knows; good and bad.

Late Autumn, originally a Korean film from 1966 has been remade many times and I am not familiar with its previous renditions but Kim's version transfixed me.  It was lyrical and full longing while at the same time filled with an easy going charm.  I really hope that Kim gets to make another film soon, all his works up until this point have been exceptional.

(South Africa, 2011)

Dir:  Avie Luthra

My fourth international competition film was a full-length version of a short that was previously made by the same director in 2005.  It is a coming of age story about a young boy in a village whose mother dies.  He makes his way to the city to stay with his uncle but this does not work out as planned and soon he comes to befriend an elderly Indian woman who lives across the atrium of the apartment complex.

Luthra's film deals with quite a lot of themes but they are nestled together well within a tale that is often heart-warming.  Never have I seen a boy so hellbent on going to school and it is devastating to see him turned away or learning that his uncle has swilled away all the money left by his mother for that purpose.  The boy, Lucky, has no obvious place in society, he is an orphan with no trustworthy family to rely on and the state offers him no safety net.

Racism is also keenly dealt with as at first the Indian woman is mistrustful of Lucky and she soon makes it clear that she does not trust blacks full stop.  The boy only speaks Zulu while the senior knows Hindi and English, this further complicates their relationship but also gives them an opportunity to build a bond on the strength of their actions rather words and perception.

I really enjoyed Lucky but I felt at times that it was a little too self-assured.  It's a real crowd-pleaser though and may well walk away with the top prize.

(Bangladesh, 2009)

Dir:  Selim Gias Uddin

My second Bangladeshi film after the previous night's Runway has the distinction of being the most popular indigenous film in decades.  However, this also means that it is a very different kind of film.  Monpura is populist fluff and yet it very good populist fluff that nonetheless engages with some interesting questions as characters are placed in tricky liminal environments.

The film announces itself very quickly as a genre film.  An opulent home at night is the scene of a murder, a servant informs the master.  It is his mentally handicapped son who has committed the deed as he was released from his shackles.  Now the servant, Shonai, is to take the blame for the murder and is sent off to Monpura, a remote island on the Ganges, to hide away from the authorities.  It is here that he meets Pori, the beautiful daughter of a nearby fisherman.  They fall in love but fate has other plans for them.

Monpura was quite well made and though it was 140 minutes long I was engaged throughout.  I'm a sucker for a good genre film and as Hollywood has consistently disappointed me with its romance films I seek them out elsewhere, notable South Korea.  Uddin's film is an epic tale of love that takes a relatively simple story and imbues it with notions of duty, social class, sacrifice, family and love.

It is not an extraordinary film and certainly lacks some substance though I shouldn't think it matters too much as its charming elements add up to a very pleasant viewing experience.  It is easy to see why this became such a hit in its native Bangladesh.

 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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Monday, March 26, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day II Report

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

Sita Sings the Blues
(USA, 2008)

Dir:  Nina Paley

My first film of the day after a late start was this delightful and frenetic animated retelling of the famous Indian tale of Ramayana.  Sita Sings the Blues throws itself at you from the beginning and it takes a little while to untangle the seemingly random mix of tricks, styles and storylines.  Sita is the long-suffering and loving wife of Rama and her as well as the other characters in the myth appear as different animated versions of themselves depending on the style and purpose of the scene.  For instance much of the story is played out as a musical as Sita literally sings the blues as she takes on the voice of Annette Hanshaw, a jazz vocalist from the 1920s.

The main narrative thrust of the legend is aided by a trio of unidentified Indians who trample over each other's words as they try to remember the details of the famous story, at the same time pointing out its holes and their misgivings with some of the protagonist's motivations.  The three erstwhile storytellers are hilarious and their comical banter is often aided by clever visual cues.  Complementing the various parts of the Ramayana tale are various interstices which range from almost psychedelic music videos set to modern Indian dance music and crudely but warmly drawn sequences of the filmmaker's parallel life which led her to make the film.

Nina Paley is an American animator who vividly brings to life her own interpretation of the classic tale which mingles together numerous Indian influences as well as her own personal touch, notably the classic Jazz tracks that form the heart of the film.  Sita Sings the Blues is a unique and immensely enjoyable experience.  A great synthesis of cultures and an infectious paean to the joy of discovery and the cleansing power of artistic expression.

(Bangladesh, 2010)

Dir:  Tareque Masud

The Fribourg International Film Festival is presenting the largest dedicated section to Bangladesh's cinema that has ever occurred in the west and Runway was my first of the section and also my first foray into Bangladeshi cinema.

A poor family lives right beside a runway of the Dhaka airport.  The father is away in Kuwait to earn money to send home but has not been heard from in some time.  The matriarch has bought a cow on microcredit in an effort to help support her family but it is not producing much milk.  The daughter works at a textile factory and is providing the majority of the household's income.  Ruhul is the aimless son whose has not been able to find work.  He trains about his uncle's cybercafe during the day and meets Arif who quickly befriends him and affords him a path to a new life through fundamental islam.

Runway is a film that takes place in the modern world and engages with ideas of Islam and how they fit into it.  Ruhul exists in a liminal environment, he lives in a hut with his poor family yet they are beside an international airport.  They are both connected to the whole world and entirely cut off from it.  The late Masud's film (he died shortly before completing the film in a car crash) traces Ruhul's engagement with fundamentalism, as it provides an escape to his cloitered existence.  As viewers we understand his search for some form of identity and purpose but we can not condone his brush with terrorism.  However he is never demonized and as such his representation is a successful one as we come to understand how easily such a lost youth could be brought into the fold by friendly religious fanatics.

Technically speaking the film is competently made but missing some finer touches.  Many of the scenes occur at dawn or dusk but these are murky and a little hard to make out because of the techniques and equipment used during the production.  The ending of the film had a relatively neat resolution and yet I felt that it was largely inconclusive and this very well may have been the point but it still left me unsatisfied.

Runway is a worthwhile effort from a little seen national industry.  It cleverly meshes motifs that incorporate new and old world ideas and technologies.  With Ruhul we live in this same liminal space and we are afforded a vantage point on some of the paradoxes of our modern society.

At Home Among Strangers, Strangers at Home
(USSR, 1974)

Dir:  Nikita Mikhalkov

Another film from the 'Once Upon a Time in the South' section, At Home Among Strangers is a fascinating work that combines Western tropes with Soviet images of masculinity and employs an altogether loud style that you will either love or not know what to make of.

I for one loved the style, from its opening montage that showcases the unbridled joy of the happiest Russian men I've ever seen on screen, to its robustly elegiac denouement.  There was one glaring problem though,  I had a very hard time following the story.  Everything hurtles along at a magnificent pace but the elements of the film are often extremely disparate and story elements are not well linked together.  This may have been a product of the nature of the film's production, which had a very restrictive budget.  The filmmakers were only given a certain amount of colour stock and thus many scenes are in a cheaper and grainier black and white, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

Despite this setback, I still had a great time with this picture.  It was frustrating to have to try and follow along but mainly I enjoyed spending time with these Russian characters, each with expressive faces and providing unique takes on masculinity so common to the western genre.  Like the previous night's Salt, the filmmakers tackled the project with considerable enthusiasm but whereas that was too straight a picture to really succeed, here the problem is the lack of focus.

At the end of the screening there were some vocal detractors in the audience but I was very glad to have made the time for this distinctive feature and I think I will seek out some of director Mikhalkov's other works, which I hope he hope he was able to film the way he wanted!

 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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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day I Report

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

11 Flowers
(China; 2011)

Dir:  Wang Xiaoshuai

My first film of the festival was one of the twelve contenders for the main prize, known as 'Le Regard d’Or', which has previously been awarded to films like Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (2000), Eric Khoo’s My Magic (2008) and most recently Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010).  11 Flowers is the latest film from Wang Xiaoshuai, a successful Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker who is well know for Beijing Bicycle (2001).

A coming of age tale set at the end of the cultural revolution, Xiaoshuai’s latest work is the product of a fertile mind and an experienced director’s touch.  The film follows the 11-year-old Wang Han who is asked to lead his school in the morning gymnastics' class.  He needs a new shirt for the position and his mother, who works at the local factory eventually capitulates to his sulking, using a year’s worth of fabric rations in the process.  He eventually loses the prized shirt when a killer swipes it from him as he tries to evade the police.

The film is exquisite in its design and though the premise starts off slight, the local society is soon vividly brought to life.  Wang Han’s shirt and the despair of a neighbouring family are set against the backdrop of the impending revolts in contemporaneous China.  Wang Han is forced to grow up very quickly in the climate of tumult and change and the driving force of his loss of innocence is his gaze, steadily corrupted by each new event he witnesses.

The stunning and evocative cinematography is all the more potent as it succeeds in drawing attention away from itself.  At times I was reminded of Emmanuelle Lubezki’s work on recent Terence Malick films, though the lensing here is nowhere near as ostentatious.  A great start to the festival and already a strong contender for the FIFF’s top prize.

Histórias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas
(France, Brazil, Argentina; 2011)

Dir:  Júlia Murat

I had heard great things about Historias prior to this screening and I was excited as I sat down.  It must be said however, that at first it was a frustrating experience.  The quality of the print might have been to blame as the picture quality was often blurry and jarring, especially during long shots and my eyes had trouble focussing. 

The film follows an elderly woman as she goes about her daily routine in an extremely remote part of Argentina.  She is part of a minuscule community, similarly composed of seniors.  The early stages of the film are built around very long takes and languid repetition as we are introduced to the invariance of her daily life.  There was a slight vein of droll humour but I was having trouble settling into the experience.

A young female backpacker and amateur photographer arrives and asks for a place to stay for a few days.  The woman gives her a room but she and the rest of the insular community treat her with mistrust.  At this stage this is how I felt as I viewer, as though the filmmaker wasn’t letting me into his quaint and carefully structured world.

When the inhabitants of the village finally warm to the girl the film magnificently opened itself up to me.   Actions that had been repeated throughout the film became intimate as the camera gradually came closer to its subjects.  What at first were formal tableaus seen from a distance became warm pictures of humanity.  The camera beckoned us to breathe in this community that time had forgotten.

The young girl acts as a surrogate for the viewer but is also a fascinating character in her own right.  She revels in old techniques of photography, listens to music from a bygone era and professes that she was born at the wrong time.  But it is also clear that this statement is a little naïve as she is the image of a contemporary cosmopolitan girl, complete with the trappings of modern day such as her iPod.  While she quickly feels at home in the village when its residents accept her she is also a strong female character with a progressive view on gender roles, which puts her at odds with the close-knit patriarchal society.

Her voyage of self-discovery becomes our own as the filmmaker dares us to question our role in today’s world and how we relate to it.  Historias is not a film that will get wide exposure but if you do happen across it, it is not to be missed!

(Switzerland, France, Germany, Burkina Faso, United Kingdom; 1990)

Dir:  Idrissa Ouedraogo

A film made in Burkina Faso and funded by a cotery of European cultural institutions, Tilai is an odd beast.  It is set in tribal communities and stars actors who seem to have been pulled straight out of that world.  While the production values are not very high there is a surprising amount of craft invested in the effort and everything flows along remarkably well.  The strange thing is just how focussed and straight-forward it is.  I don’t known if I’ve ever come across a film that was so matter-of-fact in relation to its plot, characters and dialogue, which is so blunt that it is often quite comical.  My question is whether the deliberate style and brevity of the production was meant to be ironic or if it was an attempt to incorporate very clear storytelling.

The virile protagonist has just returned to his tribe after a two-year absence, announcing his arrival with a horn on top of a hill.  He expects his woman to be waiting for him and for them to get married.  She had been promised to him and as luck would have they are in love.  But his brother, upon greeting him, informs him that she is now wed to their father, making her their mother.  He is furious and immediately chooses exile over confronting his father.  The lovers story doesn’t end here as they henceforth employ subterfuge to steal precious moments together but it is not long before they are found out.

The story bristles along at a steady clip and the benefit of the film’s clarity is just how easy it is to follow along but the downside is that beyond the simple narrative and the obvious reference to some ridiculously outdated patriarchal tribal codes, the film has little else to offer.  At 84 minutes, Tilai does go by in a flash and though the story is familiar (almost streamlined Shakespearean) and not particularly original, the unfamiliar setting that is richly brought to life make this a worthwhile venture.  However, as it is a Central African film from 22 years ago, I daresay it may be hard to get you hands on it.

(Argentina, Chile; 2011)

Dir:  Diego Rougier

The official opening film of the festival, Salt was preceded by an almost interminable series of windy speeches from local politicians praising the festival’s focus on diversity and its continued success in the region.  It must be said that is wasn’t all bad but since most of it had to be translated into two (French, German) and sometimes three languages (with English thrown into the mix), it did drag on a bit.  This says nothing of the frankly bizarre musical act that linked each podium grandstand.

The programmer of the festival, Thierry Jobin, an affable and enthusiastic cinephile explained how Salt came to the festival’s office in a DVD slipcase which references Sergio Leone’s seminal western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).  There is a whole section at the festival titled 'Once Upon a Time In the South' that will present how the genre has stretched far beyond its habitual North American stomping ground.  Salt, set in the deserts of Northern Chile, is the progeny of a self-ascribed obsessive of westerns and it shows.

A Spanish filmmaker named Sergio is trying to get his western made but everyone is turning him down, pointing out that he hasn’t had the experience to write such a project and that he clearly doesn’t know the area where he wants to film it, the North Chilean desert, said to be the driest in the world.  He then goes on location to acquire inspiration and said experience.  He is immediately mistaken for a man called Diego and he finds himself sucked into a narrative that provides him with much more experience than he bargained for.

Homage is key to the film and the names of characters and many of the actions and scenes are borrowed from famed western works and filmmakers.  It is all very enjoyable and it builds to a crescendo as our central protagonist gets sucked into this world but it’s also a little thin as it can come off as pastiche rather than successfully integrated elements that add to an original work.  At the end of the day, despite its ingenious appropriation of genre tropes and blistering enthusiasm, Salt is still an homage from a filmlover to his favorite genre rather than an addition to it that stands on its own.  Worth a watch but there isn’t much to walk away with.

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.